caitri: (Is this a kissing book?)
"Full-body reading: Literary criticism taught me to scrub my feelings out of my reading, but a medieval mystic showed me how to put them back in" by Anna Wilson

The Book of Margery Kempe challenges what it meant to critically engage with a text. Amid Kempe’s loud weeping and marriage ceremonies with Jesus, there was her rebuke to the priest about his closed-mindedness, her challenge to the Archbishop of York about his hypocrisy, and an assertion that she – an illiterate woman – had the right to teach others what the Bible meant.
Reading The Book of Margery Kempe alongside fanfiction makes it clear that physical, imaginative reading is still associated with women, still considered embarrassing, and still employed as a form of resistance to mainstream narratives. People, in short, are still using this style of reading to elbow their way into texts from which they are restricted, just as Kempe and other women did with religious texts.

Just as important, Kempe’s Book argues that writing is also reading – transforming other texts, enriching them for readers – and it evidences a long intertwined history of women’s education with alternative literacies of power and resistance. Through Kempe, I came to realise that fanfiction, qualitatively so different from the literary criticism I learned in the classroom, is itself a powerful critical tool. My fanfiction community gave me a healthy disrespect for the ‘author’ in ‘authority’, teaching me to notice where a text dissatisfied me and to dig deep into my own feelings to work out why. I learned that identifying with characters can be valuable. Indeed, my identification with Kempe helped me notice something about her mysticism that hadn’t previously been studied: the importance of ‘Mary Sue’-style self-insertion into Bible stories, which formed the starting point of my PhD dissertation.
caitri: (Gamora)
Re-Queering Sappho by Ella Haselswerdt

Once, at a small dinner party with some fellow classicists, a genuinely lovely and brilliant male colleague floated a pet theory of his: Sappho was actually a man. It’s a perverse idea, but not an outrageous one. Sappho has long been celebrated as the lone female voice of Ancient Greece, and none of the writings of her many ancient fans ever questioned her gender. But one of the first things students of classical literature are taught these days, once they’ve learned how to decline a noun or two, is to rigorously detach the authorial persona you find in a text from any sense of historical biography. ...

In the past couple of decades, crusaders against the colonization of the past with our modern contemporary assumptions, models, and categories have cautioned against using the lower-case “lesbian” label to describe the poetess who resided in Lesbos. These critiques (always by male philologists) generally contain some entangled combination of the following assertions: the poems themselves are not as gay as you think they are; the term is anachronistic, and describes an identity category that did not exist in antiquity; and, in the raunchy genre of Athenian comedy, the character “Sappho” was obsessed with dick. These critiques betray a narrow and masculine misunderstanding of the nature of queer female erotics, a condescending assumption of naïveté about the nature of identity and identification, and the uncritical transmission of the deeply misogynist ancient reception of the Poetess. The supposedly progressive resistance to the colonization of the past begins to look an awful lot like the colonization of its narrow female margins by men. ...

the earliest contemporary reference I can find to the term [Lesbian] is a journal of sexual dysfunction, an imposition of male physicians on women they perceived to have been disordered. It’s not entirely clear to me when women started using “this classification” for self-identification (though a trip through the OED’s historical definitions of ‘lesbian’ and ‘sapphist’ was highly entertaining).
I would imagine that these brave women found in the imposed name of their supposed sexual disease a tradition worth embracing — a set of beautiful fragmented poems about the love of one woman for another, full of detailed imagery of flowers, women, and fruit, with an attention to private, embodied experiences of lust, loss, and longing. Slurs assigned to marginalized categories of people have often been taken up as proud identity markers. The doctors who pathologized women for displaying same-sex desire did not invent lesbianism. ...

When I first read Sappho (and as I read her even now) the thrill of recognition was not that of encountering the writing of someone who claims the same identity markers as I do. Instead, it is in the expression of an embodied desire that is free from the gendered hierarchies that saturate both of our societies. After being steeped in Homer, Thucydides, Sophocles — all authors whom I love, and in all of whose work the personal labored to be expressed under the heavy burdens of patriarchal convention — Sappho’s fragmented musings about the pleasures of female homosexuality were a revelation, one not dissimilar to my own after being raised in a conservative small town, exposed only to the romantic narratives of novels, television, and popular movies.
caitri: (Gamora)
Remember how I was reading Elena Ferrante and wondering what was up with her literary acceptance?

Well I'm about 4/5 done with her third book, and I think it's literary because it's about bad, unfulfilling sex and how marriage and children make women miserable. Which, full points for edginess there, I guess, but well, it bugs me that if you have a heroine with a happy relationship and orgasms, it's relegated to Romance or Chick Lit, and if not, it is ~Literature.~ Like, that's some regressive, Victorian issues there.

I feel like there's more to be said, but my brain isn't quite there yet. But I feel like there must be a connection between genre and sex positivity, and I'm wondering if any works has been done on that.

