How To Suppress Women’s Writing

The title will scare off most folks unconcerned with unraveling the knotty question of why so few “great” writers who are women. This is yet another book begetting recommendations for other reading, my list staggeringly long at this point. Not being a sci-fi fan, I disliked the rambling prologue wherein Russ blathering sci-fi speak defining GLOTOLOG as an intergalactic word meaning information control without direct censorship. First up- prohibitions: poverty, lack of leisure, caring for family and home, lack of time, discouragement (“general discouragement of female learning still prevalent”, “discouragement takes less obvious forms”), open advice that women cannot / should not be artists, cultural messaging (the example of the 12 year old kid who loved Jean Rhys’ books but declared that she “never read books about women”, already having learned that women are not people). Then denying that women, after surmounting those obstacles, actually created the item in question (V Woolf accused of hiring male scholar to write her works, reviewers assuming a brother/sister wrote Jane Eyre, Mary Shelley simply being a receptacle for Frankenstein “provided a passive reflection of some of the wild fantasies which were living in the air around her.”) And if agreed that yes a woman wrote it, then complementing the masculine part of her which produced it (complements about writing like a man). Then questioning her right to have made it, critics of Jane Eyre “bluntly admitted that they thought the book was a masterpiece if written by a man, shocking or disgusting if written by a woman.” This pollution of agency has shifted – women can “talk dirty” and be sexually/economically dishonest in a way that’s acceptably cute, marked as “confessional” – where male accounts of intense, autobiographical experience are not categorized as such (Rousseau, St. Augustine, John Donne), but female art is labeled as such. Sylvia Plath? Confessional. Allen Ginsberg? Not.
The idea of “unloveableness” begins early – 1753 letter from Lady Montagu warning that her granddaughter must “conceal whatever learning she attains with as much solicitude as she would hide crookedness or lameness since men have engrossed fame to themselves.” Russ quotes Mary Ellman’s Thinking About Women noting the change in tone in written opinion about the inferiority of women – “from serious lecturing to automatic contempt via feminine stereotypes, from hostility directed at the ‘wrong’ kind of women (childless or improper) to hostility directed at all women.” There’s the double standard that some women try to avoid with male pseudonyms (too many examples), the erasure through anthologies and classroom syllabi, it goes on and on. We must discover anew the writers that had been discovered by previous generations. Luckily, through efforts since the 1970s, books like Villette are back in print. Overall this is a good resource, but a bit meandering and lacks structure.