shakespeare’s daughters


Last month Rachel Cusk had a brilliant article in the Guardian on women’s writing. She made several good points that illustrate the conundrum many of us find ourselves in. Importantly, she asked whether women’s writing should seek equivalence or distinction from its male counterpart. She’s inclined to agree with Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf and think the latter. Just as we need a room of our own, we should rightly have a literature of our own. Not simply writing by women, but writing that ‘arises out of, and is shaped by, a set of specifically female conditions’.

She also acknowledged people were sure to question: Why does it have to be politicised? Why can’t we just get on with it?

I’ve managed to misplace the article, so I can’t give proper attribution, but I clipped a quote which might just sum it up. In any case, it gives pause for thought – which is something I plan on doing a lot when my teeth stop hurting.

This is an important book,’ the critic assumes, ‘because it deals with war.’

‘This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.’

Eighty years after A Room of One’s Own was first published – and 50 years after The Second Sex – the same value system prevails.

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5 Comments

  • michael
    Jan 18, 2010 at 12:22

    Isn’t that sort of ghetto-ising yourself? Why not just write as a human being with whatever qualities are a part of your specific identity about any given subject and leave it at that? Better than climbing into a pigeon hole.

  • Buffy
    Jan 19, 2010 at 16:49

    Thanks for your comment Michael.

    I think it’s difficult for any writer to escape the pigeon hole once they’ve published. It’s why people like Nora Roberts use pseudonyms when they deviate from their expected genre and why Nicholas Sparks still writes romance.

    As to women’s writing…

    Growing up, I witnessed some serious female oppression. That may sound dramatic, but when you hear the phrase ‘women should be seen and not heard’ and see it put into practice, there’s no other way to paint it.

    I think what you say is ideal. Why not just write as a human being? But that’s a lot easier to do when you don’t come from a history of marginalisation, or from an upbringing where one type of human is seen as superior to another. I think I understand what you mean by ‘ghetto-ising’. And that’s something I try not to do.

    Re: critical assumptions – I do think there’s a culture of looking at a work like “The Things They Carried” (i.e. war) differently than, say, “Excellent Women” (or housewivery). I’ve done it myself and it makes me question: Do some women writers feel the need to ‘masculine-up’ their writing in order to be taken more seriously?

    Of course this takes us back to what you say…should any of this really matter? I guess that’s the question. Should it? And, to what extent?

  • Cat
    Jan 19, 2010 at 23:13

    New design! Wow 🙂

  • JP
    Jan 25, 2010 at 3:50

    I don’t think it matters. I think your work defines you. I know more mediocre male writers than I do female, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read some great stuff by both. But then, I feel, pardon the (bad) pun, rather neutered in this argument, because I am white, male, born from affluence. I say that if a woman, or an african-american, or a gay, or a transgendered lobster feels marginalized by the culture, they probably are…the real difference is not letting that matter. A whole lot of progress has been made, I hope, but I don’t think Woolf or Dickinson or Austen, or even Toni Morrison would find the climate the same were they to start now.

    Do you really believe that literatures are separate? To me, they are like pizza, or wine…bad, or good. I don’t even really “see” gender or race when I read anymore, unless I sense from the writer that that is the subject on which they want me to focus. Perhaps I am yet, naive…

  • Rebecca
    Jan 26, 2010 at 16:04

    This topic makes my blood boil. And, though some may disagree with me, I liken it to the idea of “serious” literature versus everything else. Never mind that more literary fiction is written by men only because publishers classify their books that way and not because it is actually true, but when did books become about elitism and classism? Okay, since the beginning of time – but I still hate it. I feel like genre fiction and women’s fiction is looked down upon – and not just by men. I am shocked when people I meet are appalled that I like both Katherine Dunn AND Jennifer Weiner. There is room for everyone. What are all these hang ups about?

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