ETA: I actually finished book 3 tonight and got into the first few pages of book 4, and somehow things ended up being even MORE literarily trite and painful. Main character has an affair (and orgasms) with a douchecanoe, and it goes as well as you'd expect. Just. Why. WHY does women in literature apparently have to be middle-class heterosexual women having affairs that go badly? THAT IS SO CLICHE AND BORING. JFC.
caitri: (chris vocabulary)
The Mysterious, Anonymous Author Elena Ferrante on the Conclusion of Her Neapolitan Novels

I’ve noticed that the critics who seem most obsessed by the question of your gender are men. They seem to find it impossible to fathom how that a woman could write books that are so serious—threaded with history and politics, and even-handed in their depictions of sex and violence. That the ability to depict the domestic world as a war zone and willingness to unflinchingly show women in an unflattering light are evidence that you’re a man. Some suggest that not only are you a man, but given your output, you might be a team of men. A committee. (Imagine the books of the Bible…)

Have you heard anyone say recently about any book written by a man, It’s really a woman who wrote it, or maybe a group of women? Due to its exorbitant might, the male gender can mimic the female gender, incorporating it in the process. The female gender, on the other hand, cannot mimic anything, for is betrayed immediately by its “weakness”; what it produces could not possibly fake male potency. The truth is that even the publishing industry and the media are convinced of this commonplace; both tend to shut women who write away in a literary gynaeceum. There are good women writers, not so good ones, and some great ones, but they all exist within the area reserved for the female sex, they must only address certain themes and in certain tones that the male tradition considers suitable for the female gender. It is fairly common, for example, to explain the literary work of women writers in terms of some variety of dependence on literature written by males. However, it is rare to see commentary that traces the influence of a female writer on the work of a male writer. The critics don’t do it, the writers themselves do not do it. Thus, when a woman’s writing does not respect those areas of competence, those thematic sectors and the tones that the experts have assigned to the categories of books to which women have been confined, the commentators come up with the idea of male bloodlines. And, if there’s no author photo of a woman then the game is up: it’s clear, in that case, that we are dealing with a man or an entire team of virile male enthusiasts of the art of writing. What if, instead, we’re dealing with a new tradition of women writers who are becoming more competent, more effective, are growing tired of the literary gynaeceum and are on furlough from gender stereotypes. We know how to think, we know how to tell stories, we know how to write them as well as, if not better, than men.

Because girls grow up reading books by men, we are used to the sound of male voices in our heads, and have no trouble imagining the lives of the cowboys, sea captains, and pirates of he-manly literature, whereas men balk at entering the mind of a woman, especially an angry woman.

Yes, I hold that male colonization of our imaginations—a calamity while ever we were unable to give shape to our difference—is, today, a strength. We know everything about the male symbol system; they, for the most part, know nothing about ours, above all about how it has been restructured by the blows the world has dealt us. What’s more, they are not even curious, indeed they recognize us only from within their system.

As a female writer I take offense at the idea that the only war stories that matter are those written by men crouched in foxholes.

Every day women are exposed to all kinds of abuse. Yet there is still a widespread conviction that women’s lives, full of conflict and violence both in the domestic sphere and in all of life’s most common contexts, cannot be expressed other than via the modules that the male world defines as feminine. If you step out of this thousand-year-old invention of theirs, you are no longer female.
caitri: (Gamora)
So has anyone been reading Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels? The literary world is nuts for them: See her coverage at The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Vanity Fair, among others.

I finished reading the first novel, My Brilliant Friend, last week, and am about halfway through the second, The Story of a New Name, right now. (I feel it says something about popularity that I waited like a month to get the first book from the library because of the wait-list, and I got the second in less than a week.) I'm enjoying them more than I expected, to be honest; despite starting in the mid-twentieth century, Ferrante's writing about an anxious, studious girl constantly grappling with poverty, class, and worst of all, adolescence, really resonates with me. I enjoy the writing, too, but I also have to wonder about how much, stylistically, is the author vs. the English translator. The book is published by Europa, a publisher that specializes in European translations, and I've read a number of their books (Muriel Barbery is probably the best-known because of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but also Amelie Nothomb and Laurence Cosse) and they all sort of sound the same, and I'm not sure if this says something about a contemporary "European" style or if it's only the "house style" of the translators. (And I'm slightly tempted to try to get one of Ferrante's books in the original Italian just to see.)

