Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Feminist Inside Me

That's not meant to sound dirty, I swear.

This is an issue I've been meaning to blog about for a while but haven't. I was re-watching a few episodes of Mad Men and it started me thinking about it all over again. Let's see if I can do this coherently.

I have always loved reading. And I've known I wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old and my teacher read my poems and stories out to the class.
But until I read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck in year Eleven, no single author had me captured by their language the way Steinbeck did. There are many reasons why I loved the book, but they will do better in another post.
I love Steinbeck, and he became my favourite author from then on. Since then, I've read East of Eden, The Pearl, The Red Pony and Cannery Row.

Now, onto feminism. I feel like even if I hadn't known what feminism was, I would have developed something of this sensibility anyway. My parents split up when I was ten (coincidence?) and from then, it was three women in my house. Three strong women.
Sometime after, Dad introduced my sister and I to our future step-mother. Another strong woman. A woman who helped me realise my dreams weren't so silly after all. She was teacher of screenwriting at a Sydney tertiary institution.
Aside from that, the strongest personalities in my life were women. My grandmothers, and step-grandmothers (lots of divorce in my family, something for yet another post), are very strong women. At the age of fifteen, my paternal grandfather passed away. It sucked. But it meant that I got to watch my grandmother survive beyond that and become an even stronger woman in my eyes.

At some point during my teens, I realised that all the stories I was writing revolved around women, with very few male central characters. And, as many of my readers will know, so many of the classics and books in school, and many books in general, had male central characters. And I felt like I was doing something wrong, and tried to develop male central characters to write. I even had a male central character for the play I wrote as a final project in Drama. A project that many people praised, yet I scrapped it two weeks before it was due, in favour of a play that centred around a female main character because I felt like I connected with her better.

Fast forward to midway through uni. I realised something after reading East of Eden, which was driven home after reading Cannery Row. Steinbeck's women were more absent from his classic texts, than men were from my own writing. All women were either mothers, whores, or two dimensional girlfriends who were only referred to.
So became a flaw apparent in my idol's writing. As happens to a lot of people after high school, I had become a little more self aware. Studying my passion and becoming aware of the different types of Feminism helped too.
I came to the conclusion: so what? So what if I write about mostly women? Don't we need more texts like that? Non-chicklit* texts like that?

So, I decided that John Steinbeck was allowed to be my idol in style. I still try to keep my prose as spare as possible while still giving across the message**.

I still think that as a writer, it is a valuable tool to write from the point of view of the opposite sex, yet I don't put pressure on myself to create male central characters. There are enough.

* I have since realised that from a feminist viewpoint, that chicklit is often derided because it is just that: books for women, by women. Although a lot of it is in itself pretty sexist.

** You wouldn't think so from my blog posts. Trust me, my prose is edited a lot more :D


  1. Steinbeck is great. Grapes of Wrath is my favorite.

    I think things have changed since the age of the (20th century) classics. Earlier most published authors were men. Today most of the readers are women, and they request book written by and about women >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  2. Very good point, Astrid. We put enough pressure on ourselves as it is.

  3. Cold As Heaven: Steinbeck will always be one of my favourites, I just have a little more awareness now. And a lot has changed, that's true. Unfortunately, I finished high school less than five years ago and in my lat three years there, I didn't have any books that centred on a female protagonist. There's still a way to go.

    Carolina: Thank you :)