Sunday, February 24, 2013

"The Blank Page" and Issues of Female Creativity - Susan Gubar

"He got good into her Book tongued her every passage thumbing her leaf and rubbing his hands all over her binding" - Ishmael Reed

This week I only had to read four essays and one excerpt for class with each text coming from a different anthology, so I'm not going to try to make any kind of cohesive comment about my readings. However, I would like to point something out. The essay by SG (of Gilbert and Gubar fame - I wondered how they felt about always being together, but unfortunately literature professors are not interviewed like celebrities and could not discover any juicy information) is only 18 pages, yet in 18 pages it packs in a pretty large number of texts that I am either reading this year. She examines or references in some capacity, the following: 

Read/Will Read for Class (Gender and Lit)
The Woman Warrior
The Philomela section of Ovid's Metamorphosis
Adrienne Rich (see earlier post)
Tillie Olsen (see earlier post) 

Read/Will Read for Comps
(reading list chosen by picking the most interesting/familiar pieces from UNLV's list)
It references:
Portrait of a Lady
House of Mirth
The Bluest Eye
Christina Rossetti
T. S. Eliot

What's up with that? It feels delightfully sneaky to have double dipped my homework with some information that may be of assistance for my comps, but it also feels like...there is a WHOLE UNIVERSE of literature out in the world, why does a famous essay by a famous critic raise all the same texts that are always being raised? Is the circle just a lot smaller than I thought, or are have people carved out the Stuff Dealing With Gender Canon Space and it is already full?

Because I thought they were required (they weren't), I ordered three feminist theory/criticism anthologies, and I'm very curious to see what other texts from my list pop up within them as I know that when I have a choice in reading I'll almost always go for something with a female/minority slant (ie: my Canterbury Tales are The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Knight's Tale, and the Miller's Tale). [Rant: this particular anthology completely lacks an index which I find incredibly offensive. I would be more than happy to put in the work to create an index for the betterment of human kind and scholarship. E-mail me for the next edition Elaine Showalter!]

Saturday, February 23, 2013

5: The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Stories - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"Never in all her life had she imagined that [these fashions] could look, to those who paid for it (men), like the decorations of an insane monkey" 
       - If I Were a Man
"The more Mrs. Haven used her mind the more mind she had to use" 
       - A Partnership
"I'm going to do what I never did before. I'm going to live!...Thirty years I've given you - and your father. Now I'll have thirty years of my own...I want you to grasp the fact that your mother is a Real Person with some interests of her own and half a lifetime yet" 
      - A Widow's Might
"Well anyway...if we do marry we don't mean to give up our work I hope. I mean to marry some time, perhaps - but I don't mean to cook! I mean to decorate always, and make lots of money and hire a housekeeper" 
       - Five Girls

I sat down to read "The Yellow Wall-Paper" (and other stories) while only planning on reading about that terribly ugly wallpaper and nothing else. I have read it quite a few times over the years in various educational settings, put it on my comps list, and just wanted a quick re-read. I have always received xeroxed copies of the story, but wanted it in its own volume which is how I ended up with 332 pages of CGP's stories even though, again, only the wall-paper is on my comps list.

The Introduction mentioned the Gothic aspects of the story which I hadn't ever really considered (I'm more into gender and not at all into Gothic. Frankenstein is as close as I get to that subject and Edgar Allan Poe is going to be banned next year in my AP kids' poetry projects because I'm bored of him). It also said that "'The Yellow Wall-Paper' is so compelling that as readers go on to her other short stories they may feel disappointed, since except for 'The Giant Wistaria' and 'The Rocking Chair', both in the Gothic mode, CGP's subsequent stories lack the emotional depth and suggestive power of the work generally and deservedly accepted as the masterpiece of her fiction" which is so disparaging I had no desire to read anything besides maybe skimming those two stories. It's followed by some bullshit patting-on-the-head that says "it would be a shame to simply pass over [the other stories that have a 'genuine interest of their own' that is 'different' but 'authentic and rewarding']" which is a lame-ass attempt to justify why the entire book exists when the editor already told you only one is worth reading. THIS IS A CRUEL INJUSTICE TO HER OTHER STORIES.

