I requested this book by Joanna Russ from my library because one of the hosts of my favorite podcast kept raving about it. Unfortunately, my library bought copies of the ebook right after my mother’s death when I was looking for comfort reads and there is nothing comforting about this book. But I knew if I didn’t read it right away, I would forget about it. That, and since my mom made me the feminist I am, reading this book seemed an appropriate way to honor her and I think she would have approved. Besides, the book is short, so it didn’t take me long to get through.
This book was fascinating. It covers a variety of ways society suppresses women’s writing and how even female writers who make it over one or two hurdles are faced with other hurdles.
Russ covers everything from the assumption that the topics women tend to write about (home, hearth, relationships, etc.) are considered boring, unimportant, and not representative of “real life” (i.e. sex, death, and war).
Even when women do manage to forge successful careers for themselves, there are always excuses: she only wrote one book; she didn’t really write it, a man must have written it; she doesn’t write like a woman (for which she was both praised and condemned for stepping outside her pre-ordained feminine place).
Russ is a white woman who has always worked with literature in one form or another, so this book primarily covers white women writers, particularly Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, but she does touch on the fact that the same techniques are used to suppress women in other art forms (music, painting, etc.), as well as people of color and homosexuals.
The author’s note is well worth reading because Russ talks about her struggle to incorporate the challenges faced by women of color, which are both similar to and different from the challenges faced by white women. Finally, she gives up, realizing that she is not the right person to discuss those challenges. Instead, she provides a long list of books on the topic written by women of color so the reader can go on to investigate the topic for herself.
I’m disappointed to say this book remains every bit as relevant today as it was in 1983.
What did you read this week? Anything else as infuriating as this very well written and well researched nonfiction book?