Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Women Rewriting

From: Jess Nevins (
Date: 27 May 2000

Words from the Monastery wrote:

> Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course ... are there readers who are
> exceptions as well? Yes to that as well. Maybe I'm the exception to the rule
> ... some inherent psychic ability that tells me who the author is and it
> actually has nothing to do with the writing, but being able to tell the
> difference in the writing perspectives is just the most rational
> interpretation of that psychic knowledge ... I don't think so.

Is a rule that has more exceptions than applications still a rule? I can find no or few similarities between the female writers I listed--or indeed any other female writers. After all, one wouldn't say that there's an "African-American perspective" or an "African-American eye," so why say it about women?

Unless you would say that, in which case this discussion is going to go on for a -long- time.

> "Written on the Body" by Jeanette Winterson is touted by the literati as a
> novel who's protagonist is genderless and Ms Winterson is praised for her
> superior writing ability at being able to successfully accomplish this ...
> but from my reading perspective the protagonist is obviously a woman. To

Funny, but the literati I know and read, in places like the London Review of Books and the NY Review of Book, say no such thing. Of course, they say that Winterson is an overrated poetaster, too.

> "give" specifics (if such things exist) would require a rereading, but the
> mannerisms and view are obviously not male ... well, the character isn't a
> male then what's left for the character to be?

So the default for not-male is female? Are you saying, then, that any writer who doesn't have your "female voice" is therefore a male? You've just broadened the parameters of the "female voice" to the point at which it's useless as a definition or for discussion.

Look, if there's such a thing as a "female voice" then it has to have a core set of characteristics. Simply saying that anyone who doesn't write with the
"male voice" therefore has a "female voice" makes that set of characteristics much too broad and all-embracing.

Perhaps you should first define what you mean by not writing like a male?

Another trouble I have with this argument is that it assumes that all women are going to write from a certain perspective, along a certain axis (if you'll forgive the academictalk), regardless of who they are. In my experience people often write from a number of axes, not all of which have to do with who they are. A woman writer might write as a woman, but also as a Jew, as an African- Canadian, and as a lesbian. Or she might write simply as a Jew and a lesbian. Or simply as a liberal Jew. The same applies to men. But I've never found any basic set of characteristics that applies to all women writers everywhere, or even to most women.

> I'll look into the works you've listed and those that others have listed and
> take notes while reading them ... see what I can come up with. But while I
> do that ... maybe some of you believe there is no difference can come up
> with quantifiable evidence supporting your view beyond your opinion that
> it's so as well (that is what y'all are asking me to after all ... turn
> about is fair play) ... prove me wrong. :)

You're asking us to prove a negative, which is of course a rhetorical cheat. I'm

asking you to prove a positive--that all women writers (and all women, for that matter) share a certain point of view and perspective. You're asking us to prove that there isn't such a thing.

It's not like I've never encountered this argument before. In certain circles in academica it's all the rage to talk of "essentials"--women are essentially this way, those of African descent are essentially that way. And some academics draw from this an essentially female point of view and voice. They usually define it as being more concerned with relationships than with action or plot, emotions than logic, social structures and dynamics (such as family set-ups) than with the individual. (I'm horribly summarizing their argument, but that's the gist of it)

The trouble I've always found with this definition--which may not be your definition--is that while there are unarguably some women who write like this, there are also a lot of women who don't write like this. And there are men who write like that. If it's a "female perspective," surely all women should share it, then? Or at least most?

But I've gone on too long. Sorry. Your turn. :-)


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