Michelle Gillett: Women writers look at other side of coin

Tuesday January 8, 2013


The subject is masculinity. The deadline is January 28. And the three winning essays will be read at a gala reception at The Mount on March 23 as part of The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. The festival, which began three years ago, is a collaborative, multi-venue event sponsored by Bard College at Simon's Rock with many local partners, celebrated county-wide in the month of March, Women's History Month.

The festival committee says, "From best-selling writers like Julia Cameron, to less well-known but no less talented poets, performers and writers in a variety of genres, more than 150 women of all ages and from many backgrounds will share their talents in the 2013 Third Annual Festival, giving readings, lectures, workshops, performances and screenings, held at Berkshire County venues from Sheffield to Williamstown. Each event promises to be more intriguing and inspiring than the last; all are open to the public, and most are free, thanks to the generosity of our participants, venues, donors and collaborators."

"Included in the festival is the annual observance of International Women's Day, held at Bard College at Simon's Rock since 2002. The 2013 IWD event is co-sponsored by the Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series and features a screening of the triumphant new documentary film "Sweet Dreams," with special guests Rob Fruchtman, director and Jennifer Dundas, one of the film's protagonists and the co-founder of Blue Marble Ice Cream."

Last year the subject for The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers' essay contest was femininity. This year, we decided to give writers a chance to look at the other side of that coin. What is masculinity? What experiences of culture, body, biology, roles, behavior, language, work, spirit have defined or made you question ideas of masculinity?

I can think of so many concentrated moments from my life to expand into an essay: We are lined up and the captains are choosing us one by one for their teams. I hold my breath, knowing I won't be picked first or second or even third, but please God, not last. I want to be able hit and throw as well as a boy. This is not gender confusion. I am a girl, but I want to be tough and capable the way boys are.

Our paperboy, Alan Grisell and I go into the woods and play soldiers before he picks up his bag of Reporter Dispatches and continues on his rounds. We have engaged in sword fights and pursued the invisible enemy, and he has made me swear never to tell anyone about our imaginary games in the woods -- a promise I have kept until just now. Alan is three years older than I am. He is 13 -- too old, he says, for playing make-believe games, especially with a girl.

Sometimes my father would lie down on the bedroom floor in his underwear. It was usually a Saturday morning and if I needed my allowance so I could go to a movie with my friends, I would have to go to where he was lying on a beach towel, his face glistening under the ultraviolet lamp, plastic protectors cupping his eyes, and ask him for it. Every few weeks, he got a manicure. My friends called him, "the prince" and found his Viennese accent "sexy."

One of my favorite essayists, Lia Purpura, writes about her husband in, "Try Our Delicious Pizza": In one of my favorite pictures of him, he's around five, playing a recorder, and wearing a wrinkly, striped shirt. There's sheet music on the stand in front of him, but I am sure he's just playing by ear. In another essay, "Advice," she writes about why some men wear tight pants. ...because their legs -- thighs, calves, ankles -- have been long overlooked.

Note the poor ankle, stripped bare by socks rubbing. Today's trends...might show off a thigh's curve....Such a man minds not at all the mocking of his father, wants no handy loop for the hammer, doesn't care to be handy (for this is about legs not hands)...

Unfortunately, as a contest sponsor, I can't enter the contest. But I hope you will. Women and girls of all ages and experiences are invited to take on the subject of masculinity, to be playful, inventive, unconventional or straightforward.

Our final judge is Katherine Bouton who is a former editor at The New York Times, and whose book "Shouting Won't Help: Why I -- and 50 Million Other Americans -- Can't Hear You," is due out in February. Deborah Solomon, author of "Utopia Parkway," wrote about the book, "The world is getting noisier, but fortunately we have Katherine Bouton, whose talent for listening remains undiminished by her hearing loss. Her book is both a moving memoir and an indispensable resource for everyone who cares about their ears." Katherine will introduce the winners and read from her book.

Send your essay c/o Nina Ryan & Michelle Gillett, P.O. Box 1134, Stockbridge, MA 01262. Visit: berkshirewomenwriters.org


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