It’s the stories we tell ourselves that feel the truest.
The things we know, that we intuit without being told, are almost invariably those that have happened to us, that have brushed our shoulder or struck our face.
These feed those fractured, sometimes meandering, narratives in our head that whisper ‘That’s right’, ‘Yes’ or ‘That’s never gonna fly’.
Also marking out the true for us are those slightly or more mediated experiences, like behaviour modelled by our parents or the testimony delivered by our dearest friends. Trust someone enough and their telling is just as true as our own.
The intersection of true and truth, the difference between the piling up of incidents that shape so much of what we call Ourselves and the evidence based accounting of things, marks a thoughtful place.
One of the truest stories that I once told myself is that I read writing by women. Not exclusively, of course, but my early interest in women’s writing, particularly by Australian women, was buoyed by personal taste and an 80’s childhood.
The 80’s are perhaps easily parodied now*, but they contained moments of national confidence as well as some acceptance of feminism’s challenge to a boresome blokeiness. It wasn’t perfect, nothing ever is, but any decade that can boost both The Go-Betweens’ album Tallulah and the Sex Discrimination Act is okay by me.
I’d always kept a reading diary, recording each book read, so I was confident that once I’d toted them all up, women writers would easily constitute a majority of my reading.
Except they didn’t.
The story I had told myself for so many years simply wasn’t true.
Literature is weighed by quality, not by raw numbers its true, but this imbalance still troubled me. The opportunity to engage is not limitless and I had read against a series of perspectives that I had claimed to privilege. I’d hoped to read against too a modernist distaste for women’s literary fiction (which even Woolf was not excepted from), but my books merely marked out the walls of a literary ghetto.
This I could fix, and did.
But it left me wondering how well others, in particular those literary gatekeepers in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian book review pages, would fare in a similar gender audit.
So I put them to the test. I’ll talk more about that, soon.
*What is worth parodying more? The 80’s themselves or the mind-numbing revival which has now lasted longer the original decade?