Tag Archives: the other

A Final Chapter on Wollstonecraft: 18th Century Feminism for a 21st Century World

Even though I haven’t posted for a couple days, I’ve been thinking.  A dangerous activity, indeed.  In a recent post, I wondered how Wollstonecraftian feminism and class struggle issues of the 1790s  could be pertinent in 2011.  Surely in this modern age we’re properly enlightened?

I know feminism is alive and well today, but I feel it’s a very different brand of feminism than that espoused in Wollstonecraft’s Vindications.  Today’s feminism seems primarily concerned with the body: sexual and reproductive freedom.

I might be making no friends here by saying it, but feminism today is also bizarrely obsessed with being pro-vaginal:  love me, love my menstruation.  This has led to no end of weird things popping up on Etsy – the cool kid’s handmade Ebay.  For example:

Uterus jewelry.

“Love your ladyparts” soap – in the shape of said ladyparts.

Vagina mug.

Uterus superhero plush toy.

Hand-embroidered vagina art.

I could go on, but I’ll leave that to the domain of Regretsy, a blog devoted to weird shit on Etsy.

So, back to the topic at hand, I hold that today’s feminism has taken female empowerment well in hand.  Now you can proudly show off your vagina-love to all and sundry, and society can just deal.

But what of Wollstonecraftian feminism?  I doubt Mary would have thought vagina jewelry particularly pertinent to her arguments.  Is there still a place for arguments about female agency, strength of moral fortitude and reason?  Or do we feel we’re beyond these antiquated concepts?

With this current body-driven feminism, I feel it has become very inward-looking.  We lack the  sense of the wider, what it means to be an agent for feminism in a world that still seeks to degrade us as emotional, unreasonable and unequal.

And of course, this generalisation doesn’t take into consideration those brilliant few who do take their feminism to beyond themselves.  What I’m talking about here is the wide majority of women, in their everyday lives as daughters, mothers, sisters and co-workers.

Feminism has been fought for for generations, centuries even, so perhaps there are those who say, “The battle was won, what does this have to do with me?”  But it has everything to do with you, living as you do in a fluid society.  There will always be those who seek to diminish the power of the Other, that threatening presence of those who place ones own view of themselves into stark  and frightening contrast: the women, the poor, and those who are sexually, ethnically and religiously different.

And in Wollstonecraftian feminism there lies a universality.  She writes that her “affection for the whole human race”  and the “rights of humanity” are the motivation for her work.  It is not an argument that seeks only to benefit her personally.

I call with the firm tone of humanity; for my arguments […] are dictated by a disinterested spirit – I plead for my sex – not for myself.

And thus Wollstonecraftian feminism couldn’t be more pertinent to today’s modern world, as indeed it will be pertinent for as long as there is society itself.

A Bit of a Whine

I’ve nearly utterly failed to write here today (Wednesday, though now it’s technically Thursday) despite not posting Tuesday either, what with carnivorous birdy play-time.

The reason is that I’m having confidence issues.  Again.  Joy.

I’ve not been writing these past couple of days, and if I’m not writing then I’m not able to post about writing.  I don’t even find myself with a witty anecdotal diatribe to fill in the space.  And because I’ve already written a post about what I term “Writer’s Blah”, I felt like posting a second would just be whining.  And make me look desperate for someone to just tell me I’m awesome to puff up my feeling of self-worth.

Which I kind of am – but don’t do it!!!  I would hate for anyone to comment: “But you ARE awesome!!!” because that’s totally not what I’m getting at.  It’s a totally different kind of vindication that I need.

Let’s get to the gist of my problem:

I know I write well.  But I don’t write well enough yet.  My heroes are authors like Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin and all these others whose novels have always blown me away.  Novels that link beautiful prose with ideas, the sorts of ideas that make you think for weeks, maybe years, long after you’ve finished.

A good story is still necessary, in my mind, but to be something really interesting there needs to be more beneath the surface than just that.  This is where I find that what I write needs to be at the intersection of “literary fiction” and “genre” – both plot and concepts matter to me, and pretty much equally.

So right now I write decent plots, some lovely shading-on-purple prose (mauve prose, if you like), but where are my thought-provoking ideas?!  So far I’ve attempted:

  • Exodus – a retelling of the story of the Biblical Exodus, but apart from some use of gender, race and the theme of the Other, I never really pushed through to anything significant therein.  The Other will always be one of my favourite topics to thread through my novels, but I just haven’t gotten it right yet.
  • Cobault – deals with gender and the Other again, with Wollstonecraftian feminism (which is rather too old-school to be earth-shattering), and class struggle (see above).  Maybe back in the time of Maria: or, the Woes of Woman I could have been onto something.  Not so much in 2011.
  • The Long Road Home was just silly.  A romp through reworking fantasy cliches, plot-driven for the most part with some coming-of-age YA stuff thrown in there.  Fluff.

So when I think about His Dark Materials, when Pullman essentially turned Milton’s Paradise Lost on its head and praised mankind for the very thing Milton damned it for, I think – what the fuck have I been doing with my time???

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for a true Original Idea – I know that’s a long hunt for an imaginary quarry – but I’m holding myself to the high standard of these authors I esteem and hoping I can pull something together that’s inventive and creative with whatever ideas I choose to explore.  It’s just not happened yet.

And I’m seeing the massive gap between my novels and those novels I love.  It’s a depressing abyss.

I had to remind myself recently that all these writers are far older than I am, and were well into their middle age before the works they’re best known for were written.  I know I have time to work all this out, and to feel truly proud of what I’ve made.  But it’s very hard to keep motivated when faced with disappointment in yourself, regardless of what your logic and reasoning tells you.

These are the feelings that make me want to drop what I’m currently doing and pursue something else, an instinct I’ve posted about before, hoping that the next idea will have greater merit than the last, but am I wrong to do that?

I thought I was, and thus I’ve been trying to persevere with Cobault as it’s my most well-realised story, the furthest along towards actual completion.  Do I stick with it or do I give myself free rein to try something new, in the hope of uncovering something that makes me feel the abyss is slowly closing, however infinitesimally so?