The story is told memoir-style by an older woman, Lenu, whose friend Lila has disappeared, and then rewinds to tell the story from their childhood. I really like how it's as much about the darker aspects of female friendship as it is the glowy stuff; the girls envy one another: Lenu covets Lila's beauty and her take-no-shit attitude, Lila envies that Lenu gets to continue at school while she has to work (one thing I think is poorly done is they don't explain how the Italian lycee system is different than American schools, eg. elementary school is the basic school for everyone, middle school is functionally high school in that graduating it is pretty important, and high school is much more like an American college where you specialize in certain subjects with some general ed. requirements), even though Lila is the one who, as a girl, would check out books at the library and learn voraciously (like, for instance, Greek). There's a brutal bit where Lila has to leave school, and basically their teacher refuses to talk to her or acknowledge her again because she was smart and didn't continue her studies, never mind how her family made her go to work full-time so they could make ends meet. Lila ends up marrying an asshole she can't stand for money, Lenu basically has a breakdown partway through high school because of the pressures of balancing school, work, and taking care of her family. There's a beautiful, painful scene when one of Lenu's teachers starts giving her newspapers to read about the wider world (because the 1960s, because she can't afford them on her own) and she wants to cry because as far as she's concerned this is more homework she doesn't have time for. And in the meantime there are familial rivalries that flirt with gangland, there's pining for the cute and smart boy who barely knows you exist while dating the perfectly nice guy who can't talk books or writing with you, etc. And also, because of the language itself, there's anxiety about speaking: Lenu often talks about speaking in dialect with her family and friends, and proper Italian in school and with her teachers, and how if she slips and uses proper Italian with her friends and family they get angry and resentful, and worrying what the teachers will think if they ever heard her speak dialect, etc. (And this resonates with me too because I grew up in the rural South, and I never spoke with the local accents because, functionally, I was raised by the tv, and that was a source of bullying. Ugh.)

ANYWAY. So I'm enjoying the books, I get why people like them, but what I'm curious about is why these books in particular are being heralded as this amazing thing? Because you know who else writes about stuff like this. MAEVE BINCHY. Binchy, who writes (well, wrote; she died two years ago) about a changing Ireland and class issues and national issues (Ireland v. England) and religion, and domestic violence, and fucking divorce and abortion because those are/were huge issues there. Maeve Binchy with the bright paperbacks sold in grocery stores, sometimes on buy one, get one free tables, mass-market paperbacks that retail for like $7 vs. Ferrante's trade books that are like $18 a pop.

It should perhaps go without saying that Binchy's books were never reviewed by the prestigious journals above, nor was she interviewed by them, but I'm going to say it anyway because I just checked. I also looked at the NYT, who reviewed a couple of Binchy's books in the late 80s and early 90s (the last one reviewed was in 1995), and republished some of her Irish journalism in the late 60s and 70s, and a couple of book reviews by her in the late 80s and early 90s; there's also her obituary from 2012. I'm not sure what happened in the mid-90s for her to disappear so, though I suspect it was a couple of things: 1) The popularity of Circle of Friends which probably pigeon-holed that whole "women's fiction" thing (and probably also the dismal film of it, which surely didn't help with the change of ending); 2) the ever-widening prestige gap between popular genre and literary fiction, which was always there but I feel really hit new high (low?) points in the late 90s/2000s (Remember how people got so upset about Harry Potter being on the best-sellers lists that the NYT actually started a CHILDREN'S AND YA list so that grown-up reading wouldn't be sullied?); and possibly 3) shifting values in book review sections in the NYT generally, and more largely because in the late 90s/early 2000s a lot of papers eliminated them altogether or cut their pages so that space had to go towards "important" stuff.

(It now occurs to me that a study of linking at reviews and how they changed during these periods would be ~fascinating.~)

Anyway, so there are these shifting grounds of popular and literary reading, and women writers almost always get stuck in those bogs. Because Ferrante appears in translation she automatically has a higher prestige value, just because the translation market here is so tiny. Binchy wrote in English, albeit in Ireland, so the language/translation issue was never a thing, but she was always a best-seller in the Anglo-American market. She's even had a number of books come out posthumously, including In Her Own Words which was a collections of her journalism and nonfiction I quite enjoyed. Binchy was also profoundly prolific; some thirty books of fiction, several plays, her regular columns. In contrast, Ferrante has published nine books since 1992, although she has also landed on TIME's Most Influential People List. There's also the mystery of Ferrante; the name is a psuedonym, and there are theories about who she (if she) may be but no solid conclusions.

I don't have any conclusions; I'm just struck by how women writers, especially popular women writers, tend to get dismissed, and this isn't the case here. And I'm not sure why.
caitri: (Gamora)
I'm reading an interesting, older book I've never heard of until recently by Jane Marcus called Art and Anger, which is basically feminist criticism about women's reading and criticisms of women's reading. Anyway in an essay towards the end she reproduces this fascinating poem by Catherine des Roches (c. 1555-84), from an unpublished translation by Tilde Sankovitch. Art and Anger was published in 1988, and I haven't done much to track down whether the translation of the poem has since been published. Anyway, it's an interesting meditation:

To my Spindle

My spindle and my care, I promise you and swear
To love you forever, and never to exchange
Sweet domestic honor for a thing wild and strange,
Which inconstant, wanders, and tends its foolish snare.

With you at my side, dear, I feel much more secure
Than with paper and ink arranged all around me,
For, if I needed defending, there you would be,
To rebuff any danger, to help me endure.