I read "The Yellow Wall-Paper" in a quick 35 minutes and decided, since I had the whole day in front of me to read for my comps and/or homework I could read a few more. Five hours of free time that I didn't have later, and I have conquered the better portion of her short stories. 
  • The Yellow Wall-Paper: I don't think anyone can start any place BUT here. So start here, fine. Marvel at its crazy metaphors (the wall-paper is the patriarchy, holding chicks back). Think about everything you've heard about post-partum depression and be glad that we have a name and accept it as a thing now. Make the biographical connections to CGP's own life (a doctor put her on "the rest cure" and told her to "live as domestic a life as far as possible, to have but two hours intellectual life a day, and never touch pen, brush, or pencil again." This was an epic failure for CGP and the protagonist of this story, but according to my Norton Feminist Lit Theory/Crit, "such a cure, strangely enough, was to work wonders for...Edith Wharton" who went on to write a terribly depressing novel where nothing good happens to a woman while CGP writes a ton of short stories about awesome things happening to women). Done? Let's move on. 
  • Dr. Clair's Place: If the Yellow Wall-Paper is the disease, Dr. Clair's Place is the cure. How to really treat depression in women in a way that is appropriate and beneficial. It's such a contrast to what happens in the Yellow Wall-Paper that I think you have to read both. Ok. Onto the yummy stuff.

Seven Awesome Stories About Life from Best to Less Best

  1. If I Were A Man: A marvelous body-switching episode where a woman gets to experience life as a man. Fascinating. 
  2. Circumstances Alter Cases: Highlights the double standard that is revealed when men make a judgement about a romantic situation and then completely change their minds when the gender of the people in the situation are reversed.
  3. An Unnatural Mother: The note in my book say "a bunch of ungrateful bitches judge a woman who is a fucking HERO because she grew up motherless with an openminded father who let her break gender stereotypes."
  4. Five Girls: Five friends who live/go to art school together and decide to build a giant compound for themselves so they can keep living and working together. Marriage + work = happiness.
  5. The Rocking Chair: Gothic. Creepy.
  6. That Rare Jewel: Victorian courtship rituals leave everyone confused when women can only socialize with men, and men can only court women by socializing with them, so no one knows when we're being friends and when we're being more than friends. Reminds me very much of every friendship/relationship I have been a part of because I'm awkward and assume that everyone is just being friendly when maybe they are expressing interest. Love that a short story from 1890 totally talks about being friend zoned.
  7. A Surplus Woman: Before there was Rosie the Riveter in 1942, there was the surplus woman in 1916. It is an economic and educational plan for the social reform that needs to happen when there is "a large majority of surplus women" after "the wholesale destruction of a whole generation of masculine youth" because there are "over a million women who could not marry" and need something to distract them from their entire life of celibacy, non-wifely duties, non-motherly duties.

Four Equally Awesome Stories About How Motherhood Is Fun But You Can't Be a Mom Forever Because Kids Need To Become Grown Ass Adults and What to Do After That

  • The Widow's Might: A woman should really have the financial means to take care of herself so she can do whatever she wants when her children are grown adults who don't need her anymore. And she does.
  • A Partnership: A woman should really have the personal interest to sustain herself so she can do whatever she wants when her children are grown adults who don't need her anymore. And she does. And it's a financially good idea to have two bread winners (this is a pun that you don't know is a pun because Mrs. Haven starts a bakery) in case something happens to one.
  • Mrs. Merrill's Duties: A woman should really have an education before she starts a family, and when her children are grown adults who don't need her anymore she can return to that education and perhaps - because she has the experience as a mother - do better in her field because she's a well rounded person with a variety of life experiences.
  • Mrs. Elder's Idea: Before Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton freaked everyone out by living in separate houses, Mr. Elder wanted to live in the country while Mrs. Elder wanted to live in the city. He was like 'Yo, it's 1912 and you do what I say.' She was like, 'Yo, it's 1912 and I'm a CGP character so I'll do what I want.' Thus you get the happy quote from above. CGP apparently has quite a few essays, speeches, and short stories about why couples should live apart.

