Okay, full disclosure: this is a bit ranty. But it’s something I’ve been stewing over for a while now. And with it being International Women’s Day, I figured now was as good a time as any.
So here’s the thing. I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi (who would have guessed from the content of this blog, right?). I’m also a huge mystery fan. Occasionally I’ll make cautious ventures in YA, and I have read a lot of classics. I honestly don’t like romance- I can only take it if it’s a background event to a lot of blood and guts/adrenaline and action, never on its own. I read some non-fiction, but not as much as I ought.
However when it comes to more modern literary works, I’m practically illiterate. I just don’t like literary fiction unless it comes highly recommended. A good chunk of that is that I’m an adrenaline and story junkie who just likes to read about steampunk zombies and wicked fairies in England. Another is that most of the literary fiction I’ve tried to read is unbearably pretentious and navel-gazing without actually giving much in the way of insight into human beings.
So what does this have to do with International Women’s Day? Well some time back in one of my fiction classes, we were asked to pick our all-time favorite fiction passage, and one of the girls in my class selected something from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. It was a nice passage, interestingly written, and while it was a book that had existed on my periphery, I thought about reading it after hearing that passage. Then the girl who’d selected that passage said something about the book that gave me the mental equivalent of a rug burn, and I immediately decided that The Bell Jar was going to the very back of my extensive list of things to read.
So what did my classmate say?
“I think this book is essential to read when it comes to understanding what it means to be a woman today.”
How about NO? Followed by a whole bunch of words that I can’t type because I’m trying to give up cursing for Lent.
Here’s the thing. Sylvia Plath, as I understand things, had a really heartbreaking life and by all accounts was an immensely talented writer. And her writings have been immensely influential for a lot of feminist thinkers.
But to say that I have to read her writing to understand what it means to be a woman today? Bull- I mean NO. No, I don’t.
I’m a woman living in the twenty-first century who wants to make a living from words. I love sports, ice hockey in particular, reading books, writing blog entries, looking at good nature photographs, taking walks listening to music. I want to be able to support myself and be independent of my family after I graduate college, partly because I’m really looking forward to being truly accountable for every action I take, and partly because I owe to myself to grow up and come into my own. When it comes to interpersonal interactions I want to be treated fairly and with respect, on my abilities and my dignity as a human being, and I want to strive to treat other people the same way. I want to be respected for what I am and what I accomplish.
My femininity is not diminished in any way by this. I’m still a woman who’s in the process of growing up and processing the world, and while the world at large may put obstacles in my way for that, I can cope with that and the prospect of facing such obstacles doesn’t bother me. My own integrity isn’t contingent on the world regarding my womanhood one way or another, and I don’t think my understanding of my place in the world- as a woman and as human being is dependent on any way on whether or not I’ve read Sylvia Plath. It’s dependent on myself, my own knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses and who I am as a person.
My writing was dependent on my sitting my butt in the chair and working, not having a room of my own. In a similar way understanding of myself as a woman comes from my own understanding and introspection. I’m not ignorant of myself in this world because of one author I haven’t read. I’ve learned about my role in this world by acting with dignity and holding others to that standard of treatment.
So if you’re a woman looking at the blogosphere and Twitter feeds and seeing a whole bunch of titles and quotes you’ve never heard of, don’t worry about it. Hell, I took the Guardian’s quiz on women figures and literature and got a “middling” score- and I was guessing most of the time. Shockingly, I’m still a woman who has good taste in literature. Anyway, ladies, here’s what I would suggest for Women’s Day if you love books:
Go find a book you love, whether it’s romance or horror, biography or cooking, and read the hell out of it. Have a great time with it. Maybe even blog about it and link to it- I would love to read it. After all, if you love that book- that is what you should celebrate. Something you happen to enjoy, as a woman and as a human being.
Happy International Women’s Day!