This means war.
“This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing room.”
How is it that, years and years later, we still labor under the same critical bias? Too bold a claim? m.snowe would like to think so, but she cannot in good conscience. But let’s make this clear–critics, marketers, and to a large extent, general audiences relegate certain motifs to the fringe of “serious” exegesis. We don’t hold stories to the strictures of real life, so why do we paradoxically apply real-life measures of seriousness to our stories? Why does a story about war automatically receive more critical attention than a story where perhaps no one is physically battling, but grappling with perhaps something equally gripping, and perhaps closer to more of the reading population’s direct experience? And why do these disregarded (for the most part) stories seem to be written by, for or about women? And why are women so heavily praised when they “cross gender lines” and write about something traditionally masculine? Or direct a movie about it? (Aside: Is Bigelow only an Oscar contender because her skills were channeled to create a “A story about men and battle and the murderous highs of violence”?) And why, in the same vein, are men praised for writing “important, serious books,” as well as crossing into the traditionally feminine narratives about daily life and monotony? It would stand to reason that if the bifurcation of war and the drawing room does not stand for male writers, it should not for women either. Of course, reason isn’t standing here–reason is cowering in the corner, overshadowed by ego.
And if a lady writes in a militant way, but not about traditionally militant things? Watch out for that crazy bitch.
m.snowe is finishing up A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert (look out for a blogged review shortly). Still don’t know whether to like it, or despise it. The questions above are obscuring my vision of how it should be seen. Because despite the realization that these critical biases exist, I was raised in the midst of them. Awareness is great, but it doesn’t eradicate engrained prejudice. It must be chipped away, page by page.