On suppressing women’s writing

Just the front cover is enough to make me cranky. It’s a list of the ways in which women’s writing (and art) has been suppressed; the book is a brief and eclectic examination of how those different modes have operated, and some suggestion of why, too.

I finally got my hands on this book after I heard of Russ’ death. I’d heard of it in vague terms over many years, and more specifically in the last couple – particularly thanks to Galactic Suburbia, and a growing realisation that I really wanted to understand feminist SF, and that Russ is one entry into that. Plus, she seems like one of those writers everyone talks about… but few (especially of my generation, we post-70s women) have really read.

Russ progresses logically through various modes of suppression, dismissal, and marginalisation. As her evidence, she uses reviews of women’s work over the last century and a half or so; their presence (and absence) in anthologies and university curricula; and in biographies, as well as other sources.

The comparison of the different ways Charlotte Bronte’s work was received when it was believed to be by a man compared with when it was known to be by a woman were distressingly similar in some ways – given the difference in time – to the reception of James Tiptree Jr’s work as male/female. Russ herself notes that while some things have changed – critics are less likely in the late twentieth century to openly denigrate women’s writing simply because of the author’s gender – others have not: said critics have found alternative ways to marginalise the writing.

I’ve been sitting on this review for nearly two months, thinking there must be more to say. There is. I’m going to post this as-is, though, because I’m not sure that I can write down all of my different reactions and thoughts coherently… and we’re going to be doing our Joanna Russ Spoilerific Book Club for Galactic Suburbia soon, and hopefully that will help me clarify some ideas. (It did!)

5 responses

  1. I have this on loan from the South Australian State Library – unfortunately that means I must drive to my local library (20 mins) and read it there. It’s the only copy of the book in public hands in all of SA.

    I tweeted that one way to suppress women’s writing was to ensure that only one copy existed and that copy was kept under restrictive borrowing conditions.

    This is a book that I think should be compulsory for all creative writing classes as it has a wider scope than just feminist studies

    1. Wow, that’s pretty shocking for SA… no idea whether Vic is any better! I agree that all creative writing classes ought to include this; every publishing house ought to have a copy on the shelf, as should ever magazine or similar that has a reviews section.

  2. I will have to order a copy. Only got to the end of the first chapter so far

  3. Shara @ Calico Reaction | Reply

    I’ve got a copy of this lying around somewhere, but I haven’t read it yet. However, I had read her To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction, reviewed here. Pretty fascinating food for thought, I must say.

    1. I loved the essay on Modern Gothic! She is so withering in her attacks sometimes. I’ve lost my copy of that collection… must try to figure out who I gave it to!

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