Three Stories That Are Ok

  • The Giant Wistaria: Gothic. 
  • An Extinct Angel: Women are an angelic, caretaking, ignorant species who need to be kept angelic, caretakingy, and ignorant so that the menfolk who own them can be happy happy happy.
  • Through This: A day in the life of a housewife who doesn't get to have any of her own ideas or needs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

4: Titus Andronicus - William Shakespeare

TITUS: Was it well done of rash Virginius / To slay his daughter with his own right hand/ Because she was enforced, stained and deflowered?SATURNINUS: It was, AndronicusTITUS: Your reason, mighty lord?SATURNINUS: Because the girl should not survive her shame / And by her presence still renew his sorrows.

First of all, if you are not reading the Arden version of Shakespeare, you're doing it wrong. I have read a variety of different editions of Shakespeare and this one is the best (to the point that I just ordered myself the Arden Hamlet and Othello, even though I already own multiple copies of each). Secondly, there is no way to write about this play without spoiler alerts. I myself had no concept of the plot of "Titus Andronicus" until I began reading the introductory material because it is one of Shakespeare's least popular plays. It is considered by many critics to be a truly bad piece of writing and considered by some critics to not be by Shakespeare. The violence makes it difficult and uncomfortable to stage, so we just don't see it done that often. I can't imagine ever WANTING to go see this play, but I don't think I'd ever miss an opportunity to see it if that makes any sense.

This play is hard if you have any kind feelings towards females whatsoever. I realize that there is not a Shakespeare play that focuses on one issue - his writing is complex and his plots are multi-faceted and blah blah blah I can't get over Lavinia. Lavinia, who is given away like a pig to the new emperor. Lavinia, who sees her fiance brutally murdered. Lavinia, who is raped by two men. Lavinia, whose tongue is cut out so she cannot say anything. Lavinia, whose hands are cut off so she cannot write anything. Lavinia, whose father would rather kill her than look at her. (Depending on the director, the killing scene is either because of Titus's will or because of Lavinia - the text allows it to go either way). 

I read the play over two nights and proceeded to have a nightmare about being raped and my tongue being cut out. After finishing the play I watched "Titus" (with Anthony Hopkins) for my class. A little too much raping, mutilating, cannibalizing, and killing in one weekend for me. 

I am emotionally exhausted from thinking about women, and the way their bodies are violated, and the way they violate their own bodies, and the way they violate each other's bodies. (Lavinia begs the rapists' mother to kill her rather than let her be raped. The mother denies her request). 

Why can't we leave women's bodies alone? Having recently read an article on labiaplasties (surgery, usually cosmetic but sometimes practical, to reduce the size of the labia) I started investigating the different voluntary surgeries women can have done to their genitals. Labiaplasties are rising in popularity, but so is vaginal tightening (narrowing the vaginal canal), hymenoplasty (to reconstruct the hymen - joked about very interestingly in Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel "Embroideries"), clitoroplasty (to reduce the clitoral hood or clitoris). Add this to every thing that can be done to the face, neck, breasts, bum, legs, etc, etc, etc and it just makes me tired. Why can't we leave women's bodies alone?

Although the current class I'm taking is the only class I've taken that focuses on gender, I have almost always found a way to examine it within the curriculum of my other classes. This may be why I'm very burned out on this topic right now. Below are excerpts from a memoir and a novel that I wrote papers on fairly recently which will perhaps be interesting and illuminating - and also explain why I am so. tired. of. people. messing. with. women's. bodies. (Side note: Men should also have their bodies left alone, but they don't seem to be picked apart quite as much as women in literature and life.)

