Gubar and Gilbert , in their work, “Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship,” describe a tension between the ability of women to create art and what has been considered the social norm of femininity. They describe the eternal woman’s ill-fated past as one of both mental and physical sickness caused by the patriarchal socialization of women. They describe nineteenth century femininity as socially conditioned female illness, “…nineteenth-century culture seems to have actually admonished women to be ill. In other words the ‘female diseases’ from which Victorian women suffered were not always byproducts of their training in femininity; they were the goals of such training” (54). Given that the state of women was expected to be ill or frail (or alternatively ‘monsterous), it’s a wonder as how women could be expected to do much of anything – let alone participate in creative endeavors. They quote Sexton in saying that female art, “Has a ‘hidden’ but crucial tradition of uncontrollable madness” (56). This passage reminded me of A Room of One’s Own where Judith Shakespeare, if she existed, would have been considered mad and driven to literal madness, while her male counterpart would be, and was, considered a genius.
They also describe a phenomenon of interirorization of women that marks the struggle for women writers in artistic self-definition. Women writers are confined to be thought of in terms of their male counter parts. Gubar and Gilbert generally describe the writer’s burden as one in which, “…writers assimilate and then consciously or unconsciously affirm or deny the achievements of their predecessors, [which] is, of course, a central fact of literary history…” (46). Thus, there is an anxiety of authorship which is caused by the inability of one to escape the work of their predecessors. Specifically for female writers, the authors describe this burden as producing an ultimatum, “Thus, as Virginia Woolf observed, the women writer seemed locked into a disconcerting double blind: she had to choose between admitting she was ‘only a woman’ or protesting that she was ‘as good as a man'” (64). Not only must women face a near debilitating anxiety of authorship, but they must also face the challenges of writing as a women (ie qualifying one’s writing according to the norms of the patriarchal socialization of women).
Can we really say that the challenges faced by Victorian women and of women today are much different? Many social pressures remain the same as well as the still unchanged fact that women do not have as great a history in art as men. How much can we really say has changed in the ability of women to produce knowledge?