speak/listen

How can a male writer understand?

By John-Paul Flintoff

How can a man possibly fathom what it’s like to be a woman who lost 17 children? The question has troubled me ever since I started writing about Queen Anne. But more positive voices in my head say that the work is about empathy. I’ve never been a woman, it’s true – but I’ve never been the ruler of a kingdom either. By writing about it, I’m just trying to understand what it might be like.

I consulted friends. Here’s what they replied:

  1. Just do your homework and be really nice about it. Which won’t be hard for you.
  2. I am a woman but I don’t have children & you may be a man but you have a daughter – who can say which of us would have a clearer understanding of what she went through? You are doing this project for the right reasons – not to sensationalise but to explore & understand. Trust yourself & enjoy it.
  3. It’s ok to be a little scared JP. Doing anything for the first time is scary and so our minds look for some reason to hook the fear on. Enjoy the process. All will be fine x
  4. You are human, gender fixation has got too far. Being human is good enough. Losing children hits men sometimes more than women anyway – unfortunately I am speaking from experience. Anyway you are not just a man, you are JP! Plus, you are not writing only about her reproduction ability, are you?
  5. Stop worrying! man up to the tough task of womaning up! *
  6. I don’t think very many women can relate to losing 17 babies. Wow.
  7. Men care about children too!
  8. You’re the best possible man I can think of to do this, as you’re one of the most empathetic, considerate and sensitive people I know. I had no idea about the poor woman’s unimaginable loss, how utterly utterly dreadful.
  9. Watch Tootsie. And this amazing clip of Dustin Hoffman talking about his role
  10. My tuppence worth is that neither gender has any more claim over this particular tragedy – and with the right research you’re absolutely the man for the job.
  11. Get in!
  12. I trust you. And if you don’t tell Anne’s story, who will?
  13. That is totally amazing. Well done you – will be fabulous of course. Cannot wait
  14. I’m not sure there’s anyone who cd be said to have much in common with Queen Anne. I don’t hold with having to be same as the person you’re studying.
  15. To follow through with your rationale JP, you’d have to be a queen who has lost 17 children. So her story would never be told. Which would be the greater tragedy.

What lovely friends I have! Encouragement, tenderness and a joke from Robert Twigger*. Thanks chaps.

With apologies to Ernest Hemingway, pictured

Posted: January 17, 2015