From Nawal El Saadawi's memoir "A Daughter of Isis" - In 1937, at a time when I had just reached the age of six, all girls were circumcised before they started menstruating...Did she [the circumcisor/ear piercer] see in me an enemy? Was it some kind of feud between her and the female sex? Did she hate herself so much? There was a strange gleam in her eyes when she pierced the ears of a young girl, or cut into her clitoris, as though deep down she gloated over her victim, felt a mixture of joy and revenge at what she did...Since I was a child that deep wound left in my  body has never healed. But the deeper wound has been the one left in my spirit, in my soul...Four women cornered me, and pinned me down by the hands and feet...I lay in a pool of blood. After a few days the bleeding stopped, and the daya peered between my thighs and said, 'All is well. The wound has healed, thanks be to God,'...I did not know what other parts in my body there were that might need to be cut off in the same way...

From Thomas Pynchon's novel "V." - Esther Harvitz pays to get the body she was born with altered and then falls deeply in love with the man who mutilated her. Esther sees nothing wrong either...

From another section of the novel, referring to a different character - [a little girl] reached out and tugged off the hat. A long coil of white hair came loose...soon [a little boy] had pulled out an ivory comb...He removed the long white wig...Up came one of the slippers and a foot - an artificial foot..."She comes apart." ...At her navel was a star sapphire. The boy...dug in with the point of the bayonet, working for a few minutes before he was able to bring out the sapphire. Blood had begun to well in its place. Other children crowded round her head. One pried her jaws apart while another removed a set of false teeth...the children peeled back one eyelid to reveal a glass eye with the iris in the shape of a clock...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

3: House of Mirth - Edith Wharton

"It was the life she had been made for: every dawning tendency in her had been carefully directed toward it, all her interests and activities had been taught to center around it. She was like some rare flower grown for exhibition, a flower from which every bud had been nipped except the crowning blossom of her beauty."

I once arrived at the UNLV library well before opening time accidentally. I pulled out the book I was reading at the time, Balzac's Pere Goriot, and started reading the final section. The library opened, people came and went, and I could not put it down. When I closed the book, tears streamed down my face and I needed a hug.

That is how I felt finishing House of Mirth (and, when I looked up EW in my Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, I found Balzac on the list with EW under 'realism'). I wanted to cry. I needed a hug. It's been 12 hours and I still need a hug.

EW is all the guilty pleasure of Jane Austen with love, romance, society, grand parties, witty back and forths between hipsters characters who are too cool for whatever soiree they're attending, but EW adds the reality of how shitty life can be to all of these scenes which makes it both better and worse - and I can't say that I prefer one over the other, but I see a need for both. 

The novel opens in conversation with everything else I've read this semester, although this book is NOT for my Gender and Lit class. Lily Bart, protagonist, tells a male character, "How delicious to have a place like this all to one's self! What a miserable thing it is to be a woman" which I will accept as a nod to Virginia Woolf. The character she's talking to, Seldon, looks at her and thinks, "She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate" which I will accept as a nod to Mary Wollstonecraft. This opening scene basically sets up the entirety of the novel. We discover that Miss Bart feels alone in the world, because "the other women - my best friends - well they use me or abuse me; but they don't care a straw what happens to me." We also discover that Miss Bart needs to marry because she is "horribly poor" and "very expensive."

It's an entertaining read, but it cannot be considered light as it still shows the devastating consequences of beauty and boxes. Society did, and still does to some extent, have particular expectations for the pretty woman and Lily Bart's story is the natural outcome of those expectations. At one point she says, "life is difficult, and I am a very useless person...I was just a the great machine I called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was of no use anywhere else. What can one do when one finds that one only fits into one hole?" and this captures the way so many people feel: trapped, useless, reliant upon skills they no longer want to rely on.