But, spindle, my dearest, I do not believe
That, much as I love you, I will come to grief
If I do not quite let that good practice dwindle

Of writing sometimes, if I give you fair share,
If I write of your goodness, my friend and my care,
And hold in my hand both my pen and my spindle.
caitri: (charles write)
So I'm reading The Fellowship by Phillip and Carol Zaleski, which is a pretty massive biography of the Inklings. It's good, but I'm getting tired how all of the women--or at least everyone but Mrs. Moore, who possibly was the lover of CS Lewis--are always offstage having babies and doing gods know what, while the homosocial literary meetings just happen. So I've decided to pretend that while the Inklings are having their meetings, Edith Tolkien is running an unnamed group where all the ladies share their fics. And that Lewis's apocryphal "Oh God, not another Elf!" comment refers to Edith's 400,000 word response to The Silmarillion that's really just all about polyamorous Elves.
caitri: (Status is Not Quo)
"Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name" by Catherine Nichols

I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.

I wanted to know more of how the Georges of the world live, so I sent more. Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.

"More Date on Gender and Literary Prizes" by Niccola Griffith

[T]he IMPAC, one of the richest book prizes in the world, given for “excellence in world literature,” gives zero out of the last 15 prizes to stories by women about women—but 11 to stories by men about men. Compare this to the more populist Costas, which cheerfully declare they are for “well-written, enjoyable” books: 3 go to women writing about women. In other words, no surprises: the more consciously prestigious the award, the less likely the prize is to go a woman writing about women.

Griffith has also been collecting data on other literary prizes and gender, and it is fascinating reading.


Finally, I've been reading Charlotte Gordon's excellent duel biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Romantic Outlaws, which I first heard about from [ profile] eldritchhobbit and I have been enjoying the hell out of it. I got to the bit where Wollstonecraft decides to publish the second edition of Vindication of the Rights of Man under her own name, and all of a sudden all the reviewers who thought it was awesome before now find it silly and hysterical. Which, you know, goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Alas.
caitri: (books)
A follow-up to Kamila Shamsie's provocation to "let’s have a year of publishing only women":

Small press And Other Stories will produce no books by men in 2018 in answer to Kamila Shamsie’s call for direct action to beat gender bias in publishing

And Other Stories, the literary press that uses a network of readers to source its titles, has become the first publisher to accept the challenge. “I think we can do it,” said publisher Stefan Tobler. “And if we don’t do it, what is going to change?”

A small publisher, And Other Stories releases 10 to 12 new titles a year. “We’ve realised for a while that we’ve published more men than women,” said Tobler. “This year we’ve done seven books by men and four by women ... We have a wide range of people helping us with our choices, and our editors are women ... and yet somehow we still publish more books by men than women.”

Tobler’s colleague Sophie Lewis, a senior editor at And Other Stories, said she expected the team would be “rescheduling male writers’ books for other years [and] digging harder and further than usual, in order to find the really good women’s writing that we want to publish” in 2018.

But the main thing she wants to do over the course of the year is “to examine the selection and promotion process, the production of their books from commissioning to reader’s bedside”.

“By taking on the challenge we will expose our systems and the paths of recommendation and investigation that brings books to us, and we will end up becoming a kind of small-scale model for a much bigger inquiry about why women’s writing is consistently sidelined or secondary, the poor cousin rather than the equal of men’s writing,” said Lewis.

“Personally, I’d rather not think about it. Why should we have to? Surely great writing will out? It seems not – or it seems so consistently that women’s writing makes it less often that we have to doubt the fairness of the systems in place. So it will be worth carrying out a year of publishing only women in order to document the difficulties involved.”

Tobler said he “hoped other publishers would join in”, but while literary agent Clare Alexander praised Shamsie for “purposefully being an agent provocateur”, she said it was unlikely that the UK’s larger publishers would commit to publishing only women.

I went to go take a look at And Other Books' catalog and am pretty impressed with the material they print. Interestingly to me too as a book historian, they also have a subscriber model to help the process, where you can subscribe to get 2, 4, or 6 of their books each year. I'm going to end up getting at least a couple books by them because I applaud their efforts.
caitri: (books)
"Let’s have a year of publishing only women – a provocation" by Kamila Shamsie

In the five years in which slightly under 40% of the submitted books have been written by women, the percentage of women on the longlist has been slightly over 40%. The percentage of women on the shortlist has been 46%. The percentage of women who go on to win the prize has been exactly 40%. In this period, although four out of five of the chairs of the Booker juries have been men, there has been an almost even split of male and female jurors. The picture that starts to emerge from these statistics is one of judges who judge without gender bias but are hamstrung by publishers who submit with a strong tilt towards books by men. But, as is so often the case with statistics, there are other figures that complicate the story. The author Nicola Griffith recently published a study of prizewinning books on both sides of the Atlantic, broken down by the gender of their protagonists; it revealed that in the last 15 years, 12 of the Booker-winning novels have had male protagonists, two have had female protagonists, and one has had both male and female protagonists. The Booker does well compared with the Pulitzer across the Atlantic, which has had no female protagonist among its 15 winning books.

