The Current State of the Woman’s Pen

Reading Differently

In 1664 Margaret Cavendish wrote Sociable Letters, a fictionalized group of personalized missives that intentionally or not shed a great deal of light on the peculiar reading and writing practices of women. Her remarks on Plutarch’s Lives were critical of the conventional humanist way of reading texts, and she was equally skeptical about the classical concept of ?virtuous? political action. Her ?letters?also questioned assumptions about the universal appeal of the classical literary heritage that privileged men had chosen for the rest of us.

Token Inclusion

The digital age hasn’t done a whole lot to change the male-dominated status of mainstream models of literary engagement, either on paper or online.

Women’s names are notably missing from top-rated blogs (Harp & Tremayne, 2006). According to Sharon Marcus in Feminist Criticism: A Tale of Two Bodies, feminist writings often receive the slight of not being cited even when they’re quoted and when they’ve clearly influenced other (more well-known, male-penned) works. Marcus, Sharon (Oct, 2006). Feminist Criticism: A Tale of Two Bodies. PMLA 121, PMLA 121, v pp. 1722-1728.

In reviews of modern literature, great writers like Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein are often given only token mentions if they’re mentioned at all.

Before You Sigh . . .

On the hopeful side, women are nowadays producing more written work than men, especially in the blogosphere. Women are more likely than men to create blogs and to stick with them after they’ve started them (Jones, Johnson-Yale, Willermeier & PĂ©rez, 2009).

Women also report a lot of psychological satisfaction from blog writing, and there’s solid evidence that the sense of community and efficacy that blogs grant enhance a woman’s belief in her personal power to influence society,thus giving her the power to change her own circumstances and environments.

Feminist Criticism

The digital age and the increasing ?intersectionality? (recognizing that gender can’t be separated from class, ability, nationality, religion, etc.) of feminist criticism have kept feminist theory from lapsing into the dinosaur status that had been threatening it.

This has strangely allowed women’s writing to become more relevant by removing it from the European paradigm dominating western literature from its beginnings.
Colonial women writers like Katherine Mansfield, Jean Rhys, Una Marson, Christina Stead, Olive Schreiner, Cornelia Sorabji, and Santha Rama Rau are less likely to be excluded from lists of significant new writing because the white-male-in-a-suit model is strangely out of place in the new global village in which everyone’s voice matters.

Also conspicuously awkward is ?universal feminism?:the outdated notion that the western middle class feminist issomehow entitled to impose her personal view of liberation on the rest of the world.

Other Ways of Seeing

Margaret Cavendish was ahead of her time when she suggested that there were other ways of viewing life besides the classical humanist model imposed by a patriarchal culture. Valuable as this view was, it was just another lens, no more worthy than the rather sharp lens of Cavendish herself.

This is postmodernism in embryo. The task of today’s women writers is to achieve a more equitable degree of social significance by continuing to be empowered by their own best voices?i.e. the voices that emerge from their own deepest personal convictions?and to encourage their sisters to do the same.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.