Now that Hilary term at Oxford has officially come and gone, I’m going to share my thoughts on the Feminist Writing tutorial I recently completed. This tutorial (basically what they call classes at Oxford) was an English course, but it also blended some feminist theory into the mix as well. It was nice to have a bit of a break from solely reading novels all the time. In this post I’ll be discussing some of the texts we read (although there were many more), the themes we focused on, and my thoughts on the course overall.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft || This was my second time reading this for a class (the first was for a social contract theory course my freshman year of college) but my first time reading it in a strictly gendered context. While much of what she says is very outdated now (it was written centuries ago) a surprising amount of it is still relevant today. Definitely worth a read!
Woman and Labor by Olive Schreiner || I loved reading this book, especially alongside Wollstonecraft’s work. There are so many brilliant quotes that I copied down into my notebook as I was reading–not to help with future essays, but simply because I found them inspiring and empowering. Here’s one of my favorites:
“I would like to say to the men and women of the generations which will come after us: you will look back at us with astonishment. You will wonder at passionate struggles that accomplished so little, at the, to you, obvious paths to attain our ends which we did not take. At the intolerable evils before which it will seem to you we sat down passive. At the great truths staring us in the face which we failed to see, at the great truths we grasped at but could not get our fingers quite ’round. You will marvel at the labour that ended in so little. But what you will never know that it was how we were thinking of you and for you that we struggled as we did and accomplished the little that we have done. That it was in the thought of your larger realization and fuller life that we have found consolation for the futilities of our own. All I aspire to be and was not, comforts me.”
Olive Schreiner is an underrated, under-appreciated writer that deserves more time in the feminist spotlight. If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on her writing, check out the Feminist Friday feature I wrote about her.
This Sex Which Is Not One by Luce Irigaray || Let me just say that this book is a wild ride. My professor asked us to focus on the essay “This Sex Which Is Not One,” which basically argues that we should use the image of “two lips” in order to challenge the phallic discourse that currently dominates our society. It was really interesting, but had a bit too much Freud in it for my taste.
Poems by Emily Dickinson || Emily Dickinson may just be my favorite poet. We read many, many of her poems for this class and all I wanted to do when I finished was go back and read them all over again. I love how her poetry is frustratingly ambiguous yet still brilliantly poignant. I can’t even keep track of all of my favorite poems by her!
Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad by Alice Oswald || I’ve never actually read Homer’s Iliad before, but I think a basic understanding of the epic is enough to read this contemporary poem. Not only is Oswald’s language haunting and beautiful, but it also brings up important questions about revitalizing old works, the oral tradition, and women’s writing. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this poem, click here to check out my recent review.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith || This was the first Zadie Smith book I ever read, but it most certainly won’t be my last! Now I want to read literally everything Smith has ever written. If this praise isn’t convincing enough, check out my review of the novel to make you want to read it even more.
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison || Everything Toni Morrison writes is brilliant gold, and Playing in the Dark is no exception. I was so excited when I saw that this was on our reading list because I had read a certain section of the book many times for prior essays but had never actually read the entire collection. This work is so important for literary scholarship today as well as how we think about diversity in media and our lives in general. Would absolutely recommend to everyone!
Education, marriage, and professions for women || I liked that we started off with this topic because it’s arguably the easiest category in which to see the vast improvement that women have made over the years. Of course, there’s always room for more improvement!
The body and sexuality || This is the week we drew on more abstract feminist theory to talk about how women’s bodies and sexuality are represented not only through language, but also through imagery and art. It raises some really interesting and important questions about how women portray themselves today and what that says about cultural gender norms.
Intertextuality, subverting/transforming genres, creating a tradition of women’s writing, the woman writer || This was definitely my favorite topic out of the ones we studied throughout the entire term. Thinking about writing traditions, reception studies, and genre formation really fascinates me, and coupling that with Emily Dickinson was a blast.
Differences among women; crossing boundaries, transitions, intersections; an “outsiders’ society” || Ending with this theme was great because it allowed us to look at feminist writings throughout the past few centuries from a modern standpoint and asses how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.
Overall, I am so glad that I decided to take this tutorial on a whim when I was signing up for classes months ago. Not only did it introduce me to some remarkable women writers, but it also provided me with new tools to use when analyzing other literature in terms of gender and intersectionality. If you ever get the opportunity to take some sort of feminist writing or theory course, definitely do!
Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!
Have you ever taken a class on feminist theory or literature? What are some of your favorite feminist writers, books, poems, etc.? What are your thoughts on any of the writing that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!