I could go on with the statistics and observations – the 64 male versus 36 female authors who make up the World Book Night picks of the last five years; the gendered decisions about how to package and describe male versus female authors; a recap of the Vida statistics that show how much more space male writers and reviewers receive in literary publications on either side of the Atlantic; the far greater propensity for male writers to pick other male writers when asked to recommend books. But at this point, I’m going to assume that the only people who really doubt that there is a gender bias going on are those who stick with the idea that men are better writers and better critics, and that when men recommend books by men it is fair literary judgment, while when women recommend books by women it is either a political position or woolly feminine judgment. To these people I have nothing to say except, go away and read some Toni Morrison.

Enough. Across the board, enough. Let’s agree that things have improved over the last 50 years, even over the last 20, and then let’s start to ask why. Was it simply the passage of time? Should we all sit around while the world continues on its slow upward trend towards equality? Or should we step outside that fictional narrative of progress and ask what actually helped to change literary culture in the UK? Two things come to mind: the literary presses of the 70s, of which Virago is the most notable; and the women’s prize for fiction. In part, what both the presses and the prize did was to create a space for women in a male-dominated world, giving voice and space to those who wouldn’t find them elsewhere.

I would argue that is time for everyone, male and female, to sign up to a concerted campaign to redress the inequality. Last year a number of readers, critics and at least one literary journal, the Critical Flame, signed up to a “Year of Reading Women” (for the Critical Flame it was female writers and writers of colour). Why not take it a step further? Why not have a Year of Publishing Women: 2018, the centenary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote in the UK, seems appropriate.
caitri: (Cait pony)
H/T the lovely [ profile] browngirl who posted this in her lj. Needless to say, this poem isn't in any of my women's writing anthologies and now I am SO BITTER.

"15th century Welsh poet Gwerful Mechain is one of the country’s most celebrated female poets, primarily for her poem Cywydd y Cedor (”Ode to Pubic Hair”). In it, she criticizes men for praising the other parts of a woman’s body, but not the genitalia. She declares herself “of great noble stock,” urges poets to “let songs about the quim circulate,” and ends by saying “lovely bush, God save it.” "

Every foolish drunken poet,
boorish vanity without ceasing,
(never may I warrant it,
I of great noble stock,)
has always declaimed fruitless praise
in song of the girls of the lands
all day long, certain gift,
most incompletely, by God the Father:
praising the hair, gown of fine love,
and every such living girl,
and lower down praising merrily
the brows above the eyes;
praising also, lovely shape,
the smoothness of the soft breasts,
and the beauty’s arms, bright drape,
she deserved honour, and the girl’s hands.
Then with his finest wizardry
before night he did sing,
he pays homage to God’s greatness,
fruitless eulogy with his tongue:
leaving the middle without praise
and the place where children are conceived,
and the warm quim, clear excellence,
tender and fat, bright fervent broken circle,
where I loved, in perfect health,
the quim below the smock.
You are a body of boundless strength,
a faultless court of fat’s plumage.
I declare, the quim is fair,
circle of broad-edged lips,
it is a valley longer than a spoon or a hand,
a ditch to hold a penis two hands long;
cunt there by the swelling arse,
song’s table with its double in red.
And the bright saints, men of the church,
when they get the chance, perfect gift,
don’t fail, highest blessing,
by Beuno, to give it a good feel.
For this reason, thorough rebuke,
all you proud poets,
let songs to the quim circulate
without fail to gain reward.
Sultan of an ode, it is silk,
little seam, curtain on a fine bright cunt,
flaps in a place of greeting,
the sour grove, it is full of love,
very proud forest, faultless gift,
tender frieze, fur of a fine pair of testicles,
a girl’s thick grove, circle of precious greeting,
lovely bush, God save it.
caitri: (Gamora)
"It’s-A Me, Mary Sue: Why She’s An Important Figure For Fanfic And Fangirls" by Sam Maggs

Maybe part of the reason we hate reading Mary Sue fics now is because they remind us of the very first fics we ever wrote as teenagers (admit it, we’ve all written a Mary Sue fic or seven). While it’s true that a large number of Sues are written by first-time ficcers, the fic community might want to consider helping new writers grow through constructive criticism instead of off-handedly dismissing the fic as a Sue. All other characters in fic are subject to personal scrutiny, so why not leave detailed notes about what could improve the story beyond “Oh, she’s a Mary Sue?” Suggest the need for growth in the main character; a more conflicted love story; better female friendships. Don’t forget, we were all that first-time fic writer once! Being too dismissive of Mary Sues also discourages girls from writing strong, original female characters, and that’s the last thing we need in fiction. Also – it might be worth questioning why we suddenly become so embarrassed about a character that’s basically just a perfect, super-beloved version of us.

