Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Feminist Feature: Esquire's Sexism

Esquire Magazine recently ran a list of 75 Books Every Man Should Read.  Seventy-four of those were by males, Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find (of course) being the only female work.  (They did state, though, that their list was "utterly biased," in their defense.)  Why O'Connor and not Margaret Atwood?  Don't get me wrong: Esquire is promoting reading!  That's a good thing, right?  But I'd rather they promote gender equality as well; this is not to say have 50/50 gender split.  That in itself would be discriminating...and as retaliation Jezebel released their list for women, including three men...just as discriminating.  Good job on the war front, ladies.  All that should matter is that a book is stellar.  The author's biological makeup should contribute nothing to the quality of writing.  As fellow blogger Sally said, "I'm amazed, though, that To Kill a Mockingbird wouldn't be on there because it belongs on any Must Read List, regardless of gender."  It's true.

This got us to talking about how in high school, we read no novels by women.  Even in our textbooks, female authors were absent, and we only graduated in 2004.  It doesn't seem like a long time, but then I think, It's been ten year since I was a freshman in high school.  I don't recall seeing a single female author (not even Emily Dickinson!), despite many of their great contributions to literature.  And it's a shame that all of our works read were by dead white guys because somewhere along the way, some old smart white guys in charge decided that these were the best works.  Excuse while I vomit in boredom of Ernest Hemingway or find that, yes, there is much better work than anything Henry James ever wrote.  Sure, I agree that many of the authors were read are high in quality, like Shakespeare (there is no better!), but I think it's high time we recognize women's lit as canonical.  I want to see Atwood present in high schools.  I want to see Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt, who was largely unheard of until recently.

In 2006 I presented Piatt and her work with a partner to our class in American Literature.  We chose her because her poems were interesting, but it was only the second time she'd been in the Norton anthology and was not in the new edition.  She was invisible.  Now, I think, thanks to Dr. Paula Bennett, she's been brought to attention as a major author in the 19th century literary community.  Her experiences made her even more believable and expert, having grown up in Kentucky pre-Civil War, then moving to Ohio during it.  She then moved to Ireland because of her husband's job.  There, she saw the troubles in the Emerald Isle and the revolutions spattering Europe.  She lived in the middle of chaos, and how did she cover it up?  In a genteel manner.  Quite brilliant really, disguising her bitter tongue in sing-song poetry seemingly meant for children.  And that's why she wasn't taken seriously.  Her tongue was not specific enough, either, according to many.  But she used language in the same way Shakespeare did.  Piatt, in my eyes, is Woolf's alternate historical figure Judith Shakespeare, William's sister.

I tend to gravitate more towards women's literature because I find the idea that their writing has been greatly overlooked and dismissed due to their gender, and much of their content makes it fantastic and meaningful for me, but I know that some of it is not quality.  But I know some of it is, and I don't see those anywhere.  Fellow teachers, I plead for you to include women in your lessons, in Social Studies or English or any other field you see fit.  Women have made great contributions to all societies throughout time.  Abigail Adams, Elizabeth I, Grace O'Malley, Cleopatra (who goes verily underrated), Bat Zabbai, and so many others.  We can help make a difference in becoming a more equal society.

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