Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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Blame On Women

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Caryl Churchill was born September 3rd 1938 in London. She emigrated to the Canada when she was ten but decided to return to England to go to college. Chruchhill graduated Oxford  with her B.A in English Litature.  In 1976 she wrote a play titled Vinegar Tom. The play was written in the time of the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts. The theme of the play is centered around the power struggle between men and women at this time. Women were being seen as witches if they were different from society. For example, the character Ellen, she is a herbal healer that uses very strange ingredients and methods. Even tho she does do anything bad, even being a good witch is a bad thing to the society.

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The fact that there were no men being accused as witches shows the reader who has the power in the story. When bad things happen, such as crops not growing, animals dying or people getting sick, someone needs to be blamed for it. Back then they did not have any idea about sicknesses or nature, so instead they blame someone that makes the most since. At the very end of the play, two of the characters are saying why women are witches,

Sprenger: Women are feebler in both body and mind so it’s not surprising
Kramer: In intellect they seem to be of a different nature from men…
Sprenger:…like children…
Kramer:…yes…

Sprenger: She was formed from a bent rib…
Kramer:…and so is an imperfect animal.
Sprenger:Fe mina, female, that is fe faith minus without…
Kramer:…so cannot keep faith.

They go back and forth listing all the reasons why women are less the men; backing everything up with so called “evidence”. It is much easier for them to blame someone who cannot do anything about it then actually take responsibility for there actions. They even encourage the so called “evil” behavior. At the beginning of the play a man is trying to persuade a women to sleep with him again. It doesn’t matter either way if she does it or not because there are consequences on both ends.

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At the end of the play there is a final song titled “Evil Women“. It is the response women have to all the accusations and blame they get placed upon them. They are saying that the men are the ones who are making the women seem so evil. This is the one time in the play where the women have a strong voice.

“Evil women
Is that what you want?
Is that what you want to see?
On the movie screen
Of your own wet dream
Evil women.”

-Erica Nelson

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Desai and Her Culture

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   Anita Desai was born June 24th 1937 in Mussoorie, India. She got her BA with honors from Delhi University then in 1987 moved to the United States with her family. Desai now teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Here is a short interview with Desai.

   Desai has written several novels in her life, which are critically acclaimed for there imagery and observations on Indian culture. One of her stories, “Surface Textures”, that dives into Indian marriages and the emphasis that her culture puts on divine insight. In this piece Desai wanted to expose the issue of single mothers having very little support when a marriage crumbles.  On page 1025 it states, “I suppose you want me to take the boys home to my parents,” said Sheila bitterly, getting up from the bed. “Any other man would regard that as the worst disgrace of all- but not you. What is my shame to you? I will have to hang my head and crawl home and beg my father to look after us since you won’t .” This is showing that Sheila really has no place to go after her husband, Harish, stops contributing to the family. It is a disgrace in the Indian culture if the man does not take care of his family. Now that Harish, in a way in giving up his family, he is leaving his wife to defend for herself. Being a single women with children, she does not get taken care of as well as she should. Harish on the other hand ends up getting taken care because the people of the community think he is a Swami. 

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“Shepard children, seeing him stumble about the reeds, plunging thigh-deep into the water in order to pull out a water lily with its cool, sinuous stem, fled screaming, not certain whether this was a man or a hairy water snake. Their others came, some with stones and some with canes at the ready, but when they say Harish, his skin parched to a violet shade, sitting o the band and gazing at the transparent stem of the lotus, they fell back, crying “Wah!”….they held there children still by their hair and shoulders, and came to bow to him.”

   Here the community is accepting Harish as a Swami. It is interesting how Desi describes the interaction because at first the people did not see him as anything but a hermit but then something clicked and they thought he was indeed a man with divine insight. Deasi is critiquing her culture here by saying that people in her culture sometimes put emphasis on something that isn’t truly there. They are making Harish a Swami because they need him in society. Harish though did not really do anything great to get this honor. So Harish left his family, a disgrace in the eyes of his culture, but then because of his lack of action he is seen as a Swami. On the other hand his wife, who is now on her own taking care of there children, has to work harder to make up for Harish’s absence does not get any support from the community and is looked down upon. Desai feels like this balance within her culture is something that needs to be addressed.

The video shows a man going to visit a Indian Swami.

-Erica Nelson


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Embodiment

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Hélène Cixous was born June 5th 1937 in Oran, French Algeria.  She produced several pieces of literature through out her life but her piece titled “The Laugh of the Medusa” was her most influential piece.  It was translated to English and released in 1976.  The text focused on the embodiment of women. Cixous wrote,

 “And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. I know why you haven’t written. (And why I didn’t write before the age of twenty-seven.) Because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it’s reserved for the great-that is, for “great men”; and it’s silly”

Here she is challenging women to not be afraid to write.  Telling them to go against what there past says; which is that men were the only great writers, and write. Do not stay hidden in the shadows simply because you do not see your self-adequate.

