Sometime in the last five years, in reference to some discussion of the way fanfic and slash are devalued and ghettoized and marginalized and dismissed by everyone but us--and sometimes even by us--someone somewhere mentioned Joanna Russ's book, How to Suppress Women's Writing
This weekend, I finally got around to reading it. I had already had the main points summarized by that fanperson who recced it, and then by the cover, which reads:She didn't write it.
But if it's clear she did the deed... She wrote it, but she shouldn't have.
(It's political, sexual, masculine, feminist.) She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.
(The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!) She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it.
. Poor dear, that's all she ever...") She wrote it, but she isn't really an artist, and it isn't really art.
(It's a thriller, a romance, a children's book. It's sci fi!) She wrote it, but she had help.
(Robert Browning. Bramwell Bronte. Her own "masculine side".) She wrote it, but she's an anomaly.
(Woolf. With Leonard's help...) She wrote it BUT...
So it was a quick but still difficult, dizzying read. The book was, I believe, originally written in 1979, making it the disheartening experience of the generation before mine. I was intensely conscious as I read it of my gratitude for the existence of Lois McMaster Bujold, who wrote the books I wanted to read and received critical acclaim for it, and never allowed me to imagine that I could not go right ahead and do the same (and Dorothy Sayers and Georgette Heyer and the rest, for inspiring her). Still, I came away with a sizable list of women's writing to go out and find and read, post haste.
And also, of course, I was reading it with an eye to fic, and slash, and our rightful place as a massive literary movement. I was just as conscious of being thankful that I had come into fandom at a time when I never had to do anything for the first time, when fans who came before me had already invented our genres and vocabulary and fannish infrastructure, so I didn't have to wander around in the outer darkness wondering about this funny feeling I got whenever Jack and Daniel or Jim and Blair looked at each other like that. I could dive right in and write and label my story and send it out to the mailing list devoted to its pairing--I had all the tools, models to follow, and a ready-made audience.
But, of course, it was just fanfic.
So here's no less an authority than Jane Austen (as quoted by Russ, 101) addressing, in Northanger Abbey
, the stigma that attached to her
community of writers and their chosen form of expression: the novel.
Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than any other literary corporation in this world, no species of composition has been so much decried. ... There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and under-valuing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.
Russ writes, "Jane Austen ... worked (as some critics tend to forget) in a genre that had been dominated by women for a century and
one that was looked down upon as trash, a position that may have given her considerable artistic freedom." (100)
So I thought of the Five Things story, and flashfic and drabbles and those challenge stories where you have to include the word eggbeater and a quotation of the prompter's choosing, and Written by the Victors
and the Shoebox Project and every other wildly experimental way we've done this thing we do.
Later, discussing the forms in which the Europe's earliest literate women wrote, Russ mentions that "women always write in the vernacular
. Not strictly true, and yet it explains a lot. It certainly explains letters and diaries. ... It explains why so many wrote ghost stories in the nineteenth century and still write them." (128-129)
And, it occurred to me, that's what we're doing. We're writing in the vernacular. If there is a ubiquitous, disposable, disreputable form of writing today, it's internet porn
. And here we are, making it (to say nothing of the equally-ubiquitous television show, comic, movie, or children's book) our own.
And this is a real thing we are doing, and our work is real work, and our writing is real writing, and we are really here together doing this, and I am glad.This entry is crossposted at http://dsudis.livejournal.com/527925.html.