I would not be surprised to meet someone who hates Lily Bart and finds her story achingly boring and trite, but as someone who feels like I groomed myself to do one thing really well and am no longer really interested in doing it, I really feel for Lily Bart and feel like we are both in a crap situation that I wish I could save us both from. I always knew I was going to be a teacher. I went to school for it. I like it. I'm good at it. It's a steady job that offers me the ability to do it anywhere in the world. But taking a 7.7% paycut makes me want to find something else to do, but I'm afraid that I may be of no use anywhere else, just another Lily Bart who only fits in one hole. At least my hole has to do with my brain and not my looks.

Before you think that we live in a world where women are no longer pigeon-holed by their looks over their ability, check out how many comments there are about this young genius's appearance that would never be said if the young genius were MALE:

*the word 'girl' is used 21 times (the 'girl' in question is 16)
*the word 'look' is used 17 times
*the word 'blonde' is used 12 times
*the word 'ditzy' is used 4 times

Many of the words are used in quotes from herself and her parents - but those quotes still tell us the kinds of questions the reporter was asking (or if nothing else, the perception the parents have of their daughter and the self perception of the teen herself). If she were ugly, overweight, brunette, or male, don't you think the article be more focused on personality, interests, and activities rather than appearances? 

Monday, February 11, 2013

On Lies, Secrets, and Silences - Adrienne Rich

"The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education; you will do much better to think of yourselves as being here to claim one...This is the experience of taking responsibility toward yourselves...Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind...It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short, simply to avoid conflict and confrontation...It means that we insist on a life of meaningful means not to be continuously available to others when we need time for ourselves and our work...the difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference."

This is another text that I don't claim as having read because I was only required to read sections of it for class and I don't have, at present, time to delve into the rest (although in spite of that I have already read more than I needed to).

I read (which I list here to give you a feel for the contents of the book which are incredibly varied and vast): 
*The Forward: On History, Illiteracy, Passivity, Violence, and Women's Culture
*When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision
*The Anti-Feminist Woman
*Caryatid: Two Columns, I. Vietnam and Sexual Violence, II. Natalya Gorbanevskaya *Toward a Woman Centered University
*Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying
*It Is the Lesbian In Us
*Conditions for Work: The Common World of Women
*Claiming an Education
*Taking Women Students Seriously

By accident of my own reading choices and by design of my professor, Rich is in dialogue with all the other things I have read this year. She mentions Mary Wollstonecraft (who was apparently referred to as a 'hyena in petticoats'), Tillie Olsen, and Virginia Woolf (she writes, "Like VW I am aware of the women who are not with us here because they are washing the dishes and looking after the children...and I am thinking also of women whom she left out of the picture altogether - women who are washing other people's dishes and caring for other people's children"). It is in that reference to VW that demonstrates why yes, we do need another collection of essays on the rights and status of women in addition to all those that came before because the predecessors talk about women as though all women are straight, white, and upper middle class British/American women. 

AR brings into the discussion queer women, women of color, working class women, and women of different nationalities in order to give these other women a voice and an opportunity to discuss their unique experiences in contrast with those feminists who are coming from various privileges. "Toward a Woman Centered University" points out that the most necessary change that universities need to make is to provide cheap and excellent childcare that makes it possible for single moms, working moms, single working moms, or moms who don't have a stay at home dad (these essays are from the 1970s it should be said) can have the opportunity to go to school. My bestie is a mom of two littlies who is going to grad school and she and her husband both work full time - the scheduling gymnastics that requires is exhausting just to listen to her plan out. 

The other section of that chapter that nearly brought me to tears is when she discusses part time students. "The notion of the 'full-time' student has penalized both women and the poor. The student with a full-time job and a full-time academic program is obviously more handicapped than the student who can afford to go to college without working...[imagine what would make the difference]...between real achievement and a frantic attempt to muddle through."

