Role of Gender in The Writing of English Literature

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      Gender plays an important role in the lives of human beings, starting at the moment of their birth when they are given a blue blanket or a pink blanket and sent forward on a path that will turn them into what their culture considers proper men or women. From the very first breaths, humans are taught to follow a strict code of behavior that differs depending on their sex. In a patriarchal society, this often means that a male will lead a privileged life in which he is thought to be the standard for human experience and the female will lead a subjugated, subservient life in which she is defined only in relation to males. Forcing men and women to fit into gender roles is damaging as it leads to the belief that these roles represent truth, causing gender stereotypes to endure.

      It also forces men and women to experience life only from their point of view as men or women, not as human beings. If art is a reflection of life, then one would expect that literature would present worlds in which these gender roles exist and women experience life far different from men and suffer because of it. Gender roles are hard to dispel, but some male authors have attempted to see life from a woman's perspective. I have researched the representation of women by male authors to see whether or not these stereotypes persist and if the male authors give an accurate reflection of the woman's experience. In addition, I have studied the representation of women in literature by female authors both as a comparison to the male authors and to answer the question of whether or not female authors can automatically be defined as feminists.

      The academic discipline of Women's Writing as a discrete area of literary studies is based on the notion that the experience of women, historically; has been shaped by their gender, and so women writers by definition are a group worthy of separate study: "Their texts emerge from and intervene in conditions usually very different from those which produced most writing by men.

      It is not a question of the subject matter or political stance of a particular author, but of her gender, i.e., her position as a woman within the literary world. Women's writing, as a discrete area of literary studies and practice, is recognized explicitly by the number of dedicated journals, organizations, awards, and conferences which focus mainly or exclusively on texts produced by women, The study of women's writing developed in the 1970s and since. The majority of English and American literature programs offer courses on specific aspects of literature by women, and women's writing is generally considered an area of specialization in its own right.

      The Romantic Period encouraged individuals to explore the interior world of emotion and to express themselves through writing. The high value placed on personal reflection resulted in an upsurge in authorship more generally, but it also created a space for women to add their voices in greater numbers. For the most part, women were not educated to be experts in a particular field, but they were certainly able to reflect on the world through their feelings. Thus, during this period more women began to write expressive poetry, novels, letters, and other types of literature. Most writers adhered to the flowery style and domestic genres deemed appropriate for women. However, other women deviated from those social codes, employing the authoritative tone and direct style normally ascribed to men. Thus, not all women's writing was well received by the public. Anglican clergyman Richard Polwhele wrote The Unsex'd Females: A Poem, Addressed to the Author of the Pursuits of Literature (1798) which "sorted" women writers into two categories: proper (feminine) and improper (unsex'd). Amongst the approved women writers, Polwhele listed Hannah More, Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe and Anna Seward. These "proper" women wrote within the confines of the domestic sphere by penning autobiographical fiction, diaries, letters, conduct books and the poetry of feeling. Intended for a primarily female audience, the works of these authors tended to follow convention, instructing women in proper behavior. Even when they seemed to argue for female empowerment, the suggestions of proper women writers remained conservative. For example, in "An Essay on the Character and Practical Writing of St. Paul" (1835), Hannah More argued that women were powerful in their subordination to their husbands. Other women writers at the time criticized this type of instruction, arguing that such manipulative tactics undermined women's virtue.

      Conversely, the work of radical women writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Mary Robinson, Ann Yearsley; Charlotte Smith, Catharine Macaulay Graham, and Helena Maria Williams was often met with disapproval. These women breached the gendered codes, addressing topics in philosophy, science, history, poetry, theology, and the classics — genres typically associated with men only. The writings of these "unsex'd" women were political, challenging the status quo, and relied less on feeling than intellect. Abandoning the "soft phrases" normally attributed to women for the direct, authoritative language of men opened such women writers to attacks from critics, such as Polwhele. Despite such criticism, women in this "unsex'd" category continued to write and affected social change in the process.

      We had a game in our house called "setting the table".... Forks to the left of the plate, knives and spoons to the right When a knife or a fork dropped to the floor, that meant a man was unexpectedly coming to dinner. A falling spoon announced the surprise arrival of a female guest. No matter that these visitors never arrived on cue. I had learned a rule of gender identification. Men were straight-edged, sharply pronged and formidable. Women were softly curved and held the food in a rounded well;

      This chapter introduces some of the issues that need to be discussed in the light of women's writing. It introduces literary movements and the place given to women and their writing in the context of these movements. Then it examines how the histories of literature marginalize writing by women.

