Feminine Writing

A topic we’ve discussed with increasing frequency is whether there is actually such a thing as feminine writing. Cixous said yes, but Nochlin argued against the idea. Looking at Monsieur Venus through that lens… doesn’t really help the tension.

One level, it must be a feminine text because it is written by a woman, but on another, it is published under a pseudonym (either a masculine or gender-neutral one–can anyone confirm this?), so it does not explicitly state its femininity.

Another level, the text is about a woman and her interactions within her social sphere. But even though her independence is liberating and empowering, she often does this through assuming masculine traits. The introduction states,” [Rachilde’s] powerful female protagonists… are frequently disarmingly unfeminine (as is literally the case for Raoule de Venerande in Monsieur Venus). Thus Rachilde appears to embrace and reclaim characteristics that would be identified with abusive enactments of power prerogatives and associated with certain constructions of masculinity or with social class or economic power” (xxi).

I find this quote fascinating because it seems to imply that Raoule gains her power by being unfeminine, which seems to support the same trends of masculine power that were prevalent. However, in class we discussed the possibility that the feminine text is that which subverts the traditional framework . Would this be an example of that? Rachilde does push the gender binary through her language (especially with the use of pronouns). So if Raoule is a strong character because of the masculine traits she adopts, does the fact that she is a woman who is adopting these traits make it subversive? Or a case of a woman trying to gain power by acting like a man and denying her own femininity? (I feel like the latter is less likely, because there are moments where she does seem very feminine… but they also seem like places where she feels like she is being weak. So there’s some food for thought.) This also reminds me of Scott and her views on the gendered language of power, though I’m not sure how she would feel about this text.

The following part of the introduction seems to offer a solution to that. If we view feminism as requiring a feminine language (not succumbing to male structures), then Monsieur Venus cannot be a feminist text (is that different from a feminine text?). However, this novel does challenge concepts of what is masculine and what is feminine through the masculinization of Raoule and the feminization of Jacques (who exists as an object for both Raoule and his sister). The idea of subversion as feminine or non/masculine rises up again. This text does lead me to believe that subversion is an important role in feminine writing, but it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, because there are male writers who are also subversive in their writings (Flaubert with Madame Bovary, perhaps? I don’t know how well this holds up). Are they then creating feminine texts?

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4 thoughts on “Feminine Writing

  1. I think it’s interesting that Rachilde was staunchly anti-feminist in her day, which led to her works being accepted later than usual by the feminist canon. My post-modern notions want to say that men are capable of writing in feminine styles and women are capable of writing in masculine styles, and both are capable of creating stories that advocate for the equality of all genders and sexes, despite the subversion. I think the question as to whether something can be considered a feminist text depends on what the feminist canon at the time determines what “feminism” is (this leads us back to questions of the canon, but can somewhat explain why Rachilde can have a “masculine” writing style and sill be considered feminist).

  2. Is female authorship the only prerequisite to feminine writing? As we read in the Gilbert & Gubar, female authors who take on male pseudonyms are considered to be duplicitous and their work in fact not feminine at all. In their view, a vagina is not the only determinant of producing feminine writing. But does this mean that a man could also produce feminine writing?

    I feel like Cixous would be opposed to that idea, because she would consider the man to not be aware of some of women’s unique struggles, such as pregnancy and motherhood, which she discusses. But then Gilbert & Gubar also address the issue of pregnancy, and argue that tying this reproductive feature to a woman simply because it’s part of her biology puts her into a confined room.

    Therefore, it might be said that Gilbert & Gubar are against tying feminine writing to the female sex. But at the same time, they still stress the importance of having female foremothers and solidarity within that lineage, a lineage that can only be accessed through a female sex.

    • I don’t think Gilbert and Gubar are against tying feminine writing with female sex. I think they’re against the stereotypes that feminine writing has, and they’re trying to create awareness for the problems that female authors face when they write in the hopes that women can overcome them because they do value female solidarity and literary lineage. But how could a man produce feminine writing? What even is feminine writing? I feel like just when I start to define it for myself, I’ll read something or hear something that makes me reconsider…
      I guess I ultimately don’t think that writing is truly gendered. I think, especially as we see writing and their authors change over time and break through these anxieties of influence/authorship, writing loses any hints of the gender of its author.

  3. Somewhat tangentially related, but I think it is interesting that so much of the reading this unit is about creative and artistic production while (anecdotally) I feel social movements and pushes to get women involved in STEM fields, which are “opposites.” Sometimes I get the sense that there is a general opinion that “there are enough women in the humanities already but that we need to encourage them to get involved with scientific fields”, while the recent readings seem to suggest (not incorrectly, I fear) that women don’t have a steady footing in the humanities either…

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