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Women at the Library

The other day, I went to the library and picked up Rereading Women: Thirty Years of Exploring Our Literary Traditions by Sandra M. Gilbert and Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th-Century Women Writers by Lesley McDowell. Sounds pretty feminist-y, and I’m proud to say that was the idea. I was also tempted to grab a few Oxford and Norton anthologies sitting on the nonfiction shelves because I miss my collections–that are still in boxes in Georgia–that much.

I’ve spent most of my life looking up to men–in writing, I mean. Lucille Ball, Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett will forever be my starry idols. When I say I looked up to men, I don’t mean on some weird, psychoanalytical level like I think they are better than women or I was programmed to believe it. I just really loved the masculine style of writing. I also always loved pushing myself to write more masculine. It also so happens that most academic writing is very generic and masculine in prose and form, so I was also trying to get an A half the time, too. Whatever the underlying, educational motive, the idea that at first glance, an expert writer and editor may not be able to discern my voice and gender by reading my work, gave me a feeling of intelligible power. But, as much as I have read and studied women’s work in my time, I don’t think I’ve fully consumed it in the way that I could have.

I want to start doing that more.

Centuries ago (and in retrospect, not that long ago), female writers had to mask who they were through their writing. Some did this through tone and voice, some paired it with a pen name. They had to do this just to be considered for publication. Imagine a world where you had to pretend to be a man just to be considered successful. The idea is baffling to me, when I have so many women writers to look up to today, but to do that today as a way to fool the reader is honestly an empowering privilege. There aren’t any inherent biases that come with reading work without first knowing the author. You’re just reading.

I feel like when New Wave Feminism hit the scene and started showing girls and women everywhere what it actually means to be a feminist (and, really, let’s forget about the ones who still don’t understand or aren’t getting it right for today), I fell fast when it came to owning it. I’m still not loud about it, and I pick my battles for sure, but I am a woman so why not know what that means on every level? I think why I’ve gone deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole so quickly is because I’ve gone so long without feeling like I could relate. I’ve written about this some before: I had the worst, personal role models for feminism. But let’s face it, in the 1990s, we weren’t getting it right as a collective gender. A lot of what you saw in the media, was a bunch of women calling their husbands idiots and ripping their bras off to say “fuck you” rather than “why not?”. I remember really loving the sitcom Roseanne and wanting to gouge my eyes out whenever she would go on a rant on how stupid all men were.

I get it. We were still fighting to make feminism a movement, a known thing. For that, we had to be loud, I guess. But it still makes me cringe and look away to this day. Because I never, ever wanted to be that person. Gladly I will say I am still not.

But if I’m embracing more of what it means to be a woman, what does that mean for my every day? What does that mean for my writing? I feel a difference in me personally having now understood what it means to be a feminist–to be a woman, rather. But I’m still trying to figure out what’s appropriate for my writing. I’m so used to looking up to men, writing with a masculine voice and generic identifiers like “he” and “men” rather than parsing the pronouns, just being all-around as traditional and equal as I’ve grown up studying. With the world changing, and me along with it, I have to wonder how much of tradition do I have to throw away to appease my inner self and my audience?

10 thoughts on “Women at the Library Leave a comment

  1. I've been trying to read more about powerful and influential women recently. The BBC series Ascent of Woman is really good if you can get hold of it, it shows forgotten women in history. And recently one of my friends bought me 52 women who changed science and the world which is also great.
    I find it so inspiring reading about other women, especially in science because they overcame such adversity and still made it <3

    The Quirky Queer

  2. I hadn't heard of that BBC show but I'll be sure to look it up.

    And you're right. Women of science have definitely overcome adversity. And I know they still do to this day. I think it's cool how much you're into science. If I was more apt at math astrophysics sounds like it would be up my alley!

    Sometimes I think how funny it is, too, that in a lot of European culture women weren't “good enough” to be professional chefs, yet we still have that stigma of knowing how to cook or “our place is in the kitchen” (which the latter has died down some as a joke, thankfully). It's just really interesting to see how things change or are perceived across cultures.

