Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Breaking Through the Shell

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“Women must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies – for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement” (391). Helene Cixous’s strong feminist philosophy helped to bring justice and equality to the world of feminine literature. Cixous was not afraid to break the barrier between what was appropriate and what was not, focusing solely on bringing to light the unfair and oppressive treatment toward women who wished to express themselves through writing. The woman’s body and intelligence was meant to be celebrated and exposed, not hidden and shamed. It is obvious in her work titled, “The Laugh of Medusa” that Cixous was very adamant about liberating the “New Woman” and moving beyond the “Old”. In order to break out of the shell that had encompassed women for years, female writers could not accept the barriers that had been placed on them and could not be afraid of the consequences and back-lash that might have occurred after their writing was read by the public.

Here is a video clip from the NYS Writers Institute in 2007:


“When I don’t write, I sleep, and when I sleep, I dream, and when I dream, I write.”  While speaking to the students and other faculty at the State University of New York, Cixous goes through her journey as a writer and how her everyday life was shaped around her fascination with writing.  Cixous mentions how writing is a journey, and the journey that she talks about is exactly the type of advancements that she explains in “The Laugh of the Medusa”.  In her essay, she writes, “ We’ve been turned away from our bodies, shamefully taught to ignore them, to strike them with that stupid sexual modesty; we’ve been made victims of the old fool’s game: each one will love the other sex” (399).  For decades, women have felt that their bodies were something to be ashamed of and that any expression of their sexuality was deemed embarrassing and adulterous.  Cirxous strongly encouraged the celebration of the female body and the livelihood that it brought to women.

Cixous served as an important role model for many contemporary women poets, especially for those who were dying for an answer to their problem; dying for a light to show them the way to a successful and meaningful career.  Audre Lorde, in particular, was one poet whose ideals were very similar to those of Cixous.  In her poem, she writes:

“And I knew when I entered her    I was

high wind in her forest’s hollow

fingers whispering sound

honey flowed    from the split cup

impaled on a lance of tongues

on the tips of her breasts    on her navel

and my breath    howling in her entrances

through lungs of pain.” (540)

Lorde uses nature as a way of showing the power of the feminine physique.  The fact that Lorde uses body parts that are usually touched by finger tips and by breathe creates a sensual and erotic feel.  This poem expresses the erotic love between two people, and even though their gender is not determined, there is still a clear picture of their love.  In my opinion, Lorde expresses the oppression of women as writers and as human beings, and even though they were help back by society they were still able to be passionately in love.  Lorde states in her essay, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”, “…I find more and more women-identified women brave enough to risk sharing the erotic’s electrical charge without having to look away, and without distorting the enormously powerful and creative nature of that exchange” (540).  Just as Cixous was doing in her essay, Lorde encourages women to break out of their shells and dare them to take risks without worrying about the consequences or turning the other cheek.  Lorde was not afraid to express her sexuality and voluptuousness in her poetry and other writings, creating a sense that the subject of her body was the most important story to tell.

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