|A man at his computer.|
I briefly searched the World Wide Web and found links to hundreds of memoir-writing workshops. Only three were specifically for men (I didn’t view all 1.5 million hits.) Send me the links if you find some for men. I estimate thousands of websites, blogs and forums are devoted to helping women understand and write about their memories. I found none specifically for men. The number of workshops, membership associations, forums, and individual coaches and trainers catering to men and women were more than I could count.
“It does seem that out there in the blogosphere there's a lot of pink and purple and flowers on sites devoted to writing,” Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers, told me. “Outside the rarified world of well-known male writers who've published memoirs, there's not a lot of space or encouragement for other men to be writing their stories.” She directed me to the Men’s Story Project; helpful, but the project is not for memoir writing as such, although it could lead to that.
Do the experiences of men and women differ significantly enough to cause support for male memoirists to be minuscule, or is there something inherent in the genders?
Differences that persist
“I prefer to read memoirs by women because they are honest and often spiritual, I can relate to them better and they always teach me something,” says Isabelle Allende, whose novels have sold more than fifty million copies. “Men’s memoirs are about answers; women’s memoirs are about questions. Most male authors want to look good in their memoirs and have a place in posterity, while most women know that posterity is what happens when you no longer care. Women want to connect with others here and now, they couldn’t care less about legacy!”
The matter of questions and answers was taken up by John Gray in his Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. He theorizes (I’m not sure he proves) that men complain about problems because they want solutions, while women complain about problems because they want to be acknowledged.
The Mars-and-Venus effect gives rise to questions regarding Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, a book of fictional confessions rather than a true memoir: Do Japanese men view geisha differently than women they might marry? Do geisha view men differently than ordinary women view men? How well does Golden pull off writing from a female perspective? How would a female have written this novel differently?
Scientific studies, many of which are controversial, declare innate differences between men and women when it comes to long-term memory, food, fashion, children, animals, emotions, communications, and health (how many men’s doctors and clinics for men are you aware?), to name a few.
Perhaps our stereotypes of Mars and Venus have contributed to a lop-sided leaning toward Venus coaches, instructors, and workshop presenters of memoirs. Women are soft and emotional. Can men be soft and emotional? Men are tough and destructive. Can women be tough and destructive? Men are assertive and dominant. Can women be assertive and dominant? Women share and discuss problems, while men want to solve problems alone. Can those roles be switched? Where are the Mr. Moms?
Here is another stereotype: "Men tell stories of how they changed the world. Women tell stories of how the world changed them," quoted by Matilda Butler of biographer and memoirist Jill Ker Conway, the first woman president of Smith College and a Time Woman of the Year in 1975.
Butler believes women have more layers than men: “When you read women’s memoirs you see these wonderfully multi-faceted lives with more texture to write about.” Do you suppose those limitations were known by Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes), Tobias Wolff (This Boy’s Life), or Dinty Moore (Between Panic and Desire)? Butler instructs women on writing memoirs and is the author of Rosie’s Daughters, a book about the first women to achieve distinctive status after WWII. The title is a reference to the Rosie the Riveter character.
I’m sure you noticed I quoted only women. Send me the links if you find quotes from men on this topic.
Maybe there is a dearth of instructional support for male memoirists because the techniques for writing memoirs are the same for men and women: A good story, well-told, structurally sound, that in the end changes the writer. Maybe that’s the answer to my questions. Maybe not.
Photo courtesy Neilon Márcio Batista da Silva
How do you feel about memoir-writing support for men? Leave your comments.