Sunday, 25 November 2012

Gender, Women's Writing and Feminism

Cleopatra: Feminist Icon?
Many of my students are interested in gender, women's writing and feminist criticism. I have recently made available a short introduction to this topic.

I have also started to assemble a list of some useful and thought-provoking comments together with some historic quotations.

Reflect and Enjoy! The last quotation on this page of the blog references Cleopatra...

"one is not born, but rather becomes a woman."
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

"Historically social inequality between men and women can be traced to unequal power relations in particular societies [...] But it can also be traced - possibly relatedly - to systems of representation: how women are represented in plays, rituals, photographic images, novels, films, etc." Alan Durant and Nigel Fabb, Literary Studies in Action (1990), p. 43.

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” 
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

"Feminist criticism cannot be traced to origins in the work of one or more individuals working in  a particular period or discipline at a particular time. Rather, it grows out of the historical experience of resistance and self-definition by women in circumstances of social control by men; it is the gradual definition of a critical field..." 
-Alan Durant and Nigel Fabb, Literary Studies in Action (1990), p. 43.

"[Gender] is a compulsory performance in the same sense that acting out of line with heterosexual norms brings with it ostracism, punishment, and violence, not to mention the transgressive pleasures produced by those very prohibitions."
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (1990)

“Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.” 
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own 

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” - Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

"The human species has a biologically fixed, binary sex division between male and female. But superimposed on this are culturally constructed oppositions of gender: masculine and feminine, men and women, etc. It is this system of oppositions which the various strands of feminist criticism analyse and seek to change." Alan Durant and Nigel Fabb, Literary Studies in Action (1990), p. 43.

“A man attaches himself to woman -- not to enjoy her, but to enjoy himself. ”
 - Simone de Beauvoir

“My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.” 
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“When I was a child, when I was an adolescent, books saved me from despair: that convinced me that culture was the highest of values”
- Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 
- Jane Austen, Persuasion
“I am not an angel,' I asserted; 'and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me - for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.” 
 - Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

"the restrictive gender categories of the nineteenth century imposed on female writers are reflected in the metaphors of anger and madness in their heroines." Doris Bremm, summarising The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar.

“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

"One crucial factor in the social construction of femininity is the way literary values and conventions have themselves been shaped by men, and women have often struggled to express their own concerns in what may well have been inappropriate forms." Raman Selden and Peter Widdowson, A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (1993), p. 215.

“Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”
- Simone de Beauvoir

"Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

 “Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

“On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in her strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself--on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.”
- Simone de Beauvoir 
“A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism, and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, though the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen.” 
- Virginia Woolf, Orlando

“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.” - Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.” - Charlotte Brontë, Shirley

"Patriarchy subordinates the female to the male or treats the female as an inferior male, and this power is exerted, directly or indirectly, in civil and domestic life to constrain women. Despite deomcratic advances, women have continued to be coerced by a system of sex-role stereotyping to which they are subjected from the earliest age." Raman Selden and Peter Widdowson, A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (1993), p. 214.

“Fathers never have exactly the daughters they want because they invent a notion a them that the daughters have to conform to.”
- Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed

“Now, it is frequently asserted that, with women, the job does not come first. What (people cry) are women doing with this liberty of theirs? What woman really prefers a job to a home and family? Very few, I admit. It is unfortunate that they should so often have to make the choice. A man does not, as a rule, have to choose. He gets both. Nevertheless, there have been women ... who had the choice, and chose the job and made a success of it. And there have been and are many men who have sacrificed their careers for women ... When it comes to a choice, then every man or woman has to choose as an individual human being, and, like a human being, take the consequences.” 
- Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?

“The body is not a thing, it is a situation: it is our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project”
 - Simone de Beauvoir
“And "laids," [=ugly] indeed, they were; being a set of four, denominated in the catalogue "La vie d'une femme." They were painted rather in a remarkable style—flat, dead, pale, and formal. The first represented a "Jeune Fille," coming out of a church-door, a missal in her hand, her dress very prim, her eyes cast down, her mouth pursed up—the image of a most villanous little precocious she-hypocrite. The second, a "Mariée," with a long white veil, kneeling at a prie-dieu in her chamber, holding her hands plastered together, finger to finger, and showing the whites of her eyes in a most exasperating manner. The third, a "Jeune Mère," hanging disconsolate over a clayey and puffy baby with a face like an unwholesome full moon. The fourth, a "Veuve," being a black woman, holding by the hand a black little girl, and the twain studiously surveying an elegant French monument, set up in a corner of some Père la Chaise. All these four "Anges" were grim and grey as burglars, and cold and vapid as ghosts. What women to live with! insincere, ill-humoured, bloodless, brainless nonentities! As bad in their way as the indolent gipsy-giantess, the Cleopatra, in hers.”

“The Life of a Woman”, from Villette, by Charlotte Brontë.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook (London and New York: Routledge) and Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 (Four Volumes. Subcultures and Subversions. Routledge). He has recently contributed a chapter on gothic sexuality published in Sex and Death in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Jolene Zigarovich (Routledge, 2013). A new book on Shakesperean Tragedy will be published in 2013.