I have worked my way through a B.S. and am working my way through an M.A. and it is, honestly, miserable. I love learning, and I'm pretty smart, but I don't think that I have any idea what I'm capable of because I have never been able to be an academic. When I encounter anything that I'm really interested in exploring further for ITS OWN SAKE, I typically find myself not having time and having to put it on the 'things to examine when I'm retired' (specifically right now I'm very intrigued by what linguistic differences there are in male and female syntax, but I'm definitely not researching it until I finish my degree). So much of what I loved about this book is what it said about my own experiences, and what it said about my students' experiences. Although much of what is said about gender and homophobia feels outdated (although sadly not entirely irrelevant), what it says about class, first-world privileges, and minorities is still incredibly fresh.

The only major issue I take with AR is her perspective on the sex industry. She is definitely of the feminists who are anti-pornography and anti-sex work. I am not sure if people can even compare the sex industry from the 1970s to now because there have been incredible changes in technology, access, legalization, independence of women in the industry from men, but I'm not ready to jump on board with her. I don't have a problem with her being against it - it's her book and she can write about whatever she takes issue with - but the rest of the ideas feel like a loose analysis that are looking at complicated problems and offering a few alternatives to be discussed in a dialogue, while the anti-sex-industry comments are woven in without any commentary as though every person is on board and she doesn't need to analyze, justify, or engage the audience in a dialogue about her opinions the way she does when she says "it is the lesbian in us who is creative." 

AR: if you don't present any kind of argument to support your opinion, I'm just going to have to say you're wrong to be completely against it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Silences - Tillie Olsen

In 1971 the level of achievement of men writers compared to women writers, "as gauged by what supposedly designates it: appearance in twentieth-century lit courses, required reading lists, textbooks, quality anthologies, the year's best, the decade's best, the fifty years' best,consideration by critics or in current reviews -one woman writer for every twelve men (8% women, 92% men)"

I am not putting "Silences" on my books that I've read for the year because I was only required to read a few sections ("One Out of Twelve" and "The Writer-Woman"), but I can't let it go without a mention because these critical essays are why I decided to start this blog (also because my best friend said we should and also because a guy whose brain I admire does it too)

As soon as I read that statistic I had to consult the google machine, which brought me to this article about male vs. female authors and in case you're wondering, not as much has changed as one would hope for. The study looks at the ratio of reviewed books in a few different places and it ranges from 65% male to 85% male authors reviewed out of the total for that publication. Guardian Books editor Claire Armistead said, "We always try to keep an even balance but many more men offer themselves to review books than women, so we have to go out and find them." (Following the assumption that male reviewers tend to review books written by men I suppose?) So having no qualifications besides a desire to be one more lady writing thoughts about books (which, by virtue of the class I am taking this semester and my own personal interest in my Master's degree, will be mostly books written by ladies) here I am. 

Other fun stats that Tillie Olsen mentions and I felt the need to update

Total Nobel Prize Winners in Literature from 1920-1972: 49
                                                                 Total Lady Winners: 5 (10.2%)
Total Nobel Prize Winners in Literature from 1920-2012: 100
                                                                 Total Lady Winners: 12 (12%)
*Pearl S. Buck, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison being the only ones I have studied

Total Pulitzer Prize Winners in Fiction from 1920-1973: 47
                                                              Total Lady Winners: 16 (34%)
Total Pulitzer Prize Winners in Fiction from 1920-2012:83
                                                              Total Lady Winners: 29 (34.9%)
*Carol Shields, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Harper Lee, Pearl S. Buck, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton being the only ones I have studied

I encourage those of you who read mostly modern literature to take a look at your bookshelves, booklists, favorite books, short story anthologies, etc, and check out the male:female ratio and ask yourself - why is it that way? I am not saying you're sexist or that there is something WRONG with having a ratio that is particularly skewed in one way or the other, but I think it is a question worth examining honestly.

