June 9th, 2006

mmm books

Russ, Joanna - How to Suppress Women's Writing

(O Readers, do not doubt, for I am putting race into this as well!)

(uh, not that anyone is probably looking forward to that...)

I think, had I seen the title of this book ten years ago, I would have thought, "'Suppress' is such a harsh term! Yes, women's writing is nowhere near being acknowledged widely, but is it really actively being suppressed?"

These days, I think suppression doesn't have to be an active process, particularly when the status quo already favors an imbalance in the portrayal of minority writing (women, who aren't statistically a minority but are in terms of representation; people of color; experiences from other religions; differences of sexual orientation; class differences, etc; and all of the above combined).

And, even worse, I self-identify as feminist, and I still don't recognize many of the female authors Russ names, I still haven't read enough about them in textbooks to recognize the portrayal of them. I know who James Joyce hung out with and who read Keats' poetry, but I don't know who Jane Austen read or who she influenced, beyond the Brontë sisters (right?), and I'm ashamed of that.

Russ frames the book as an instruction manual for an alien race on how to suppress women's writing; the introduction is a little cute for me, but I can see it being deliberately shocking as well. I think Russ also notes that all these instructions work for suppressing any "undesirable" group's writing.

The book is divided on chapters, each one discussing one more way to suppress women's writing. The first, not given a chapter, is of course to not educate women, to not let them read or write. But after that, the arguments become more and more sophisticated and more difficult to argue with because they are based on truth (I will get into this more a little further down).

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Highly recommended.

Links:
- cupidsbow's essay on feminism and fan fiction, as informed by this book