Because the Sue is always “perfect,” what exactly makes us hate her so much? Is it that she doesn’t have any flaws? Or that she has the wrong kinds of flaws? Or too many flaws? That she cries all the time and needs to be comforted? That she’s incredibly-powerful and no one can defy her? Is it that she’s way too nice to everyone? Or she’s the most anti-establishment of all the angsty girls on the scene? I’ve seen Sues dismissed for all of these reasons, which honestly makes it seem like we’re just dismissing all original female characters outright. The Sue breaks women out of the nice corner in which lady characters often exist in fiction, and that makes people uncomfortable. Let’s not be those people, okay?
caitri: (Gamora)
Via the New York Times:

“I can’t say any poems in front of my brothers,” she said. Love poems would be seen by them as proof of an illicit relationship, for which Meena could be beaten or even killed. “I wish I had the opportunities that girls do in Kabul,” she went on. “I want to write about what’s wrong in my country.” Meena gulped. She was trying not to cry. On the other end of the line, Amail, who is prone to both compassion and drama, began to weep with her. Tears mixed with kohl dripped onto the page of the spiral notebook in which Amail was writing down Meena’s verses. Meena recited a Pashtun folk poem called a landai:

“My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.”

“I am the new Rahila,” she said. “Record my voice, so that when I get killed at least you’ll have something of me.”

Amail grimaced, uncertain how to respond. “Don’t call yourself that,” she snapped. “Do you want to die, too?”

Rahila was the name used by a young poet, Zarmina, who committed suicide two years ago. Zarmina was reading her love poems over the phone when her sister-in-law caught her. “How many lovers do you have?” she teased. Zarmina’s family assumed there was a boy on the other end of the line. As a punishment, her brothers beat her and ripped up her notebooks, Amail said. Two weeks later, Zarmina set herself on fire.


“A poem is a sword,” Saheera Sharif, Mirman Baheer’s founder, said. Sharif is not a poet but a member of Parliament from the province of Khost. Literature, she says, is a more effective battle for women’s rights than shouting at political rallies. “This is a different kind of struggle.”

It's from 2012, but I didn't see it until today.
caitri: (Gamora)
"Post Secrets,Young women face the dangers of the post office" by Angela Serratore

Communication of and by women has always struck fear into the hearts of men (see: novels; epistolary), but until the middle of the nineteenth century it was largely manageable—husbands and fathers, even servants, monitored a lady’s letters, and the wild fluctuations in cost of mail kept all but the wealthiest of girls and women from taking pen to paper on a regular basis. That changed with the standardization of postal prices in 1845. The cost of mailing a letter was reduced to three cents, making the mail accessible to working women, middle-class housewives, and schoolgirls with pocket money. Suddenly, wide swaths of women had access to two dangerous things—the mail and the post office. Anthony Trollope’s 1852 invention of the pillar-box had given British girls a chance to subvert the authority of their scandalized parents by mailing letters in secret, but their New York counterparts who visited the post office could both send and receive mail almost entirely unmonitored by those who might want to regulate their epistolary lives. ...

A Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine report on women and children in America points out to its British readers that while the fair maidens of Europe must rely upon a town businessperson to mail and receive her letters, a girl in New York has a freer hand:

"[She] has the privilege, if she chooses to exercise it, of her own private box or pigeon-hole at the post-office of the town where she resides, where she can have her letters addressed, and whither by a “Ladies Entrance” she can resort when she pleases and unlock her box from the outside, and take away her letters without observation."

It’s the lack of observation that made the New York Post Office such a source of fear—private communication is one thing, but to carry it out in a public space, away from the watchful eyes of protector figures, leaves women and girls open to assaults on their chastity, both in print and in person.

I love everything about this, I really really do. I wonder what arguments we could make about this as a precursor to women's activity on the web--private writing and reading, safe spaces, etc.
caitri: (Gamora)
"Flipping the Script: 4 Reasons Fan Fiction Is a Feminist Pursuit" by Ally Boguhn

Although it’s often ridiculed as nerdy and those who are into it are often written off, fan fiction makes some serious progress when it comes to empowerment of marginalized people.

It allows us to call out problematic media elements of the texts we love and subvert those narratives – leaving space to reclaim the stories and characters we treasure and make them into something even better.

Now, fan fiction isn’t necessarily inherently a political act – there are plenty of entries into the genre that are problematic in many of the same ways traditional media is (or more so – Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?).

But it does also allow for some seriously wonderful exploration of feminist ideals like equality and empowerment, as well as representation in media depictions and voices. ...

1. It Helps Young Women Explore Identities and Create Communities ...

2. It Allows Us to Interrogate Texts ...

3. It Centers Diversity ...

4. It Provides a Space for Perspectives That Are Ignored by the Media ...

Fan fiction is a genre that literally anybody can create and distribute. Within fan fiction, there are infinite opportunities for marginalized people to express themselves, share their own experiences, and create a sense of community.
caitri: (Gamora)
This is the drinking game from which we shall all perish.

"How to Interview a Woman Writer" by Beulah Maud Devaney

If she is attractive; tell your readers exactly how attractive, within the first paragraph. Speculate on whether she is attracted to you.

If she has become successful and not moved to a Western country; ask why, speculate on if she realizes how attractive she is: could this be the reason why she hasn’t moved?

If she writes about a non-Western country; see if you can find a dead white guy to quote. It will help orientate any readers who are feeling panicked. Here’s a helpful guide:

- India: Walt Whitman or Rudyard Kipling

- China: W. Somerset Maugham

- The Caribbean: Graham Greene

- Africa the country: Joseph Conrad or Winston Churchill

If a character in her book has had an abortion; speculate on whether she has had an abortion. Make sure your readers know that the answer doesn’t affect how attractive you find her.

