Feelings

July 30, 2019

I cannot tell you. It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language that is chiefly made by men to express theirs.

Thomas Hardy
Far From The Madding Crowd

When you think of a woman consumed by fury, what do you think of? Is it the classical Greco-Roman representation of a woman scorned: Medea, Electra, and Medusa – tales of anger and revenge; or is it the modern-day stories of hard-bodied feminism and black widows – North Country (2005), If These Walls Could Talk (1996), Gone Girl (2014), or A Woman Scorned (2000)? It seems, historically, that if a man is furious, it is righteous fury, or biblical fury. Its violence is synonymous with justice and honesty, and if not at all times justifiable, it is always forgivable. The story of the angry man is not one of destruction, but one of rebirth. Women’s anger bears an entirely different image: the picture of the screaming woman, her anger neither acceptable nor forgivable. It is not a story of redemption, but a story of self-destruction; a story of women who choose a darker path, and never recover themselves. They, in a way, become less stories about angry women than they do about women stricken by madness – so unspeakable to society was the idea that women could be angry that they found it more acceptable that women simply sink into depression or insanity, such as the stories of Calypso and Ophelia. Today, society’s acceptance of women’s anger is slowly growing, but it is an agonizingly slow process. The image of the Victorian woman is a hard one to break free of, it seems – the soft woman sitting at home, accepting of what is given to her and taken from her, pliable and subservient. This is not a question of individual choice, but of social freedom. Even when accepted by popular society, it is an even smaller margin that accepts ugly female anger – the kind that cannot be fixed by a gentle word, or a man’s touch, the kind of emotion that almost transcends anger and moves to rage, a scream that refuses to be quieted. When we read of anger like this, we find it ugly and unpalatable – which bears the question: why do we accept it out of men, and not out of women? A passage by Ana Božičević, from her poem “Casual Elegy for Luka Skračić,” puts this in clearer words than I ever could with only two lines:

“I want to be the kind of monster you
don’t want to fuck — ”

Isaak Frank
Anger in Female Literature

exaggerated events

July 23, 2019

Gothic narratives pivot upon anxieties about selfhood and entrapment, represented through bizarre or exaggerated events that may or may not be explained as manifestations of the (typically) female central character’s troubled imagination.

Roberta Rubenstein, House Mothers and Haunted Daughters: Shirley Jackson and Female Gothic

We as women are trained to see ourselves as cheap imitations of fashion photographs, rather than seeing fashion photographs as cheap imitations of women.

Naomi Wolf
The Beauty Myth

…the body has been for women in capitalist society what the factory has been for male waged workers: the primary ground of their exploitation and resistance, as the female body has been appropriated by the state and men and forced to function as a means for the reproduction and accumulation of labour…

the body can be for women both a source of identity and at the same time a prison, and why it is so important for feminists and, at the same time, so problematic to valorise it.

Silvia Federici
Caliban and the Witch

It would never work putting women in charge of the world. Can you imagine it? In any conflict, countries would ignore each other, give each other the cold shoulder, the ultimate but very feminine snub – which would be simply terrible! Men have had thousands of years of experience in ending conflicts, usually with the deaths of millions – they are expert at it!

Poison

February 2, 2019

Poison is traditionally, though not always, a female mode of attack. Classical lore features many women accused of poisoning their spouses, lovers, or rivals: Medusa, Hecate, Circe, Medea, and Agrippina the Younger, to name a few. In particular, witches of literature and accused witches of real life are often associated with potions and spells that make use of poisonous plants found around the home and garden: oleander, hemlock, castor beans (ricin), foxglove, various kinds of berries, and nightshades. Men, of course, make use of poison as well, like Shakespeare’s Claudius and Romeo. But the subtle and seductive art of poison is often used as a storytelling device to comment upon the nature, and especially the flaws, of women.

Poison is a deceptive weapon, and stories about it play on fascinations with, and anxieties about, what women are hiding. It also offers a violation of proper female domesticity and the same traits that are supposed to make women good botanists. When a woman uses plants or food as poison to subvert rather than maintain the domestic order, she defies her assigned roles of observer, cataloguer, and nurturer. Depending on one’s perspective, poisoning can be used to warn of or promote a woman’s independence.

Afton Lorraine Woodward
Plants, Domesticity, and the Female Poisoner

Do I exist?

January 5, 2019

I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers I have read, all the people I have met, all the women I have loved; all the cities I have visited, all my ancestors.

[No estoy seguro de que existo, en realidad yo soy todos los escritores que he leído, todas las personas que he conocido, todas las mujeres que he amado,. Todas las ciudades que tengo visitados, todos mis antepasados.]

Jorge Luis Borges
Interview with JOSÉ LUIS A. FERMOSEL for El Pais 26th September 1981

narcissism

December 30, 2018

Women speaking of mirrors and prettiness make it all too clear that even for pretty women, mirrors are the foci of anxious, not gratified, narcissism. The woman who knows beyond a doubt that she is beautiful exists aplenty in male novelists’ imaginations; I have yet to find her in women’s books or women’s memoirs or in life. Women spend a lot of time looking in mirrors, but the “compulsion to visualize the self” is a phrase Moers uses of women in her chapter on Gothic freaks and horrors; the compulsion is a constant check on one’s (possible) beauty, not an enjoyment of it.

Joanna Russ
Aesthetics, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

multitasking

December 7, 2018

It was that female art of multitasking, he would conclude, that witchy capacity that girls possessed, that allowed them to retain dual and triple threads of attention at once. Girls could distinguish constantly and consciously between themselves and the performance of themselves, between the form and the substance. This double-handed knack, this perpetual duality, meant that any one girl was both an advertisement and a product at any one time. Girls were always acting. Girls would reinvent themselves, he later thought, with a sour twist to his mouth and his free hand flattening the hair on his crown, and boys could not.

Eleanor Catton
The Rehearsal