The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday on remarks made by the author, Martin Amis, at the Hay Festival. The Telegraph said, “With his penchant for pot-stirring statements about feminism, Martin Amis earned a reputation as a misogynist. Now the author has declared that women make better writers – at least when it comes to sex. Female writers are more ‘sincere’ about expressing emotion, Amis said.”
The Telegraph quoted Amis as saying: “Let me venture a distinction between men’s writing and women’s writing. There is a difference between real sincerity and literary sincerity. . . I would say there’s a bit more song in women’s writing, there’s more real sincerity in women’s writing. And before I tiptoe away from this, I’d say the reason why women write better about sex – which is almost impossible to write about and no one has done it very well, ever – is that as a novelist you are in a God-like relation to what you create. You are omnipotent and the question of potency is embarrassing for men. It is the great hidden weakness in men, that potency can fail, and it’s not something that troubles women. They have a lot else to worry about, but not that. So once a man is writing a sex scene he’s feeling omnipotent, and he’s forgotten about all those fiascos and no-shows. But women don’t and they write better about it.”
I think that Amis has several fairly valid points here. The first is the writer assumes an omnipotent relationship to the novel he is creating. S/he alone creates it. The second point is that the subject of potency is potentially embarrassing for men – but not for women. It seems to me that this is true for biological and psychological reasons. It follows that male writers in their omnipotent state do not like writing about failed sexual experiences. As I reflect on the sexual scenes I have written, there are only two where the male performs unsatisfactorily. In Sin & Contrition there is the honeymoon scene involving Bettina and her new husband. And there is the wedding night scene involving a 15 year old Afghan boy and his 23 year old wife in my fourth novel which is not yet published.
I think I understand what Amis is trying to say about ‘real sincerity’ in women’s writing. I think he means that, in general, women are more in touch with their feelings than men are. But I don’t believe that this is universally true. I think it is true that, in general, a woman’s emotional response to a given situation is likely to be more loving and forgiving than a man’s. But again, it is not universally true.
I think that the sincerity of women’s writing about sex has more to do with the whole spectrum of emotions of the relationship. Men’s sincerity is more about excitement, illicitness, eroticism and conquest.
Perhaps we should learn from each other if we are able to write about it ‘very well’.