***Fun fact: one of my committee members was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and I have not read his book yet. One more thing to do once I actually have time to read...maybe I should do it before my comps??

2: A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well...I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in...Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my is much more important to be oneself than anything else."

135 years after "A Vindication" we are brought to "A Room of One's Own" - another text I remember as being a short essay and was surprised to find it is actually a slim volume of 114 pages. I have encountered the most commonly excerpted pieces on several occasions, so there wasn't a lot that was particularly surprising, but I think this time, more than any other time, I appreciated the actual writing. I have not actually read any other VW (I know, terrible thing), and this time around I am finally inspired to pick up a novel or two (after I finish my Master's of course, when I'll have time to actually study literature!) just to see how she puts together her sentences and ideas.

The Famous Shit
  • Oxbridge University (fictional male college) vs. Fernham (fictional female college): This is the one, more than anything else in the essay, that makes me want to hurt people who don't believe in feminism or don't believe that women are still catching up from a BILLION YEARS OF OPPRESSION. At the men's college, VW tours the beautiful grounds, eats a splendid lunch, and attempts to look up something in the library...only to be told that single women are not allowed in the library without a male scholar or letter of introduction. Of course. Can't trust women and those pesky independent ideas. Then she heads over to the women's college where there is nothing besides the absolutely essential because it was so hard to even get the essential that nothing could be spared for niceties. Why do women get their own studies? Why aren't there men's studies classes? Why aren't their men's only colleges? Blahblahblahshutup. Or read VW because she has the patience to explain it to you. (Although to be fair we are now more about 'GENDER STUDIES' rather than 'WOMEN STUDIES' so really you have nothing to complain about anymore you men's rights folks). The description of the respective meals she has at each is actually a part of a former Advanced Placement Timed Writing that I use year after year with my students because it is a perfect example of contrasting diction, syntax, and tone, but is subtle enough that they have to work for it - so it was a little like a celebrity spotting to see those sections in the wild.
  • Shakespeare's Sister: In response to "a woman could never write Shakespeare" VW brilliantly writes out the life of Shakespeare's sister and indeed concludes that a woman could never have written Shakespeare because she would have been thrown out, knocked up, and killed herself. Good times. It makes me reaaaaalllllyyyy wish I could use this as an example with my students: It's not that you can't be an uneducated non-degree-having single teen mom and be successful - it's just so much harder. Shakespeare's (fictional) sister couldn't do it, and I don't want you to do it either. Use birth control duckies.
  • Chloe Liked Olivia: This section's subtle nod to the occurrence of lesbian relationships as well as the other complications of platonic female friendships is totally worth a read. It also has an early incarnation of the Bechdel Test (for a movie to pass the test it must have 1: at least two ladies who 2: talk to each other about 3: something besides a man). She highlights how male writers have failed to give women any kind of role except as a sexual companion/interest to a man or a sexual rival to a woman and we really need to see more variety in our female/female relationships in literature despite the fact that often, women do not like women.
  • Male vs. Female Sentences: This section particularly irked me and I brought it up to my class as being problematic. She states that "The weight, the pace, the stride of a man's mind are too unlike her own for her to lift anything substantial from him successfully...It was a sentence that was unsuited for a woman's use...Jane Austen looked at it and laughed at it and devised a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never departed from it." I am not particularly convinced that there is a particular syntactical difference between the way men and women write (assuming they come from the same language and time period and are utilizing the same form - one couldn't compare a 1920s American male poet's syntax with Austen's syntax for example). The class responded to what I found problematic with a few of their own ideas (one idea said it had more to do with tone than structure, another said it had to do with the confidence of ideas, etc etc). I'm still not buying it, so it's something I'd like to study when I have more free time. Gender Studies Linguists to the rescue!
Overall, it is another must read for anyone interested in this field of study - particularly after reading "A Vindication" as they are so much in conversation with one another. There is also an hour long movie monologue that covers all the essentials if you are a fan of a VW type woman wandering a study in a very masculine outfit while she lectures you about these things. It's kind of hot.

