When women write

300px-Murasaki_Shikibu
Murasaki Shikibu (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Women write when their children sleep safely tucked in beds and kissed good night. Once meals are cooked and dishes put away. When husbands are at work or play. While waiting at the doctors’ rooms. At the beauty parlours. After laundry has been done. During the lunch breaks at work. In recovery from labour. After kids leave home for college. Once divorce is over. When lovers’ leave. Recovering from menopause. In between shopping’s and family gatherings. After grandkids are dropped off. Once their minds are free and their thoughts belong to them only. Because all other serious stuff of living has been attended too.

This is if they have a room of their own. And an income. As mighty Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929. She lived in time when only boys went to school. Accordingly, as her own father; Sir Leslie Stephen, did not believe in investing in the education of his daughters, Virginia never experienced the formal schooling.  Years later she will invent a fictional character, Judith, ‘Shakespeare’s sister’ to show that woman with the gift as large as Shakespeare’s would not have the same opportunity to develop it because they were simply not sent to school. Her character, Judith stayed at home while her brother William goes to school. Judith is trapped at home; ‘She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the worlds as he was. But she was not sent to school’ (‘A Room of One’s Own’).

Oh but that was then, I hear you saying; world has changed significantly since that time and all doors are now wide open to modern women writers. Besides, it no longer matters whether one is a man or a woman writer, the only thing that matters is the quality of prose, we are all just authors.

If this is so, let us examine it.

There is no doubt that the quality of prose, irrespective of the author’s gender, or any other descriptor such as race, religious affiliation, etc., is and must remain the only criterion. In other words; whoever wrote it, if it is a great work, it must be acknowledged and celebrated as such.

However, the fact also remains that any prose must first be written, and then published, before it can be read by anyone, or judged on its merits. Only those given the opportunity to learn how to read and write could produce written work.

The legions of women throughout the history, and millions living today in various parts of the world, either do not have access to education, or are actively prevented from learning.

They would never know either joy or sorrow of a written word. Magic of a story. Or write their own stories. We would never know whether they would have turned into good or bed writers. Because they cannot read or write.

Interestingly, according to many scholars, the first named author was a female. Her name was Enheduanna, (2285 to 2250 BCE), and she was the high priestess in ancient Sumeria, (today’s Iraq).

After the flourishing of art, innovation and literature throughout the Classical Period, time of long stagnation persisted during Middle or Dark Ages. It was not until a German nun Hrotsvitha, (935 to 1000 CE), who reportedly read such grand Romans as Virgil, Ovid and Horace, that the first literary work panned by a woman emerged. She wrote a playwrights  ‘The Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim.’  Around the same time Lady Murasaki Shikibu, (973 to 1025), a maid of honour during the Heian period in imperial Japan, wrote ‘The Tale of Genji’, considered by many scholars to be the world’s first novel. It is said that Murasaki’s father, while admiring his daughter’s intelligence, wished she had not been born a woman.

Another six or seven hundred years passed before a first woman succeeded in making a living from her writings. Aphra Behn, (1640 – 1689 CE), who served as a spy for King Charles II after her husband’s death, panned some of the most saucy prose ever. She wrote 20 hugely popular novels, plays and short stories primarily to get herself out of debtor’s prison. Her ‘Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister’, described a painful affair between a brother and sister-in-law, with such a narrative of political intrigue, gender confusion and forbidden eroticism, that some of our contemporary authors may blush!

It was however not until the 1909 the first woman received the Nobel Prize for Literature; Swedish author Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagarlof (‘The Wonderful Adventure of Nils’).

It would be hard to argue with the fact that throughout the history women writers had limited opportunities to develop their craft, and even more limited opportunities to publish because of many cultural, social or even legal factors. Moreover, the critical reception of their literary efforts had been mixed at best. As a result there has been significant number of authoresses publishing their work either anonymously or under male pseudonyms.  

The practice was widely used in 19th century as female writers start to make inroads into literature. We are now well familiar with the story of The Bronte Sisters who chose male pen names, or Alice Bradley Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.), Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb), Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Ann Rule (Andy Stack), and Louisa May Alcott (A.M. Barnard) to mention just the best known.

However, if there is a still any doubt left that it is indeed much harder for a woman to publish her work even today, (once she has found time and space to write it), case of Joanne Rowling is certain to dispel it. Her publishers feared that boys would not read books written by someone named Joanne! They decided to use set of initials to disguise her gender and J.K. Rowling was born, even though Rowling does not have a middle name so K was invented.

In December 2009, well-known blogger James Chartrand revealed that ‘he’ is actually ‘she’. After working under her own name for years and struggling to survive, she started submitting her work under a male pseudonym; just to see what will happen. And this is what happened;Instantly, jobs became easier to get. There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all. Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate.’

More recent onset of self-publishing and fan sites appears to be working in favour of female authors as reportedly more than half of the top 20 self-published authors (those whose titles have sold more than 200,000 copies), are women even when grandly successful author of ‘Shades’ E.L. James is not included.

However, those figures are primarily from genres female authors are traditionally attracted to either as readers or writers; romance, erotic fiction, young adult and fantasy fiction. When it comes to accolades and awards of general fiction the picture is somewhat different. The highly influential New York Book Review reported in 2010 that out of 364 books reviews only 71 were written by women. Almost all major book reviews in the USA and UK showed similar figures.

In conclusion I can only wish that those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy enormous privilege of education and access to any kind of publishing continue to produce outstanding written works. And in doing so make the same privileges available to those who are still unable to, or prevented from accessing them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Daniela

Reader, Writer, Mother, Freethinker, Habitual Day Dreamer, Blogger - Sharing Ideas, Poetry, Prose, and Conversations on the Lantern Post!

