‘Women should actively work to take up more space’


Photo by Lona on Unsplash


“Too often…we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought”
– John F. Kennedy

The other day I heard bestselling American crime writer Sara Paretsky talking about reimagining women’s place in society. She put forward an interesting idea: women should actively work to take up space.

Ms Paretsky, who is now in her 70s, told the BBC World Service (the interview is right towards the end of that link) that women who aspire to positions of power, spend a lot of time and effort making themselves smaller. They diet and exercise and in every sort of way, thereby trying to reduce their presence. But in fact, she said, they should do the opposite. Aspirational women, should actively seek to occupy more space.

And she went on to note the responses she continues to receive from young women to her now, somewhat senior crime fiction series with female private investigator VI Warshawski. Ms Paretsky said young women seemed to feel inspired by the commanding presence of VI Warshawski.

I can’t attest to that, not having read any of Ms Paretsky’s work but back in 2015, The Guardian quoted the writer explaining that she was lucky in being able to successfully ride “second-wave feminism” with her female investigator. The article also had a laudatory quote from Scottish crime writer Val McDermid about Ms Paretsky: “Without her example,” she said at a crime writing festival where Ms Paretsky was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction award, “many of us wouldn’t be where we are today”.

Of course it’s not just about women in the crime writing sphere. The idea of occupying literal as well as metaphorical space is compelling.