This essay is full of how women were oppressed and how Cixous, in a way, is trying to build them up. Give them courage to fight for there womanhood.  An example of this is,“We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen…we are black and we are beautiful.”

Also a large part of this essay is talking about a woman’s body. Cixous repeats the phrase “write for your body” a few times. She says that men are more or less “coaxed” into being successful or adequate, by societies standards, but it is the women who are seen as the “body” or the one to birth babies. Women were supposed to take care of the home and the family; not write. So Cixous is saying, write the story that has not been told; let your body speak.

“Those who have turned their tongues 10,000 times seven times before not speaking are either dead form it or more familiar with their tongues and their mouths than anyone else. Now, I-women am going to blow up the Law: an explosion henceforth possible and ineluctable; let it be done, right now, in language.”

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Interview with Hélène Cixous about intellectual women.

-Erica Nelson


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Climbing Through The Pattern

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born July 3rd 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut. She had a somewhat difficult childhood that then followed her into her adult life. Much of her struggle could be seen throughout her work.  A great example of this would be her short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”.  The story focuses around a women who moves into a house with her husband with a strict prescription of rest cure. The story was pulled from Gilmas real life experience with her doctor, S. Weir Mitchell, who was Philadelphia neurologist.  He , like the husband John in the short story, required her to stay in bed for long periods of time. She was not to write and as put into total isolation. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator described the wallpaper as,

“Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white! If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad” (Gilman 272).

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The pattern symbolizes not only the rest cure, implemented by men, but also all the expectations women of the 19th century were supposed to live up to. If they tried to escape that pattern they would lose everything, their family, reputation and respect. The narrator in the story soon figures out the pattern in the wallpaper and begins to identify herself as the women behind it.

“I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it come night, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please” (Gilman 274)

The women in the story lost her head, in a way, by getting completely wrapped up in the wallpaper and going crazy.  Gilman on the other hand left both her husband and Mitchell and got revenge on Mitchell by writing “The Yellow Wallpaper”.  She wrote the story to reveal the ineffectiveness of Mitchell’s practices. Gilman soon got recognized as a feminist activist, a title she declined to call herself. She traveled around lecturing women about equality and independence. Other examples Gilman’s work that challenged the idea of the women were Women and Economics, Concerning Children, The Home: It’s Work and Influence and Human Work.

To get the sense of the dark times both Gilman and the narrator went through, attached is PBS Masterpiece Theater’s 1989 adaption of “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

Gilman, Perkins Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Longman Anthology of Women Literature. Ed. Mary K. DeShazer. New York:  Addison-Wesley, 2001. 263-274. Print.

-Erica Nelson


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Overcoming Tradition

Virginia Woolf, born January 25th 1882, was one the best modernist writers of the 20th century. To be labeled a “modernist” one was not a traditional writer. For example the story did not have to go in chronological order, one could bounce around from topic to topic. Woolf exemplified this in her well-known work, A Room of One’s Own, published in 1929. The essay was rooted in topics of women and what a woman writer is.  In chapter one she goes into detail about how it is hard for women to overcome tradition. “Moreover, it is equally useless to ask what might have happened if Mrs. Seton and her mother and her mother before had amassed great wealth and laid it under the foundations of college and library, because, in the first place, to earn money was impossible for them…It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs. Seaton has had a penny over her own. For all the centuries before that it would have had been her husband’s property…” (p27) Women did not have the foundation that men had to build something of their own, such as to become a writer. They did not have help from their parents or even society. To overcome such disadvantage several women wrote under a pen name.  This way they could release books and no one would know that it was actually a woman who wrote it. The following video goes into detail about well-known women writers, what their pen name was and what they wrote.

We are now in the 21st century and women today are still trying to overcome tradition. A great example of this would be the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. In the following video she talks about how her British publishers asked her to only use her initials so that boys would also read the books. They did not think they would be interested in books that were written by a woman.

Jump to minute 1:30.

Virginia Woolf did not seem hopeful in her outlook on the prospects of women writers. In the fourth chapter of A Room of One’s Own, she states “And I went on to ponder how a women nowadays would write a poetic tragedy in five acts-would she use verse-would she not use prose rather? But these are difficult questions which lie in the twilight of the future.” (p54) Woolf had no way of knowing at the time that several other women were in fact writing. Communication between women writers was slim because that wasn’t their primary job. They were seen as mothers and wives firstly. The idea of women being seen at home has indeed come along way but as seen with the example of J.K. Rowling, men still feel that women write as well as men.

-Erica Nelson