Whenever I read a book that speaks to me on a deeper level, I’d like to pick up the phone and invite the author for a cup of tea or hot chocolate. That way we could chat for hours on subjects you rarely talk with other people.
That happens to me every time I read a book by Peg Tittle. And because I was born under a lucky star, I even got the chance to ask Peg some questions. However, the best part is she agreed to answer them. I will share with you the whole interview:
Mesca: First of all, let’s get to know you. Who is Peg Tittle and what defines you?
Peg Tittle: I’m anti-sexism (I consider that to be more accurate than calling myself a feminist, especially since the meaning of ‘feminist’ seems to have changed significantly, and for the worse, since the 1970s), I’m an atheist, I’m anti-capitalism, and I’m an environmentalist. I’m probably a bunch of other things, but since those four come to mind, I suspect they’re most important to me.
(By the way, I grinned at the ‘What defines you?’ question because I’ve been busy promoting Gender Fraud: a fiction, a novel about gender identity, and I can certainly say that sex and gender do not define me—as least as far as I’m concerned; unfortunately, in our sexist society, that’s exactly what defines me.)
I might also add here that I’m also Jass Richards (my pseudonym for my funny-with-an-attitude writing; see jassrichards.com) and I’m Chris Wind (my pseudonym for my more-on-the-literary-side writing; see chriswind.net).
Mesca: Was there a special event in your life that made you start writing about women’s issues? Or was it the voice inside you that needed to speak out?
Peg Tittle: I think it was an accumulation of little things … I think I am Eve (chris wind) was my first feminist piece, and it was actually an essay I wrote for my Milton course in university. That gave me the idea of investigating the rest of the Bible for misogyny (I hadn’t yet discovered Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible). I wrote Ophelia (chris wind) as a result of my Shakespeare course, and that led to several other soliloquies written from the point of view of Shakespeare’s women. Revisioning fairy tales was very much ‘in the air’ in the 70s, so I did that as well (Snow White Gets Her Say, also by chris wind).
And Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party had a great effect on me: I remember standing outside the gallery after I’d just walked through, reading the information at each plate setting, just stunned and tears started rolling down my cheeks as I became suddenly conscious of the full weight of centuries of misogyny, and my boyfriend, who had come with me to the gallery, said with great insensitivity “I don’t know what you’re crying about” (I should have left him right then and there, I know); Deare Sister (chris wind) was a result of that (those four, along with UnMythed, comprise Satellites Out of Orbit).
Then surely feminism informed my work as Jass Richards, but I wouldn’t call any of it “about women’s issues” except for A Philosopher, a Psychologist, and an Extra-terrestrial Walk into a Chocolate Bar.
I started writing fiction as Peg only recently (she was the academic of the three of us): What Happened to Tom was clearly inspired by Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous philosophical thought experiment about abortion (“The Violinist”)—I thought ordinary people, not just philosophers, should know about it, and I thought it needed to be really ‘fleshed out’ for people, especially men, to get the point. It Wasn’t Enough and Impact just followed as a result of a years and years of living in a male supremacy (same for This is what happens, by Chris—though I’d actually written an early version of that in my 20s, but couldn’t get an agent or publisher for it) … And Gender Fraud: a fiction was specifically triggered by the relatively recent rise of gender identity, specifically the ‘gender recognition’ legislation being passed in so many countries.
Mesca: Out of all the books you’ve written have you got a favourite? Which one? Or if you haven’t got one, why not?
Peg Tittle: Well, What Happened to Tom sort of started it all, in terms of writing conventional novels (I actually wrote it as a screenplay first, and it exists as a stageplay), so that’s important, but I think I like Impact most because of its hard intensity (that feels more like me).
That said, I’m quite fond of some of the pieces in Satellites. And This is what happens, because it covers my life, feels like my magnus opus.
Mesca: What was the worst thing you’ve been told and how did you react to it?
Peg Tittle: No one thing stands out. I think my life—and probably many women feel this way, if they’re at all aware of their lives (I’m appalled at how many women just sort of stare at me, with either incomprehension or pity for my presumed delusion, when I say ‘misogyny’ or ‘male supremacy’…)—has been full of such things, an accumulation of insults (from simple discouragements to seemingly harmless dismissals to outright intimidations and injuries) that eventually either outrage or numb you. (Or both.)
Mesca: Do you think the world is changing for the better or worse when it comes to women’s rights?
Peg Tittle: One, it depends on where you look, in terms of both place and time. There are huge differences between what happens to women in one country and what happens to women in another country. Also, I don’t think there has been a steady course one way or another: even in my lifetime, things got better, then they got worse (for e.g., reproductive rights—when I was a child, no access to contraception and abortion; by the time I was in my late teens, access to contraception and abortion; now, so far so good, but there are forces trying to restrict access again…)
Perhaps that’s how it’ll always go: women will achieve one step forward, then men will be so outraged, they’ll force them one or two steps backward … I often find myself saying to young women “But we figured this out in the 70s, have you forgotten? Why do we have to keep re-proclaiming our personhood, why do we have to go through the same fights over and over …?” Maybe that’s why: they’re responding to the backlash of their present …
Mesca: What is the advice you’d give to any woman out there who has experienced discrimination just for being a woman?
Peg Tittle: Well, surely that includes all women out there (they may not be aware that their experience is discrimination just for being a woman). I guess first and foremost that would be my advice: realize that it’s not personal, it’s not you—it’s because you’re female. (That’s in large part why I wrote This is what happens.)
I’d like to say something about how to change it, what to do in order to eliminate such discrimination, but I just don’t know. It’s been going on for centuries, literally (I’ve just finished reading Jack Holland’s The History of Misogyny), and surely we’ve tried almost everything, without success, apparently …
Thank Peg for accepting to answer my questions as I know you are quite busy writing and promoting your new book. I am nearly half-way through Gender Fraud: a fiction and it is a book I can’t wait to write a review on. Maybe we can have a conversation on the subject of gender fraud, who knows?