While in school, we had been taught the prose of only one woman writer. Jane Austen. It wasn’t until the 11th grade that I had read my second works of a woman, and it would only be much later, in my twenties, that I would begin to devour the writing of women like they were the New Age, which is true in some ways, but mostly not. Women writers have been around for just as long as men have, yet their writing is not published or recognized as extensively. We are more wont to have read works by Foster Wallace and Hemingway than we have of Atwood and Duras. Women writers are not given half as much as esteem as their male counterparts as, societally, their prowess is reduced to weakness, woeful, petty. Gendered notions of social condition may have something to do with this.
The average man’s opinion on women writers is that they are hysterical, frantic, subsequently catatonic and maudlin. They liken them to a combination of Jane Austen characters and those gothic of the Bronte sisters, who were masters of their craft but not readily stomached by all, the seductive covers of the their mothers’ Mills & Boons, women helpless in a man’s arms, or starving to, stirred in with gendered preconceptions of women. Women’s literature, to them, is about marriage, love, boys and much crying. And though personally these are some of my favorite subject matters, women writers write about so much more than we’ve been conditioned to believe, and so beautifully, which should be read by men and women alike.
Let’s take a look:
No book is perhaps quite as Didion-esque as this compilation of some of Joan Didion’s best and masterfully written essays, with its raw portraiture of sixties California, it’s beauties and misgivings, the revolution (and devolution) of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture, notes of leaving New York and on keeping a notebook, and her most essential and acclaimed essay, On Self-Respect.
Adapted from a TED Talk given by Adichie, a sliver of it notoriously being sampled on a Beyonce track, this book underscores the essentiality of feminism and explores a greater understanding of women in the feminist realm. Adichie tackles feminism from the rarely vocalized position of a woman of color, a role upon which which so many social norms are preordained and not easily identifiable with mainstream “Western” feminism. Her voice is refreshing, strong and simple, and opens up to her readers a view on feminism unlike any other.
“She is important only as connective tissue to the Great Man,” writes Zambreno of her heroines. Heroines is an examination of the madwomen of yore, the legendary hystericals belonging of the Great Men of literature, and Zambreno’s own boredom with mediocre. Zambreno studies the truths of the likes of Zelda, Vivien(ne) Eliot (wife of T.S.) and Jean Rhys not in their mere roles as wives and facilitators rendered superfluous as their partners’ careers prospered, but as artists, geniuses, women who were suppressed (Scott suppressing the publishing of Zelda’s journals), silenced and institutionalized.
There is no manner of prose quite like Lebowitz’s deadpan, sardonic wit. Social Studies is her acerbic and cheeky observations of the rise of our nouveau genteel society in all its absurd glory. Lebowitz permits us to see ourselves and our frivolities through the viewpoint of the other – her’s – in the fashion of her iconic and beloved sarcasm. “Never name-drop at the dinner table,” she advises, “The only thing worse than a fly in one’s soup is a celebrity.”