Back in my Spec days, a female editor made a real effort to connect with me. Usually, I pursue friendships, so I didn’t feel too comfortable that this senior was trying to befriend me, a lowly junior. Adding to my concern, every time we hung out, she’d say something about how we female journalists need to stick together.
At the time, I thought she was crazy. Who exactly were we “female journalists”? More than half of the Spec staff were women. Gender never came up there, or at any internship I had had.
But as I’ve gotten older, I see the importance in seeking out other female writers. When I read Prep last summer, I realized that a lot of the books I had grown up with—The Catcher in the Rye, Huck Finn, Portnoy’s Complaint—were boys stories. They still taught me a lot, but fundamentally, as a woman, there’s a part of them I missed. When I read Prep, I finally felt like a writer was speaking to me, instead of just having me follow the conversation.
I think of all this now because I’m reading The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, a collection of Susan Orlean profiles. Goddamn, can that woman write. She’s masterful with adjectives.
Orlean has had a terrific career as a nonfiction writer. Along with Adaptation, her essay, The Maui Surfer Girls, was inspiration for Blue Crush, she’s a staff writer for the New Yorker and all around writing rock star. But despite that, she isn’t in the popular zeitgeist like male nonfiction writers like Malcolm Gladwell or Adam Gopnik.
On the cover of my edition, Susan Orlean appears dressed up as a bullfighter. If I were a middle-aged, heterosexual man, I’m sure I would find Susan Orlean attractive, but why is her sexuality part of her book sales? You don’t see David Reminck’s mug on the cover of Reporting.
Obviously there are a lot of successful female writers out there, and regardless of her gender, Orlean has done well. But I recently realized that almost all of my favorite writers were men, and I don’t think it’s because all women writers are hacks.
So yeah, we female journalists do need to stick together. Because for some reason, women don’t get read as much as men, and frankly, some of the best writing out there comes from someone with two X-chromosomes.