1: A Vindication of the Rights of Women - Mary Wollstonecraft

"The neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of misery I deplore; and that women, in particular, are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers...civilized women, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect."

This was written in 1794 people! You may, like me, remember "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" as a short essay tucked away on a few tissuethinpages in a giant anthology (and despite what Sharpie pens say - all pens bleed through those pages!) You probably remember thinking, Dang, this shit makes sense, and it was exactly that sentiment as well as the shortness that made me stick it on my Master's Reading List. The joke is on me because it was actually a 280-page essay. (It turned out that the joke really was on me since I am only required to read "Selections" but I would have preferred to read the whole thing even if I had known that because I am a nerd.)
The most startling/interesting/heartbreaking thing about the essay is how much has NOT changed in the past 200+ years. MW tackles a variety of feminist issues and they are all being discussed to some extent in feminist and non-feminist circles today.Pretty 

  • Power/Privilege/Consequences: While pretty privilege is more modern than MW, she brings up many times how damaging pretty power is. Women are taught that their value lies in prettiness and marriageability, so they cultivate those skills. This leads to them being chosen by mates for these things as well as an incredibly vanity that needs to be stroked. No long-term marriage can keep up the pace to feed their egos, so their eyes start to stray. On the flip side, men have been taught to value this prettiness, and no woman can keep up the novelty of new prettiness, so their eyes start to stray. MW believes that as people are marrying for looks and money rather than personality and values, they have no respect for each other as people, are all off bonking the neighbors, and the family unit is degenerating which is good for no one. Hm. 
  • Pretty Power Is The Only Power: Because prettiness is the only tool women have to wield, they use it extensively to manipulate men to get what they want. (I have to say, as a teacher of teenage girls, I definitely see them using this with their classmates, family, and sometimes even adults. Pathetically, I also see their classmates, family, and sometimes even adults fall for it. What will happen to them when they are old and ugly and saggy like the rest of us?)
  • Nature vs. Nurture: Are women not being educated because they're less intelligent or are they less intelligent because they're not being educated? She believes in equal non-segregated schooling for the early years and then a separation in the later years where young ladies and men do NOT get the same education - that was a bummer, but for 1794 I'll still take it as a win.
  • Power/Respect Demanded for No Reason: This essay is about far more than gender equality which is probably surprising for anyone who has only read the excerpts. MW has quite a lot to say about the assumption that people should have power/respect and how that is a terrible idea (ie: royalty, inherited titles, military leadership, parents over children, etc). I particularly like how she points out that if we raise children to obey parents unquestioningly "because they said so" then we are raising a generation of idiots who will obey anything.
  • Breastfeeding: No joke, she has lots to say about this. She is very pro-breastfeeding (and no, a wetnurse will just not do, as wetnurses were formula before there was formula). I was *just* discussing breastfeeding in the lesbian mom community with a friend and apparently, while everyone agrees "Breast Is Best" there are still plenty of women who are opting out. MW is judging you ladies (I am not - I leave the judgeypants to the people who are actually parents)

 The only problem with this essay is that it is 280 pages long, which would be fine if she had 280 pages worth of unique things to say. Unfortunately, many points are reiterated over and over again in different ways with different examples. It was written in a rush of emotion in response to some other political essays of the day and printed almost immediately, and it has been passed down to us in much the same format, but it really could have used some editing and tightening up of ideas and organization. I don't know that I would have read the whole thing without feeling that I *needed* to, but it is definitely worth a read for anyone who is interested in gender equality, gender studies, or feminism, because it really and truly starts here. (The Oxford World's Classics edition is lovely and highly recommended. It also comes with A Vindication of the Rights of Men, an essay she wrote first which I look forward to reading/skimming when I have time.)