60 thoughts on “When women write”

      1. OK, I cannot let this pass by … I LOVE WHAT YOU WRITE! I love your passion for life, the way you make light fun of things that are actually quite important. It takes skill to do that. And a heart. So, no MORE calling your writings silly or any such thing! Otherwise, I might just start leaving comments under your posts in Croatian … just ask Ralph from the bluefishway if you do not believe me!

        Daniela

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      1. Oh dear…reblogged this on my phone this am, and am now seeing my hilarious typo…it makes me laugh. Thanks again so much.

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  1. Such an interesting article on the history of women’s writings.

    Aren’t we lucky today to be able to blog? I think there are many…like me… who do not seek fame and fortune from writing but are just glad to write and and be read. It is so easy. Not easy to write. But to have access to a place to share.

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    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting. Yes, it is indeed easy to share for many of us who are fortunate enough to have access to technology!
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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    1. My dear Sarah-Jane,
      Thank you very much for your comment! And I wish with all my heart that one day (soon) you and all of us no longer feel any need to disguise our gender!
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  2. My mother’s high school teachers knew and said she was college material, but in her time, if there were limited funds, the family sent boys to college first. Think of all the wonderful writers we may have missed because of gender discrimination. Great post!

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    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting. I am very glad you spoke about your mother because that is exactly the point; when there is not enough resources to go around; women miss out irrespective of their potential.

      Many thanks,
      Daniela

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  3. Wonderful writing summary…and reminder. Even between all the examples you give in the first paragraphs, women somehow manage to create “rooms of their own” where actual, physical rooms don’t exist. But we still keep writing, and that creates our space.
    Excellent post!

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    1. Thank you very much Marylin! Yes women are indeed resourceful and imaginative … two characteristics essential to be both; a woman and a writer!
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  4. Very nicely done Ms D. I can certainly empathize with women everywhere who discover that certain doors are still difficult to open. It will take time, but I think the wheels of progress are turning. When women like you are willing to speak out and encourage others only good can happen.
    Hold forth Ms D.,
    We are listening.
    H.

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    1. My dear Howard,
      Thank you very much for your kind and thoughtful comment. I do hope with all my heart that those wheels of progress will bring education to those who still do not have it. Those girls married off at 9 and 10 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, those starving in Africa, those slaved into forced prostitution … Oh God how this world of ours saddens me!
      Many thanks,
      Daniela

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  5. This is a very provocative post, Daniela! I’d love to sit down with you in a coffee shop—by a lantern post—and bat this one about.😉
    I found you through the Daily Post. You had suggested literary prompts, and I wanted to let you know that I have started doing that, myself (but I was shy about replying to you on the forum). If you’re interested, please have a look: http://bringingeuropehome.com/category/quotes-from-the-masters/
    Great blog, by the way!

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  6. Another stunning post, Daniela. So interesting about scholars thinking the first anmed author was a Sumerian woman! And what a challenge you give us in your final paragraph.

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    1. Hi Janet,

      I am so glad you liked it! Thank you very much for reading and commenting. I am always very happy to see you visiting, it keeps us in touch!
      Many thanks
      Daniela

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  7. This was a very good read and i enjoyed it immensely.
    In my country India…..girls still have to struggle for an education in the rural areas and villages.
    I have written a poem on it “Make me a lighted candle”….and invite you to read it.It’s in the category of “poems” of this month.
    Thankyou for writing this.

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    1. Hi,
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting. I am especially glad to have visitors from India , I have many friends here from India and understand struggles Indian women experience especially in rural areas. Looking forward to reading your poem.
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  8. I am sorry that you right. Men still believe themselves better and more important than women. Even for myself, to a small degree, I read JD Robb and loved the books, but wonder would I have read them if I had known it was Nora Roberts? In my defense and case, it would not have been because she is a she; it would be because she is a romantic fiction writer doing science fiction mystery. As it is, I find the series to be one of them most wonderful sets I have ever read.
    Scott

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  9. When I was younger, an undergrad studying mathematics, I submitted my word using an initial instead of my first name. I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously.
    My education included many women writers but no women mathematicians.

    I didn’t think writing held such a history of gender bias. Thanks for the eye opener.

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    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting!
      The gender bias is still alive and well in writing world … but more of wonderful writings women produce, the shorter it will live!
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  10. These scenarios make me wonder how many things have been written by women that have never gotten a chance to be read by the masses. How many women living in parts of the world where education is not an option and their stories go untold? Very interesting post!

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  11. There are some famous female writers in the Chinese world, however, going as far as counting the figure/number of female writers can be misleading sometime. In computer science for example, or Physics, the number of male involved in this career is much more than the female, and yes we can count on the the imbalance number, and give the explanation because it is biased towards the male. My point is, there are many reasons behind a number.

    The first Nobel prize was awarded in 1901 to a chemist, and Marie Curie was awarded two times the Nobel prize, Watson and Crick was said to have stolen the Nobel prize from a woman scientist Rosalind Franklin, but they were many males scientists, too were not given the Nobel prize due to some biased factors. Bias will always be there (in every country), the thing is, can we create a system, or a channel, so that we can find a way out for the people to be happy about the thing they do, and make contribution to the world (without distinguishing male or female)? Just some thoughts of mine.

    kc

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  12. The question asked, “Has it sparked something in me?” Yes….perhaps a thought, “Maybe I should write under initials!” Very enlightening (and sad) post. Thank you for the history. We’ve come a long way [and we have a long way to go] baby. . .until we make our brothers understand! (You might appreciate my latest post, 2012 Women………🙂 xo barbara

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