Gender Neutral Word Choices…Possible?

When I write, I go into hermit mode. I sit in a quiet room that is purposefully de-cluttered, I turn off my mobile phone, and I cancel out of Safari. If it’s a grey or rainy day I turn on extra lights to get the room’s visual temperature just right. Then I sit with my laptop on my lap and let my mind wander. I’ll get up every hour or so, to do something dumb, but my mind is running. I can write for hours like this: I’ve easily lost eight or nine hours in a fugue.

When I have most of a story written, I do what I’ve learned most writers do: I go back and edit the shit out of that crappy first draft. Many times. And when I edit, I think long and hard about word choice, cadence, and style. On some passes I keep the gender of the reader in my mind.  Because I want my novels to lean toward being gender neutral. At least as much as a female writer can.

So when I read this article from Jezebel it struck a chord.  A Washington Post review of a nonfiction book called “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” took issue with the female author’s word choices. “At its best her prose is vivid, especially when she writes about battles and the terrible costs they exact, while at its less-than-best seems (dare I say it?) to have been borrowed from the pages of a woman’s magazine.” Huh.

My take away: he thought her language was too…female…and so, less-than-best.

I looked up reviews of some of John le Carre’s work and found 9 out of 10 were written by male critics, presumably because espionage is a male dominated domain.

Writing is learning. What I’m learning is that I should be thinking about the gender slant of my word choices. But also how to balance that with my authentic voice.  Not easy.