  3. I'll be honest and say that my writing role models are largely males, too, but I've been trying to consciously read more about women, too. I'm still on the fence about feminism, honestly, and don't think I have enough knowledge of the subject to call myself a feminist entirely (though I do support the general idea of gender equality in general).

    I think it's wonderful that you're pondering upon these things, because I have been, too. Let's hope we figure it all out in the end.

    Have a lovely week, Jennifer!

    May | THE MAYDEN

  4. Hey May.

    I would highly recommend that you research New Wave Feminism, as that is the age we are in now. It screams of equality for genders and for all. I encourage all women to identify as feminists, because it's for our betterment, but obviously only you can make the choice for yourself. But I also hope that in your time and research you discover the VERY IMPORTANT distinction between what is Feminism and what are just women screaming about how horrible men are and putting other women down. Those two things are not one in the same. But like any faction, religion, political ideal or support group, there are radicals that make it seem scarier than it is.

    Feminism, as it stands definitively, is very fair. And it took me a long time, and this newer movement of Feminism and education on the subject to truly understand and agree with it. I'd be down to talk to you about it any time. I feel like agreeing with basic human rights for all is something you would agree with, and as such, should find comradery within what Feminism should be. πŸ™‚

    – Jen

  5. Hi Jen,

    Well, that was quick! Haha, thank you for your response!

    I do know the general idea of feminism and I'm very well aware of the fact that feminism does not equate to man-hating. I'm pretty sure I'll declare myself a feminist good and proud very soon, but I'd love to read more about it before I jump on board and declare it out loud, haha. I think it'll be great to talk to you about it, though, just so I can get a more accessible viewpoint, opinion and discussion of feminism going!

    Ooh, also, I just saw on your sidebar that you're participating in NaNoWriMo? I'm planning on joining in on it, too, but I haven't prepped for it at all! Have you participated in it before?

  6. Hahaha, I had actually JUST gotten on Blogger and saw the new comment. πŸ˜›

    I hope my comment didn't seem like I was like, “DON'T BE DUMB AND READ ABOUT IT.” I was just trying to sound encouraging, haha.

    And yes, NaNoWriMo. I'm so nervous. I did it last year and honestly didn't do well at all. As you can see I'm training this time around. What's your NaNoWriMo account? We can link up on there and encourage each other. πŸ˜€

  7. This was such an interesting and thought-provoking post. Whereas previously as you mentioned women wrote under male pen names and assumed a “masculine voice” to be able to be published, I think a lot of female writers still do something similar, but instead of facing roadblocks with publishing as a women they are constrained by their gender in a different way, forced to write these romantic novels. I wonder if some of the more “flowery” literature and pop-lit that a lot of people associate with women are less about the writing style of those actual female authors and more about them writing to please people.

    Or as you mentioned, they go the other direction and try to write what they feel is angry chick lit, which also can feel really forced.

    In the end, I would just like to see women writing about whatever the hell they want to to write about as long as it is genuine.

    Rae | Love from Berlin

  8. Thanks for your comment, Rae! You're very right that a lot of writing for female writers seems to often fall into certain niches still. This seems to be the case especially with novels and pieces that lend themselves towards a certain “Mary Sue” type of writing; the woman inserting herself into the stories. Romantic stories, especially.

    Funny story, every now and then, I get in the mood for something kinda cheesy to watch on TV. Lately that's been 'Melissa and Joey.' It's a fun sitcom, but by no means does it try to be anything deeper than what it is. (Which I thank them for.) There's an episode in it that I just watched he other day where a famous “female erotica” author (chick porn, haha) comes into town and is a special guest at a book club for Melissa. It's basically a Fifty Shades of Grey type of novel–BDSM style. Anyway, the woman ends up breaking down later and shedding the seductress persona she had been carrying around the entire time since publication. She starts weeping about that's just not her and really she wanted to write completely different genres, but they're too over saturated so she went for something easy. And while it ended up being a kind of goofy scene in its own right, I do think that in junction with what you've just said certainly creates a bigger discussion to be had:

    Do women sometimes settle in order to meet their end goal to become published?

    I certainly don't intend to settle at any point in my writing, and I would hope to God no one else does either. But it's not hard to believe some might.

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