      It is not out of place to state that the woman’s body is a site of embarrassment, oppression, pain, destruction and disgrace in a male-dominated society. But, at the same time it is also a site that initiates resistance. In other words, one can say that women's bodies are women's identities. The complex relationship between a woman, her body, the prescribed social norms, the language that inscribes and represents these norms in societies and literature remains problematic and crucial. Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous emphasize women historically limited to being sexual objects for men (virgins or prostitutes, wives or mothers), have been prevented from expressing their sexuality in itself or for themselves. If they can do this, and if they can speak about it in the new language it calls for, they will establish a point of view (a site of difference) from which phallogocentric concepts and controls can be seen through and taken apart, not only in theory, but also in practice.

      Resistance by women takes various forms of expression and comes up in their lives and in societal productions like art, literature, speech, and different modes of popular culture. Women's poetry is one of them. Consequently; poetry becomes important not only as an art form but also as a form that provides space for resistance. Therefore, in this dissertation, I have considered contemporary poetry by women to locate issues of gender, patriarchies and their resistance of patriarchy. This research is a humble attempt towards understanding the subtleties of oppression and the gendered relationships bestowed on women in today's society. The twenties to the early fifties of the twentieth century was a period of reformist movements. During this period, women's writing was prominently seen in Kannada, Hindi and many other Indian languages. Women edited and published magazines, which carried articles by women containing creative writing as well as discussions of issues related to women. Francesca Orsini, who maps the success of Hindi in creating a regional public sphere in north India, observes that women's journals and literature were also crucial in raising questions about the family and about women's status in the family from new angles. Most importantly, they argued for the need to acknowledge individual emotions as well as duties, something that received a great deal of attention in the new genre of social novels. An ideal 'Indian womanhood' always represents the duties of a loyal wife, caring mother, supportive sister, etc., Obedient daughters were celebrated in literature while the self-assured were relegated to the margins of culture. Women writers of the period highlighted the importance of women in family and in society.

      In the process, as they brought out the problems faced by women to the forefront, women writers constructed the notion of a "new woman''. Their writings and ideas are available in the literatures and magazines written and edited by women during that period. They reveal certain important aspects regarding new kinds of subjectivities constructed by women. These subjectivities were composed of special qualities like courage, boldness, patriotism and dedication to the nation as concerned citizens. Women molded new subjectivities for themselves through their writings. This was very important for them, as it gave them an opportunity to represent themselves as citizens of a new spiritually strong nation. The 'ideal Indian woman', in turn, represented this spiritual strength.

      The concept of 'Arya Mahila' the Aryan woman, portrayed by Tirumalamba in Kannada and Mahadevi Verma in Hindi, talked about the notion of the self-dependent strong woman dedicated to her tradition yet not simply a shadow of the man. Women's writing can be read as a resistance narrative shaped under the prevailing patriarchies. Women writers aware of the plight of women in the society raised their voices against injustice. They were active in the social and literary realms.

      The late twenties to early sixties was a period when women's writing came up significantly. This was the period when magazines like 'Karnataka Nandinf, 'Sanmaargadarsh', 'Saraswathi’, etc., in Kannada and 'Grihalaksm', 'Streedarpan', 'Chand', in Hindi, edited by women writers became popular. In Kannada, literary works that centered round the problems of women and argued for women's education were extensively produced. But male writers disagreed with the ideas propagated by women writers and women resisted the arguments put forth by men regarding their writings. In an article written in the 1920s, Tirumalamba clearly states that men had "incomplete knowledge about natural structure and character of woman's mind". She criticizes male writers for their opinions regarding women's progress and pitfalls.

      Women writers attempted to make their voice heard in the public sphere through their writings. They participated in literary conferences and spoke for women in public. For example, Smt Gauradevi Inchalmutt presided over the women's session at the Kannada Literary Conference held in Gulbarga in 1949. In her presidential address, she compared the state of her contemporary women to the women of the Vedic age and observed that "there was a sharp decline in literary pursuits due to the changed status of women's education". Women writers were aware that gender was a social construction and this is reflected in their literature as well. They never considered literature as an entity independent of society.

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