“Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman”
I’ve been asked why I decided to do my thesis project in blog form as a digital humanities project. It’s a question I asked myself repeatedly while I was planning and preparing for my final semesters of Grad school. There is a short, simple answer, and then there is a longer answer that ties neatly into the scope of my project. The short answer is I decided to do this project as a series of blog posts because I like writing in this format. The tones I can use, the humor, and the language are more my style than a traditional analytical thesis paper. For example, I can admit here that I really hate long and dry academic articles, and I did not want to write one. If I were writing an actual thesis, I would have to lie and discuss the new historicist lens that this can be viewed through, and the anthropomorphic nature of the bench does…blah blah blah. That does not mean that I have not read and written some kick-ass academic papers, but those were few in a large pile of dryness. I guess I could have decided to write the traditional thesis paper and made it light and fun to read, but that leads us to the other part of the simple answer. Blogs are more accessible for people of any background to read and interact with. The stories I am sharing, what I am bringing to light, is something that should be shared with everyone regardless of academic standing.
When I started thinking about madness and researching how it is heavily applied to women as a way to undercut their successes, to silence them before they could ever speak up, I was so mad that I had to speak up for them. To be a voice for the voiceless. I wanted to do my part in helping to shed some light on a centuries-old, actually millennium years old problem, and writing about it was how I could do it. From that, I realized two things: I would never be calm enough to write a rational and cohesive single paper. I wanted to write about too many examples and sides to this topic that I would never have finished the project in one semester. I will never be done writing about the injustices that face all women, but with this format, I can come back to the conversation easier than if it was a static paper. This blog is alive and ever-evolving; the women I have written about and will write about have guided me and told me their stories; I am their humble scribe sharing their stories with a world that might finally be ready to hear them. And that was the simple answer!
The more complex answer is that I choose to do blogs because academia and all that comes with it is a patriarchal structure. Much has been done to work on that in the higher-ed field, and I love my English department, but there is still a long way to go. Historically, the voices that get heard most often in these academic settings have been white men–who have always been given the privilege of self-representation. White men have written theses and read theses, setting a precedent for what a thesis project is. With my project, I am charting my own course towards a more inclusive future. I set the precedence for what a digital humanities thesis project looks like. Not to take my own power trip, but this carries into the patriarchal world we have all grown up in. White men have set the precedent for just about everything in this world, including writing. There is a long history of male writers being published and/or well-respected on the basis of their sex alone. Virginia Woolf wrote and spoke on this prolifically throughout her life. In her recorded speech, A Room of One’s Own, she talked about women writers. Specifically, how so many female writers have been silenced before they wrote a single letter that to talk about women and fiction, one has to acknowledge that fact first. Woolf writes extensively on this topic, but for brevity’s sake, I want to include this: “That woman, then, who was born with a gift of poetry in the sixteenth century, was an unhappy woman, a woman at strife against herself. All the conditions of her life, all her own instincts, were hostile to the state of mind which is needed to set free whatever is in the brain” (Woolf 52). Patriarchy made writing unnatural to women.
Along with that, most of what is considered a part of the Canon in literature was written by men or approved by men for public consumption. It would be easy to say that Woolf’s work changed everyone’s minds and patriarchal oppression is no more, but then I would not be writing this today. Theorists Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have dedicated their lives to writing on this topic and documenting its history. In their trailblazing Madwoman in the Attic, their first chapter is dedicated to unpacking the male-dominated field of writing. Gilbert and Gubar explain the idea that to write is an act of creation (which it is), but creation is done by man. While this seems counterintuitive, because when has a man ever created anything, this idea stems from the Judeo-Christian belief of God being male and creating the universe. From then on, the act of creation has been deemed to be an act of male power. Gilbert and Gubar point out that “in patriarchal Western culture, therefore, the text’s author is a father, a progenitor, a procreator, an aesthetic patriarch whose pen is an instrument of generative power like his penis” (6). The act of writing a novel or an article then is an act of male power. Men decided that the only stories, the only analyses, the only facts worth listening to came out of another man’s mouth. To be heard over the sound of men, someone has to conform their ideas to fit the accepted narrative or get louder.
So back to the question of why I’m writing these blogs in the first place. I am writing these blogs because I want to speak (well type) louder than the centuries of men who have held women down. I want to shout over their comments about our appearances, opinions, and our emotions. I want my daughters and everyone else’s daughters to know they can enter any room and speak their minds without having to mitigate it to society’s norms about women. I want them to speak, write, sing, dance, create, heck even just breathe and not be fighting so hard to break a mold that they were born into. Hell, maybe that’s idealist of me to want, but it’s something I am going to dedicate my life to. I will always point out something that’s wrong or needs to be changed, and I really don’t care who tells me I’m too loud.
Gilbert, Sandra M. & Gubar, Susan The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Yale University Press 2020.
Woolf, Virginia A Room of One’s Own. Harcourt Bruce Jovanich, Inc. 1957.
*picture courtesy of clker-free-vector via Pixabay