Unforgettable: Female protagonists in lit

Dr. Rosa Githiora, interim director of the UA Women’s Resource Center, sent us a link to a post listing “The 50 Most Unforgettable Female Protagonists in Literature.”

Some you will immediately recognize — like Jane Eyre. Others you won’t. Get the list here.

How trying to write a blog essay is driving this chick crazy

Editor’s Note: The author, Laura Stuart, is a student in the fall 2010 Women’s Studies Program Special Topics course, That Chick is Crazy: Women and Madness, at The University of Akron.

Writer’s block sucks.

You have this great idea for an essay rolling around in your brain. You’ve mentally sorted out what and where every A to Z belongs. Getting this thing written down occupies your every thought, and you can barely focus on anything else.

You sit down at the computer, a fresh Word document ready to go, a cup of coffee sitting on the desk.

Nothing happens.

It’s enough to make a writer go crazy. I admit that I have had full-on hissy fits over essays that failed to materialize right away. I curse myself, the computer, and the entire literary world for my shortcomings. Sometimes I wish I could just stick a USB cable into my brain and let its contents spill onto the screen. Then again, I’d also be terrified of what that would be.

The little voice in my head tells me that I’ll never make it as a writer, and I might as well go reapply for my old burger-flipping job. If I’m lucky, when 3 a.m. rolls around, I will have managed to scratch up something that I’m sure is pure crap just because I want to get it over with and go to bed.

Once it has been printed, read, and in some cases graded, I refuse to look at it ever again for fear that I will literally die of embarrassment for daring to allow this thing to see the light of day.

Heck, half the time a thing doesn’t get written because I fear that it is terrible.

Maybe it is self-destructive to think that way about my writing. It can’t be that bad, can it? There are probably a lot of folks out there who experience writer’s block and don’t feel the need to whine about it like I am. This being National Novel Writing Month, there’s probably quite a lot of people struggling to write 50,000 words in only 30 days, and turn off the inner editor.

I only have to write a measly page.

I could attribute this insecurity to what Sandra Gilbert and Sarah Gubar describe as “anxiety of authorship” in their chapter “Infection in the Sentence.” They describe the obstacles faced by women writers trying to make it in the male-dominated literary world a few centuries ago. The simple act of being female made it difficult to even get their work looked at, yet alone taken seriously.

The woman’s duty was to make babies and make dinner. How dare she over-exert her fragile female mind by trying to be a writer? Also, what could she possibly write about that’s worth reading about?

No wonder that writers like Jane Austen would often downplay their writing, telling others that it’s no big deal. It’s just some silly little thought, really.

Even today, I still feel like I’m wasting my time trying to be a writer, especially as a woman. It’s especially discouraging when I consider that one of most successful women writers at the moment has met success writing about her abusive boyfriend vampire . . . who sparkles.

Maybe I shouldn’t let it get to me. Maybe I ought to just write, no matter what. I should ignore my inner critic. I should accept the good grades and the praise I get from strangers.

Instead of letting writer’s block drive me mad, I should let writing be my salvation.

Women writers who count

Congratulations to two Northeast Ohio women who won Lantern Awards.

  • Thrity Umrigar, former Akron Beacon Journal reporter, won for her memoir, First Darling of the Morning. She is an associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.
  • Joanna Connors, Plain Dealer reporter, won in the journalism category for her brave and thorough account, “Beyond Rape,” which appeared in the PD on May 4, 2008. The 16-page section told the story of Connors’ 1984 rape and its after effects. The Lantern was not the first award for Connor. She won the Distinguished Writing Award for Nondeadline Writing from the American Society of Newspaper Editors last year.

Joanna Connors

The Lantern Awards will be given every two years. They cover poetry, fiction, memoir, nonfiction, journalism, performance and blog. Nominating work for each finalist covered May 2008 to May 31, 2010.

Women’s issues covered in the Buchtelite

Women’s issues are getting coverage in the Buchtelite, the University of Akron student newspaper.

Allison Strouse, arts and life editor for the paper, wrote an interesting piece about her experiences as a young woman who loves sports — and loves to cover them.

You can read her piece, “Make room for women in the press box on the Buchtelite Web site. You can also read her post, “New Indians regime arrives with optimism” on the Cleveland Magazine blog.

Alyssa Berthiaume, 2009 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant in the UA Women’s Studies Program and a regular writer for this blog, is in her last year of study for her MFA degree. So she was a natural choice to write opinion pieces for the paper.

Here are links to her recent columns:

Miss NWSA? Listen to Angela Davis online

Angela Davis gave an outstanding keynote to a packed room at the 2009 NWSA annual conference, “Difficult Dialogues.”

If you weren’t among the 1,600 who attended the conference, you can still hear what Davis had to say as she reflected on her career as an activist and a scholar, the history of women’s studies, health care reform, and more.

By visiting the NWSA Web site, you can download her speech, which is divided into two parts:

1) Angela Davis on NWSA

Angela Davis talks about the National Women’s Studies Association, reflects on its history, and congratulates Beverly Guy-Sheftall for the work she is doing as president.

2) Angela Davis on Difficult Dialogues

Within the context of the theme of the conference, Davis talks about the positioning of women’s studies
within academia and its relationship to other academic fields, her past, and her aspirations for the future.

On reading women and counting beans

feminist-theory-readerIn “Beyond Bean Counting,” author JeeYeun Lee says that every time she is in a room, she “automatically count[s] those whom [she] can identify as women, men, people of color, Asian Americans, mixed-race people, whites, gays and lesbians, bisexuals, heterosexuals, people with disabilities.”

When Lee received the call for submissions for the Feminist Theory Reader, she “imagined opening up the finished book to the table of contents and counting beans.” (See more at Google Books).

I know that I am guilty of bean counting, just like Lee. And I would also like to say that I don’t see the problem with it. As humans, we tend to categorize everything. We aren’t comfortable without being able to label things, know where they belong in this world, and where they stand relative to us.

As a grad student in English Literature, I have also opened up anthologies — such as the Norton Anthology of American Literature –Since 1945 — to the table of contents and counted beans. And while I have found that more women authors are being included in contemporary literature anthologies, I wonder if they are being included because they are women.

I did a little investigating on the Norton site, and in the review of the anthology found these statments: the concern with post-war literature has included women, but because they fit the theme of “cross-cultural mixtures and hybrid perspectives that result from a globalized contemporary life.”

The site lists works by Jhumpa Lahiri, Rita Dove, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Li-Young Lee, and claims that they have been included because they all have to do with translations of customs or language from another culture into American English.” Li-Young Lee is the only man included for this purpose, but there are three women.

The next section of the review dicusses the “inclusion of new immigrant voices in the spectrum of national perspectives.” The examples used of “works that maintain ties to previous culture while establishing links to America” include Sandra Cisneros, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Am I reading all this wrong or are these women being included not because they are women, but because they fulfill a quota for diversity?

I have read many women authors in my undergraduate career, and I asked one of my professors why he chose the women authors that he did. He told me that the fact that they were women authors played a part in his selection, but it wasn’t the major factor. Some works were chosen because they “teach well” and others because they included the themes he need to discuss, such as realism and naturalism.

I am glad that more women authors are being included in classrooms around the country, but I have to wonder why they are. I’ve read Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ana Castillo, and Banana Yoshimoto – to name just a few – and the connection I feel to their texts has nothing to do with the fact that they are women.

Mostly, what I find appealing is the story of an outsider, and that “otherness” is usually based on culture or race, not sex.

Sharon Henry is a graduate student in the Spring 2009 Feminist Theory class. To read more student posts, click here.