If she is a writer of colour; compare her skin to food; chocolate, caramel, coffee, raisins, tater tots, brown bread. If she is white don’t worry about it; your readers know what that looks like.

If she is a writer of colour; ask how her race has impacted upon her writing. Try to make it both your first and last question, after the attractiveness and skin thing.

If she is blonde; mention it.

If she is slim; mention it.

If she is a woman; mention it.

If her book mentions her character’s health; ask if she lost weight while writing it.

If she says she has lost/gained weight; inform your readers of whether this has improved her appearance.

If she doesn’t want to talk about her weight; ask her again. She will respect your tenacity and your readers deserve to know.

If there has been no obvious change in her weight and she doesn’t mention her character’s health; content yourself with describing her figure. Inform your readers of whether her figure makes her more or less attractive to you.

If she has made literary history at a young age; mention her youthful appearance, contrast the level of her success with the level of your own boner.

If you are surprised that a pretty young thing like her has written a serious book; share that surprise with your readers.

If her books focus on a specific historical era; ask if she would have liked to have been married during that time. Maybe to a dashing bard?

If her protagonist is attractive; tell her and your readers whether you would like to bone her (the protagonist, you should have already established whether you want to bone the author in your first paragraph).

If you imagine her protagonist is not attractive; ask the author whether she would be friends with her protagonist in real life. What kind of friends? Frenemies or gal pals?

If she has written a biography; ask if she did it so people would like her.

If she has written a crime novel; ask if she is aware of how many prostitutes are murdered each year. Does she ever wonder what it must be like to be a prostitute?

If she has written a prize-winning novel; tell your readers why this is A Very Good Thing and also Highly Unusual and whether it has been nominated because She Is Attractive.

If she has written a sci-fi novel; wait until she’s dead before you interview her.
caitri: (books)
Gender, blah, blah, blah by Katherine Angel

It’s happened to me several times at a literary event — sometimes one at which I’m reading or speaking — that a kindly, affable chap, after regaling me with a long account of his next book, smiles generously and asks me what I do at Penguin, or how long I’ve been working for the venue. When I say, Oh, actually I’m a writer, a spasm of embarrassment comes over his face. As it should. Not, of course, because of any career’s merit over another’s, but because he’s revealed his inability to see me as a writer. A flustered flash of insight has taken place. One such occasion was an event organized by one of my European publishers, at which I and three other writers (all men) read from our books; a dozen journalists (all men) were present, as were other guest writers (all men). Sort of the equivalent of a New York Review of Books with 26 men writers and 1 woman; or a London Review of Books with 14 men and 2 women. In a sense, I can’t really fault those male writers who inquire politely as to my job. They’re kind of right: I don’t look like a writer.


Women often resist being described as “women writers,” and with good reason. The need to prefix “writer” with a tag suggests that writer really means male writer (or perhaps, more specifically, white, straight male writer). It implies that readers need to be warned; that women are intruders on the default terrain — which, in the pages of many magazines, they are. Similarly, the idea of “women’s writing” provokes ambivalence precisely because it implies that women are writing only from, and about, their experience as women (unlike men, who are asking the big universal questions of interest to all, in their great American novels-to-be). The implication is that women are trapped within their particularity, unable to speak to those who don’t share it, while the writing of (straight, white) men is universal rather than particular. But everyone is shaped by their experience of gender, whatever that experience is; there is no view from nowhere. Men’s experience is no less specific than women’s; it’s just that we fail to see it as such.


Inequality in literary magazines and inequality in pay are both important, and in connected ways. The visibility and status of women’s writing is important precisely because of a web of marginalization across all areas of life. If women’s voices are always peripheral to male voices intoning from the center of culture, then their voices are peripheral on all issues: the pay gap, consent, harassment, rape, domestic violence, reproductive freedom, the glass ceiling, childcare. The obscuring of women’s voices in media platforms, however elite, however niche, is part of the obscuring of their voices in general; and a lack of commitment to, or an inability to hear, their voices in literary culture is related to the same lacks and inabilities in relation to their voices in harassment, in sex, in courtrooms, and in the workplace.

So: what can be done? Magazine editors, like everyone, operate in a world already shaped by inequality. What are their responsibilities — what are anyone’s responsibilities — toward questions of social justice? It’s not clear that an editor’s job is necessarily to redress inequalities; it’s not clearly part of his or her brief. An editor wants to create an interesting, vibrant space, and to increase circulation. (Making money may not be a viable aim; not operating at a loss might be an aspiration.) At what point does and should an institution decide that it’s going to try, actively, to push back against inequality? And how does it do so?
caitri: (Is this a kissing book?)
The History and Modern Relevance of Fairy Tales on NPR

With scholars Maria Tatar and Marina Warner and novelist Ellen Kushner.

