International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women in a world where the gender is often interpreted as second best. History dictates that the recognition of female achievements did not come easily, and female authors were no exception to this feat.
The concept of women having an education used to be controversial in itself; boys attended classes that would aid their future while girls were raised to be ideal housewives. Even after women were permitted an education, the notion of a female writer was widely denounced. This led to women cloaking their work under men’s names in fear that their writing would be condemned by their gender before it was even read; others remained anonymous. Either way, the praise for their ingenuity as writers was either misplaced or not pronounced at all.
There are many female authors who have discredited the notion that being a woman is a disadvantage when it comes to strong writing. In honour of International Women’s Day, this post is dedicated to the women who have created pieces that have empowered, encouraged, and inspired. While I cannot write about every single one of them, the following list is comprised of a handful of such writers.
I came across the multi-award winning author and poet while studying The Handmaid’s Tale at school; although I’d swept through various renowned texts by the time my class reached Atwood’s novel – Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, Streetcar – the significance of The Handmaid’s Tale made its mark. The way in which the dystopian novel depicts women is unforgiving and looks at society’s current view of women poignantly in the eye, raging at the idea of such a future occurring; the women in the novel are, for the most part, against each other, forbidden to have any form of independence, and objectified to the level where some are used purely for their biological ability to carry children in a time where the state of the world has made a vast majority of the human race sterile.
Atwood’s most recent publication Hag-Seed – a take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest – has been nominated for an international women’s prize for fiction, and her website has a steady list of the many awards that the author has achieved for her work. The site also reaches out to those wanting to pursue a career in writing, offering resources that can help lead a path into the industry. The author’s voice is present, encouraging creativity while her written words stand bold.
Simone de Beauvoir
De Beauvoir’s 1949 publication of The Second Sex – a critique of the patriarchy that has named the female gender to not be as important as the male – has widely been deemed responsible for paving the path to modern feminism. Interestingly, I learned that the French writer did not immediately throw herself under the title of ‘a feminist’ (it was at least two decades later that she publicly declared herself one); in today’s time, many agree with the concept of equal rights but still find the term ‘feminism’ to be too aggressive. However, I have never found the concept of feminism to correspond with a furious hatred of men, as many seem to; I believe that feminism supports a fair attitude towards both men and women, instead of favouring one gender above the other. The Second Sex, too, is based on the notion that neither gender is better than the other; the text, like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, also gives a nod towards the significance of female independence and women standing together to support one another.
While having been written over half a century ago, it is important to note that some of the notions that De Beauvoir disputes are still standing today. For instance, the text implicates the socially constructed gender norms that we have been conditioned to accept – pink is for girls, blue is for boys – commenting on how gender roles are forced upon us, encouraging the reader to challenge unfair generalisations. While having been written over half a century ago, De Beauvoir’s most known piece has a timeless persona, and her words are still looked up to today.
Maya Angelou’s writing has undoubtedly formed some of the most stunning words that I have read. Like De Beaubour, Angelou was an activist and writer; she was also had a background in academia, directing, and poetry.
Women of colour face many struggles, especially while growing up in a world that looks down on both your gender and the colour of your skin; Angelou was certainly no exception to this and faced more difficulty as just a child than I can even imagine experiencing now, at twenty-two. However, as she grew, Angelou found comfort in the arms of language.
As a writer, she was influenced by the likes of Shakespeare; as an activist, she was inspired by the likes of Martin Luther King. She was invited to read at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, and so greeted the crowd with a poem she wrote about social justice, as well as the President’s role in ensuring it (I am denying myself the urge to comment on the recent election that occurred in a post that is honouring intelligent women, but have written my thoughts on it here).
Angelous’ poetry sings of the beauty of coloured women; her writing is empowering through a style of her own, acknowledging the struggles that are faced while also celebrating the overcoming of them.
Learning of the murder of Helen Bailey left many reeling. However, I came across an article about the author of the Electra Brown series that celebrated her love, life, and writing; it took away the light that has been placed on the man who betrayed and killed her and instead placed it on her achievements, be it as an author, blogger, or friend.
Just as Angelou faced agonising hardships, Helen Bailey was also no stranger to sorrow; after losing her husband, the author succeeded her grief by writing about it on a blog. Her words were compassionate and reached many readers because of their relatable outline; however, while the author expressed her sadness, she also wrote about overcomming it. Bailey wrote about facing what she normally depended on her husband for alone, and her readers praised her strength. She also encouraged others to express their sadness so that they felt less alone; through her words, Helen Bailey gave others a voice to use. Through her words, Helen Bailey will be remembered.
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