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Gendered Literary Silences - Wed Post 11/11

meerajay's picture

            Doing the Rich reading this week has me thinking especially about gendered silences in literature, and the way that these translate into our daily lives. I feel like every time I read a female character in a novel, especially a classic, she is deemed powerful because of her ability to conceal, to keep secrets. I think of Rigoberta Menchú, a woman who was empowered by her silences as a member of a marginalized community even outside of being a woman. But I also think about characters in classic literature like Jo March from Little Women. Jo was daring and clever and meant to be a groundbreaking literary character, and yet, by the end of the novel, she has repressed her obvious queerness in order to conform. Her power comes from her silences, in being able to keep that secret. I think that particular example requires a lot of close reading and examination to really pull it apart, but I wanted to throw it out there. (I am an English major, so I tend to think of all of these things from a very literary perspective).

            Rich says, “Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.” This makes me think about my mother, who was married when she was my age and came to this country at the age of twenty-two. As a young woman, she was “gaslighted” the way that Rich describes it-by my aunt and grandmother, who were resentful of her and highly protective of my father. And in those moments, I believe that she gained her power from the silence and the truth, combined. Her feminism takes on a more eastern form of feminism related to complex personhood; she believes that you can only fight for yourself through love and greater understanding another person. So instead of fighting the unfairness of her treatment and demanding to be heard like a man, she very slowly proved herself to her mother-in-law and sister-in-law by manipulating, worming their way into their hearts for several years until they finally became fond of her. In some ways, this does not even contradict Rich, who says that by being your truest self with other women, you will find contentment. My mother’s truest self was that of love, but she used her love to win them over, to manipulate them; kill them with kindness, if you will.