Fairy tales are everywhere you look today. And they aren’t necessarily for children. In a new English translation of the first Brothers’ Grimm collection, Cinderella’s stepsisters slice off part of their feet to fit a golden slipper. And the evil queen in the Snow White story is her biological mother. Films and TV shows feature well-known stories with modern twists. And many new fairy tales are aimed at a mature teen audience. It seems we have come full circle. Fairy tales were once the realm of adults until Victorians began routinely publishing illustrated collections for the very young. Diane and her guests discuss the history of fairy tales and why they still resonate.
caitri: (printer)

These economic realities are a huge challenge to both fairness and diversity for authors. Yet, while the debate on diversity and representation rages in the genre – in particularly in the US – almost no one is discussing the how economics of being an author silences the working class. ...

This leads us to the question of George R. R. Martin’s sister. In Virginia Woolf’s classic feminist essay ‘A Room of One’s Own,’ Woolf invents a woman called Judith Shakespeare. In essence, while Judith possessed all the talents of her brother William, because she was a woman she couldn’t got to school, and because she had no education her talents went to waste, unexpressed.

In this vein we will take GRRM’s imaginary sister, Georgia – a woman, we will assume, with all the talent of her brother. The answer to the question of whether Georgia would have made it as a writer in today’s economic climate is simple: she very likely wouldn’t. Women in the US have a higher risk of being downwardly mobile and working class women find it harder than men to escape their social class (and it is bloody hard for men).

Imagine Georgia working long hours in the service industry for minimum wage – a wage that has declined in real terms over the past twenty years – coming home exhausted, barely able to cover the cost of food and rent. No spare money, no spare time, a university education beyond reach, and not even a public library nearby. The itch to write never scratched between six-day working weeks, raising children, and the moment head touches pillow. ...

Modern inequality, social immobility and an inability to talk about class means that at least half of the population are close to being locked out of the profession. They are the silent majority, a rare and disappearing breed, and their stories are not being told. While this endures, the breadth and perspectives of the fiction coming out of the genre will be diminished.

This Old-Fashioned Printing Shop Knows Where It’s @: Fans of Movable Type Buy Up Symbols for Modern Era; ‘#great bargain’

“There is something magical, almost mystical, in creating the printed word,” says Mr. Barrett of Letterpress Things, “When a person sees something that has been letterpress printed there’s a dimensionalism there, there’s a depth. You’re not just seeing a flat surface like a page out of a magazine, you are now…looking into a space.”

A fun, light video and article, but NGL, I am, er, out of sorts (see what I did there?) that they interviewed an old white dude to talk about letterpress printing--especially when it opens up with, "I had no idea what a 'hashtag' was, and then golly, I saw it as a pound sign!"

In contrast, note that Ladies of the Press features younger women as printers and artists. Just sayin'.
caitri: (books)
Megan Beech's spoken word ode:

See also, Mary Beard, Troll Slayer.

Appearing on television made Beard famous in the U.K., but what has made her even more famous has been the suggestion, put forward by certain male observers, that she is too old or unprepossessing to be on television at all. A. A. Gill, the television critic for the Sunday Times, greeted her Pompeii series by remarking, “Beard coos over corpses’ teeth without apparently noticing she is wearing them. . . . From behind she is 16; from the front, 60. The hair is a disaster, the outfit an embarrassment.” Gill dismissed “Meet the Romans” by declaring that Beard “should be kept away from cameras altogether.”

After a “Question Time” appearance in the Midlands, in which Beard argued that recent immigrants were not a burden on the local economy, she was repeatedly vilified on an Internet message board. One user described her as “a vile, spiteful excuse for a woman, who eats too much cabbage and has cheese straws for teeth.” (British comments sections can seem to be haunted by the ghost of Roald Dahl.) Less creatively, another commenter posted a doctored photograph in which an image of a woman’s genitals was superimposed over Beard’s face.

There is an injunction among users of social media that one should not pay attention to online detractors. There is even a Twitter account, @AvoidComments, which issues monitory statements: “You wouldn’t listen to someone named Bonerman26 in real life. Don’t read the comments.” Beard argues, instead, that comments sections expose attitudes that have long remained concealed in places like locker rooms and bars. Bonerman26 exists; his vileness should be contended with. In this spirit, she posted the image of herself-as-genitalia on her blog—it was surely the first time that the T.L.S. site might have needed a Not Safe for Work warning—and suggested possible responses for her supporters to take, such as flooding the offending message board with Latin poetry. The story made international news, and the message board soon shut down. ...

In another highly publicized incident, Beard retweeted a message that she had received from a twenty-year-old university student: “You filthy old slut. I bet your vagina is disgusting.” One of Beard’s followers offered to inform the student’s mother of his online behavior; meanwhile, he apologized. Beard’s object is not simply to embarrass offenders; it is to educate women. Before social media, she argues, it was possible for young women like those she teaches at Cambridge to enjoy the benefits of feminist advances without even being aware of the battles fought on their behalf, and to imagine that such attitudes are a thing of the past. Beard says, “Most of my students would have denied, I think, that there was still a major current of misogyny in Western culture.”


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