Monday, February 21, 2011

Feminism, Literature, and Criticism

It's just one of those mornings when feminism is on my ass. Meaning, it's easy to be a stay at home mom, safe in my little cave, complacent with my life, lazy with my time. Then, I wake up this morning and check my email.

I get feeds from Bookzilla, whose blog I happen to unabashedly love. This morning her post was a review of a YA paranormal romance, something I wouldn't typically read. But, I wanted to see what she I took a peek.

While Amy is quick to point out the flaws or annoying techniques of the novel, she is also quick to point out its merits and what could have been done to make the story and writing better.

She concludes:

Despite the creepy, sexually possessive vibes most of the male characters seem to have, throughout Nightshade there are some moments of pure feminist genius. While Calla’s mother is overly obsessed with ensuring that her daughter remains “a lady,” and everyone else seems way too interested in making sure Calla stays “pure,” Calla hits the nail on the head:

“As if I want to be a lady. All it means is that I have to pretend I don’t feel anything but a sense of duty.”

I think that statement is just as relevant now as it was 50 years ago, or even 100 or 200.

I wish that Nightshade played less into the stereotypes: possessive, jealous men; sexual possession; the idea that such themes should be presented in a way to titillate readers.

Instead, there should have been more focus on the mystery, the secrets that the Keepers have kept.

It’s the mystery and the need to know what happens that, for me anyway, made the cringe-worthy “teen romance” aspects bearable.

While the only YA paranormal I've read is Twilight, The Mortal Instruments series, and Shiver, I have noticed a trend in both those books and chick-lit: there is almost ALWAYS a love triangle.


Are we telling our girls that they're only worthwhile if a man, or better yet, two, want them? Are we telling them that a controlling man is better because it means they love them so much they(men) can't control their own impulses (see Edward in Twilight)?

As I related to Amy, I finished two books yesterday: Amaryllis in Blueberry and Can You Keep A Secret? In one book (CYKAS), we see the helpless girly-girl who can't make heads or tails of her own life and it isn't until she meets a strong man that she begins to get her life together. In the other (AiB), the central character's mother is a total selfish bitch. Why? Because she is in love with a man who isn't her husband, she's an adulteress, and she wants more for her girls than the daily drudgery of housework.

I watched The Blair Witch Project over the weekend. I hadn't seen it since its release over ten years ago. I started noticing how freaking anti-feminist the message was. The girl who wants to do this project is seen as a ball busting, controlling, manipulative, amibitious witch. She's blamed for the entire situation, the losing of the map (though we find it's not her fault) etc etc ad nauseam. The men gang up against her and demonize her and our little bedtime story is how it's dangerous to be ambitious if you're a woman.

A few years ago, I read Tom Perrotta's Little Children. I loved it. I mean, I've read it so many times I'm slightly embarrassed. But what was so interesting about it was the critical acclaim it received. I didn't get it: if a woman had written this novel, it would have been described as another eyeroll-worthy novel of dubious literary merit. But because a man had written it, it was genius. Scathing satire on suburbia. Something like that.

In one of Book Slut's features, Twenty Three Shorts on Women and Criticism, the writer's No. 14 reads:

When writers Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner coined the term “Franzenfreude” on Twitter, they started an Internet kerfuffle. It pivoted around the fact that women who write novels about family drama and suburban malaise are relegated to that literary backwater know as “chick lit,” but when Jonathan Franzen explored the same topics in Freedom, he received critical acclaim. Is it because his book is better than their books, or does it have to do with the fact that we’re not critical of those doing the acclaiming? We all love to see ourselves reflected on the page, and that’s part of it. If the majority of critics are men, they might have a harder time seeing themselves reflected in a book with pink stilettos on the cover, even if the content isn’t all that different from Franzen’s manly forest-covered, lumberjack-sized tome.

The Book Slut also covers the statistics gathered by VIDA, Women in Literary Arts. In their research of 2010 publications, they've found that woman are massively underrepresented.

We know women write. We know women read. It’s time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don’t reflect those facts with any equity. Many have already begun speculating; more articles and groups are pointing out what our findings suggest: the numbers of articles and reviews simply don’t reflect how many women are actually writing.

The entire article can be read here.

The point of today's entry? It's easy to tell ourselves that we've come so far...we're now working on a level playing field and it's all meritocracy from here. Thus, we lull ourselves back to inaction.
And the status quo remains.

We can't afford to do that any longer. What are we teaching our daughters?


As a new blogger, I can't express how relieved I am that I now have a big circle of women to talk to about books, life, and all these concerns. Llevinso at Sarcastic Female Literary Circle is one of these...and she explores the Feminist Viewpoint on a much more frequent level, so take a look at her blog if you get a chance.