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"It is a sad paradox that when male authors impersonate women (Tolstoy as Anna Karenina, Flaubert as Bovary, Richardson as Clarissa, Lawrence as Constance Chatterley, John Berryman as Mistress Bradstreet) they are said to be dealing with 'cosmic, major concerns'--but when we impersonate ourselves we are said to be writing 'women's fiction' or 'women's poetry.'"

- Erica Jong, introducing Colette in an omnibus of Colette's work, 1974

Kind of discouraging that forty years later we're still blithely labeling things "women's fiction." Also discouraging that it took me a while to notice it's not the most progressive or useful genre name. (The positive flip side, potentially: women buy and read books these days in far greater numbers than men do, so you'll sell more if you write "for women." But defining "for women" remains problematic, I would think.)

Thousands of academic theses can be, and have been, and will be written about these matters. I'm not attempting anything huge here today. This is only a brief post in which I'll add this personal anecdote:

Recently my folks brought me a newspaper clipping of some (male) journalist's list of best novels ever, or best writers ever, or something along those lines. We all enjoy looking over such lists. But as I read it, I noted that he cited someone--I think it was Carson McCullers--as "the best female American writer," perhaps of the 20th century; I forget the exact accolade. But "female" was definitely in there.

I looked at my parents and said, "Why 'best female writer,' when he doesn't say 'best male writer'?"

My dad shrugged, as if he'd never noticed or thought about the issue. My mom looked me in the eye and pointed at me silently, as if to say, "Exactly."



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 14th, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)
Yep. Cos the privilege of patriarchy is that gender can be invisible for men - theirs is the default. Only women need to be qualified by their gender status. Same for race too, of course.
May. 15th, 2014 12:14 am (UTC)
Exactly - in linguistics (and possibly elsewhere; I'm not sure) that which is the default is "unmarked" and that which is the more specific case is "marked," and of course in most languages masculine is unmarked and feminine is marked. Thus adding -ess, unnecessarily really, to words like "author" or "poet" to mark the person as female. Think how odd it would look to have a "men's fiction" section in the bookstore! What would that be, Hemingway and Clive Cussler? :)
Aug. 30th, 2014 05:15 am (UTC)
Alas, this is exactly what happens with kid lit. It's getting worse, too - just a few years ago Harry Potter was marketed to girls and boys alike; now almost everything is tagged "girls" or "boys," with the latter too often being patronizingly dumbed-down...

As for the original point, have you seen this parody poster?

Aug. 31st, 2014 07:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, unfortunately our kids have picked up that pink is a "girl color" and princesses are "girl topics," and therefore (being boys) they hate both, despite our attempts to claim there are no such things as girl/boy colors and girl/boy topics. Thanks, marketing. Nonetheless, they liked "The Princess Bride" well enough when we watched it the other night, despite princesses being in it, and they seem to think Ozma is pretty cool. So, not hopeless yet.

That poster is gold! LOL!

Edited at 2014-08-31 07:02 pm (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )