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- She didn’t write it.
(But if it’s clear she did the deed. . .)
- She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have. (It’s political, sexual, masculine, feminist.)
- She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!)
- She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it. (“Jane Eyre. Poor dear, that’s all she ever. . .”)
- She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art. (It’s a thriller, a romance, a children’s book. It’s sci fi!)
- She wrote it, but she had help. (Robert Browning. Branwell Bronte. Her own “masculine side.”)
- She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. (Woolf. With Leonard’s help....)
- She wrote it BUT. . .
Joanna Russ in a short, useful book from 1983, How to Suppress Women’s Writing, outlines various patterns in the ways that commenters have dismissed women's writing in literary criticism, book reviews, and literary history. These patterns are often widely applicable to the ways women's work is treated. It is very helpful to have them named, to help us spot them and call them out!
These strategies are used to deny that women have done significant work. She opens the book with "Prohibitions", a short discussion of prohibitions against women writing, whether formal prohibitions against education, literacy, lack of job opportunity, lower pay, or active discrimination. She includes pressures particularly gendered and aimed at women-- around family and children, housework, caretaking of others, and the idea that some activities are feminine and others, like writing, are unfeminine and make a woman unattractive to heterosexual men, or are unhealthy. All these complicated "prohibitions" are skimmed over quickly by Russ as the factors discouraging women from even beginning their work. The prohibitions are often internalized by women who have to fight an internal battle, who face an internal split in identity, between the "normal woman" and the woman who works and creates.
Russ then discusses privilege and what Sartre calls "bad faith". She believes that acts of conscious bigotry are fairly rare, but speaking from privilege while claiming objectivity is common.
The arguments actively used against women's work are:
- 1. Denial of Agency
- 2. Pollution of Agency
- 3. Double Standard of Content
- 4. False Categorizing
- 5. Isolation
- 6. Anomalousness
Russ then moves on to point out ways that these arguments and the devaluing of women's work functions to perpetuate women's oppression. She outlines how Lack of Models is is harmful to women.
Another chapter gives examples of ways women writers have responded to these rhetorical tactics. Finally, there is a long chapter discussing the politics of aesthetics, an epilogue, and an afterword. The chapter on aesthetics is worth relating to geek feminism and in particular to issues many of us face as women in tech.