by Alexis Bonari
Before the feminist movement in the 1960s, women writers struggled to be taken seriously in the literary world. Like many other professions, society used to consider writing a “man’s job,” so in order for a female writer to get published, she had to be exceptionally talented, courageous and determined.
Here are five women who not only defied the odds and refused to take “no” for an answer, but also consistently wrote about a woman’s role in society to help inspire other women to pick up a pen as well:
1. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Woolf was known to be an innovative, modernist fiction writer, and some of her best work derives from her passion for women’s rights. She tended to write in a stream-of-consciousness style, and some common topics in her writing include personal relationships, women’s issues, philosophical issues, dealing with loss, and the power of memory to “sustain the human spirit.”
Possibly one of her most famous feminist essays is A Room of One’s Own, as well as Three Guineas, which was written to defend the education of women during the European fascism movement in the late 1930s.
In A Room of One’s Own Woolf writes:
“At the thought of all those women working year after year and finding it hard to get to thousand pounds together…we burst out in scorn at the reprehensive poverty of our sex. What had our mothers been doing then that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in at shop windows? Flaunting in the sun at Monte Carlo?”
2. Jane Austen (1775-1817)
Austen was a profound English novelist who was actually homeschooled during her childhood, and was forced to remain anonymous as a writer during the last ten years of her life. Her novels tended to discuss various gender and social issues that were common in England during the 19th century, and many of her novels had female characters who were intelligent yet “economically vulnerable.”
Some examples include Sense and Sensibility, where the Dashwood sisters were forced into marriage after their father passed away, and in Pride and Prejudice, a mother tries to force marriage upon her daughters to wealthy suitors. Also in Mansfield Park, there is a specific focus on how single women are forced to become dependent on males.
3. George Eliot (1819-1880)
Eliot was considered to be one of the greatest British novelists of the 1800s, but many people at the time were unaware that her real name was actually Mary Ann Evans, and she decided to change her name to “George Eliot” just so people would buy her work. She had a passion for education and philosophy, but was forced to leave school at the age of 16 after her mother’s death, and later in life became a social outcast after she moved in with literary critic George Henry Lewes, (who at the time was married with three children).
Many of the characters in her novels depict a person who is forced to make important moral decisions, which could be in direct relation to her own experiences and tribulations.
Her most popular feminist writing to date is Silly Novels by Lady Novelists where Eliot actually calls out to her female readers in the hopes of inspiring them to write as well:
“When men see girls wasting their time in consultations about bonnets and ball dresses, and in giggling or sentimental love-confidences, or middle-aged women mismanaging their children, and solacing themselves with acrid gossip, they can hardly help saying, ‘For Heaven’s sake, let girls be better educated; let them have some better objects of thought – some more solid occupations.”
4. Alice Walker (1944 - )
Alice Walker is an internationally-known African-American novelist, poet, and essayist. From Eatonville, Georgia, some of the most common themes in her work touch on racism and the history of women. Later in life she became very active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s,and some of her early novels and short stories (The Third Life of Grange Copeland, In Love and Trouble, and You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down depict not only the struggle for the civil rights movement, but for black women in particular.
Her most famous novel to date, The Color Purple, won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but other progressive works include The Temple of My Familiar, where she discusses the history of black women issues, and Possessing the Secret of Joy, where she focuses on the topic of female genital mutilation.
5. Margaret Atwood (1939 - )
From Ontario, Canada, one of Atwood’s personal goals as a writer was to not only draw attention to Canadian literature, but to female issues as well.
Atwood’s work spans from novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction, and some of her many themes include colonization, technology, the environment, but most importantly the sexuality and alienation of women. In Surfacing, Atwood discusses a woman’s “refusal to be a victim,” and in The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood depicts the future of women who live in a religious extremist society.
Other popular feminism-based novels written by Atwood include The Edible Woman, Lady Oracle, Life Before Man, and The Robber Bride.
Of course the list could go on and on: The Bronte sisters, Mary Shelley, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson….there are countless female writers who helped pave the path for future women writers. Many of us can empathize with their struggles in being taken seriously as a successful and intelligent female writer, so from time to time it is important for us as women to read (or re-read) their work to help us realize just how far women writers have come, especially in the last 100 years.
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grants for low income students as well as education housing grants. Whenever this WAHM gets some free time she enjoys doing yoga, cooking with the freshest organic in-season fare, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.
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