Eileen Myles on Being Female

Sometimes a thing is so exactly something you would imagine into the world that it is hard at first to believe it is real and you wonder if you have instead fallen asleep on your lunch break again and are dreaming. Sometimes the Internet is a perfect machine. Anyways, Eileen Myles has a lot to say. You should probably listen.

When I saw the recent Vida pie charts that showed how low the numbers are of female writers getting reviewed in the mainstream press I just wasn’t surprised at all though I did cringe. When you see your oldest fears reflected back at you in the hard bright light of day it doesn’t feel good. Because a woman is someone who grew up observing that a whole lot more was being imagined by everyone for her brother and the boys around her in school. If she’s a talented artist she’s told that she could probably teach art to children when she grows up and then she hears the boy who’s good in art get told by the same teacher that one day he could grow up to be a commercial artist. The adult doing the talking in these kinds of exchanges is most often female. And the woman who is still a child begins to wonder if her childhood is already gone because she has been already replaced in the future by a woman who will be teaching children like herself. And will she tell them that they too will not so much fail but vanish before their lives can even begin.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. This was a great piece. But FYI: the comments over at The Awl will make your brain hurt. Too much mansplainin’, too few LOLcats.

  2. Do we really want to send that kind of message to our readers. What kind of message is that. I guess a wet hairy soft female one. I mean a big giant female hole you might fall into never to be heard from again.

  3. either love eileen myles or gtfo. this is like the first rule in my book. it should be the first rule of all books.

  4. “I am desperately running towards what anyone in their right mind would be running away from. Which is femaleness, which is failure.”

    Unreal. So perfect.

  5. 1. Heh, the NYWMBR (New York White Men’s Book Review). Fortunately I don’t read the New York Book Review.

    2. “. . . the operating presumption must be that “we” “all know” that men’s writing is in fact better or more important than women’s—is the real deal and the only thing disputing this is feminism and since that’s “over” (phew) we are back to business as usual.”

    A disturbing thing about living as a masculine woman is seeing the difference in treatment from men when I am read as male vs. when I am read as female. When I’m a man, I am treated as a valid person. When I’m a woman, hell no. Then there’s when I’m neither/undefined, but we don’t have all day.

    It’s practically impossible to express this whole picture to people who haven’t experienced it. If you are a person of a “standard” gender configuration, you would die if you knew what goes on. Whatever you think you know.. THERE’S MORE.

    A tiny thing that sticks with me is the pitch of a man’s voice when he thinks he’s talking to a man vs. when he thinks he’s talking to a woman. For a man, the pitch is in a lower register, and you get the sense that you are talking to some approximation of the guy’s actual personality. For a woman, the pitch raises, and this horrific falseness takes over – just smoke being blown up your ass. Actually, it is hard to know which version is the mask.

    • Both are probably masks. With men, guys have to defend their masculinity against attacks and with women they have to prove they have it.
      Women do this too though. Especially around men. They either have to prove they are extremely feminine or prove they can “keep up with the boys” so to speak.
      But both are really generalizations; it feels a lot like more and more people are falling outside gender binaries as more and more people are trying to secure themselves inside one. It’s almost like you have to chose between being 100% a gender or being considered neither.

    • Diver, I think I know what you mean. I’m not particularly masculine but I have a “man’s” build. If I stand in a doorway, between my height and shoulders I pretty much fill it. I tend to wear unisex men’s basics and shoes just because they’re significantly cheaper, last longer, and fit my dangling arms and big, boat feet better. Still, my breasts, hips, and ass are unmistakable and I make no effort to hide or minimize them.

      If I go out, I never have any trouble getting the server/bartender’s attention, servers will nearly always defer group decisions to me, often even directing their answer to other peoples’ questions to me, and give me the bill. When I’m in a store and people aren’t looking, they assume I’m a man and are much more deferential and especially apologetic if they have kept me waiting. If I go to Home Depot, random guys don’t offer to help, the staff assumes I know what I’m doing (which I occasionally do), and other guys will ask me for advice in the aisles.

      The weirdest thing for me is that, no matter where I go, it’s presumed I’m a dyke and an “honorary” guy. Never indulged or marginalized, always welcomed into the heart of the group.

      All of this can happen without me ever opening my mouth: not to order, not to get a server’s attention, not to ask for or offer help, not to have a single shared interest with anyone present. My friends and I have even experimented where I didn’t make eye contact; I was still deferred to. It infuriates the hell out of a couple of friends who have much stronger personalities and are markedly more masculine. I told them I was willing to do anything within reason to try to minimize this effect and we couldn’t come up with anything.

      Height and broad shoulders: good for more than just playing basketball!

    • This fascinates me and it’s somewhat affirming to hear it. I once had an ex-boyfriend who was super into trying to be a feminist and was vocally very supportive of me and yet…I always had some feeling that he treated me in a way he wouldn’t interact with another guy, that the kind of respect he gave me was very different from the kind of respect he gave the men he liked, and I always kind of wished he would just go gay himself to spare us ladies that. But I could never say anything because there were no concrete things I could point out.

      I may have just accidentally persuaded myself into good old-fashioned second wave lesbian separatism.

      • It’s true. Everything you suspected is completely true, and actually, things are much worse than you think.

        Having said that, there is a positive side. I’m in a weird position where I’ve gotten to know men more closely than I might have if I had a “normal” gender thing happening, and once you see what is in there, it can be truly awesome.

        People who don’t see through the gender rigamarole are really missing out, and they will never understand how or why they are missing out.

        • Also, I think it’s really sad that men won’t accept feminine women as friends, or that women and men in general often can’t be friends, or even deal with each other reasonably. If I had to read from the script they seem so committed to, I would jump off a cliff.

  6. I was wondering when the VIDA results would show up on AS. My writing teacher showed them to us, and I am both discouraged and ridiculously motivated. I’m concentrating on the latter.

  7. I was hoping to see this team picked on AS, where I knew it would be loved!

    So speaking of the Awl, this might be weird, but I have sort of secretly (no longer!) been expecting more Hairpin/AS cross over… um, especially you, Rachel? You wrote something great for the Awl! Write great things for the Hairpin, please? I like my Ladynews intermingling. Queer and Funny.

    • I would love to. Unfortunately by the time I finish writing about Obama and Lady Gaga and the 8765 anti-marriage equality bills for the day I am usually not able to form sentences anymore and also there are usually only 3-5 hours left until I need to wake up for my day job. Which is actually the case at this very moment. But that was more than you wanted to know. ANYWAYS you’re very kind Claudia thank you for the vote of confidence, maybe read more Eileen Myles until then.

      • Well, I definitely think I started with the over-sharing, but thank you for saying I’m kind, I really hope I didn’t come of as demanding! You’re doing great! I will read more Myles, and will maybe see you at the Boston meet-up I don’t know now I sound like some strange stalker? I should stop commenting so late, and after so many after work beers.

  8. My parents gave me an androgynous name so I wouldn’t be discriminated against “on paper”, as my mother put it.
    I love my parents.

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