Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Walzer, Judith. "The Breakthrough: Feminism and Literary Criticism." DISSENT MAGAZINE (2008).

How do we know when something starts or when a new phenomenon becomes a major trend? We don’t have a “big bang” theory for the “second wave” of the women’s movement. The common wisdom has been that it began when women who were active in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s took a good, long look at their radical male comrades and began to question their own subservience. “We do everything they do,” they thought, “organizing, writing leaflets, marching, demonstrating—and then they think we should do the laundry? What’s that about?” They wondered why they weren’t running the show. But the roots of the movement go back even earlier. Again, popular opinion tells us that there was a buildup for some time, at least since the time of the Second World War, when women had to pitch in and were needed for essential work in the “outside” world. In much the same way, we assume that the burgeoning interest in women’s literature did not burst forth from the “second wave” in its early days. This interest, too, must have been forming slowly. It took time for the ideas of the new movement to stimulate new attitudes and for these in turn to create powerful connections to intellectual life and academic fields. Yet even without the stimulus of a popular movement, scholars and critics must have been thinking about women and literature and puzzling over the odd ways in which women writers were categorized, shunted off the main line, ignoring that among them were some of the most important writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. . . .

But four books seized my attention—then and now—and seem of major importance. They were published from 1975 to 1979: Patricia Spacks’s The Female Imagination (1975), Ellen Moers’s Literary Women (1976) Elaine Showalter’s A Literature of Their Own (1977), and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic (1979). . . .

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