On Separating Women from their Work | Discussion

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Today I’m here to talk about a thought-provoking topic that I’ve been pondering a lot in recent weeks: the correlation between women and their literary work. Should the success of a women’s work be tied to her personal reputation in society? From an even broader angle, should the personal reputations of authors in general impact how successful their work sells or is perceived by readers?

Shelley DeWees hits on this topic a lot from a gendered perspective in her book Not Just Jane, an in-depth look at seven women writers who have not received nearly enough credit for their important influence on British literature. In her chapter on writer Mary Robinson, DeWees writes:

“Here is our line of demarcation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women, and thus ‘good’ and ‘bad’ books– in much the same way that, in the previous century, when chaste royalist women writers like Katherine Philips were held above more daring ones such as Aphra Behn, critics were unrelenting in their inability (or refusal) to separate an author’s literary merit from her sex.”

In other words, the details of a women’s personal relationships and sex life was imperative in determining the sales of her work. Centuries ago, a “sexually deviant” women could hardly have hoped to sell much of anything in terms of poetry, stories, or novels. But what about their personal lives changed the actual text of their work? (Answer: NOTHING). Despite the fact that absolutely no tangible changes occurred in the text of their novels or poetry, sales plummeted as the general public began to perceive certain women as immoral, improper, or uncivilized. In this context, I believe that there is no reason to connect the personal lives of women with their work. What importance does a women’s marriage, family, or alleged affair have on their work? More importantly, I believe that texts should not be denounced strictly due to the fact that the author is a women. 

However, the argument can also be made that supporting the work of an author is showing indirect support for his or her actions. In other words, money talks. Personally, I think it largely depends on what the specific “scandal” or situation regarding the author in question is. For example, I wouldn’t think twice about purchasing a book by an author who recently went through a terrible divorce. On the other hand, I would certainly hesitate before buying a book written by an openly homophobic, racist, sexist, or offensive writer.

But can we pick and choose scenarios like this? Who has the right to decide the circumstances under which an author’s personal life can and should influence the success of his or her work? Should we separate authors from their work?

I would love to hear what you have to say about this topic. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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12 thoughts on “On Separating Women from their Work | Discussion

  1. This is such an interesting topic. I generally think that readers should separate authors from their work (not buying a book because the author is “sexually deviant” is absurd to me) unless the author is saying or doing things that might have a negative impact on other people. If my money is going to support someone who is racist or homophobic, I want nothing to do with that, especially if they write for children or teens since those ideas might surface in their writing and hurt young readers. I’d rather support people who see and treat everyone as equals. For me it really comes down to “is this aspect of the author’s ‘personal’ life going to cause harm?” and if the answer is yes, then I’m unlikely to support them.

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  2. Wow! Definitely food for thought!
    Well, I do think we need to separate women from their literary work, however it really depends on what they write in first place. It’s not only about women, I believe. Any author is a subject to this mater. I personally don’t care about authors’ personal and sexual lives but if someone writes books about healthy diets and eats junk food on daily basis, I wouldn’t even consider reading them! Same applies to racist and homophobic authors. Even though I am sure they have their own audience , this isn’t someone I find worthy of my time and my support. In other words, sometimes there really has to be a correlation between authors’ lifestyles and their books.

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  3. This is a really important topic. Personally, I don’t think I could purchase a book by someone who was openly racist or homophobic or prejudiced against women or equal rights. For me it’s a matter of morality, if someone is bullying someone or hurting someone through their actions and words I do not want to support their work, which in the end supports them financially and in a way supports their ideals. However, when it comes to a divorce or someone’s sexuality, or really anything else, it doesn’t effect if I will buy their work. If an author doesn’t do anything to outright harm anyone, I am willing to purchase their works .

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  4. When I was younger, I often read books without knowing much about the author, if anything. Nowadays, I am interested in the woman behind the writer, and, at times, someone’s biography can enhance the understanding of someone’s writing, even though it’s not essential to it. For that reason, I think it’s irrelevant, and I hope I would not be dissuaded from reading someone’s work because the creator was considered immoral. Also, I think women get judged more harshly than men. The worse their behavior, the more people seem to want to know about it.

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  5. Personally, I tend to separate authors from their work, whether their male or female. I think most people should. A person’s personal views don’t always come to surface in their writing, so to judge that based on their personal life seems a little unfair. Especially if it only happens with women. Both male and female authors should be treated the same, and their private lives and opinions kept, well, private. OR not used against them. If any of that makes sense.

    Molly @ Molly’s Book Nook

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  6. I definitely CANNOT separate an author from their work – once I know about it. But I think it depends on each individual to decide what’s important to them. For example, I will not support a racist author, no matter if I’ve read their books in the past and think they are brilliant. There are lots of brilliant authors out there, and I can’t read every single one of them – so I can stand to ignore someone whose core beliefs are very different from mine.

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  7. While I agree with Molly’s Book Nook, and seldom think about a writer’s personal life attributes, I do believe that a part of writing comes from personal experiences, or a certain constitutional bias. I am sure many authors try and separate their own beliefs from the narrators point of view that they portray in their books, but isn’t it is very difficult to keep these distinctive and separate. However, a good piece of writing that one likes reading, should not come with tags of what the author does or is in personal life, unless the writing or the writer harms readers and people around them in any ways, mentally and physically. I have surprised myself by reading authors whom I did not ever want to read due to their personal comments about India, or Indians in general (that’s one of my own issues, of denouncing authors who have never lived in India or visited even, yet comment on the country like they know all). However, I have been pleasantly taken by their writing, which reflected an amount of maturity and humor and who have contributed to fundamentally very well written books. Hence, I have always attempted to keep these separate, however for an author it must be difficult to keep these separate.

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