How to Suppress Women’s Writing (Joanna Russ)

How to Suppress Women’s Writing is a book by Joanna Russ.

In this book Joanna Russ examines the mechanisms in use to keep women from writing, or failing that to keep women’s writing from being taken seriously. She walks us through Prohibitions (keeping women from writing in the first place) and Bad Faith (using logically fallacious arguments to devalue the writing) to get through the actual mechanisms:

  • Denial of Agency (somebody else wrote it for the woman or it basically wrote itself)
  • Pollution of Agency (the topic chosen shouldn’t have been written about or can not be considered art)
  • The Double Standard of Content (women’s experiences are worthless compared to men’s experiences)
  • False Categorizing (women are not artists, they are wives, mothers, lovers, girlfriends…)
  • Isolation (only one work is known and appears to be the only work)
  • Anomalnousness (women who succeed are always seen as not normal)
  • Lack of Models (every female writer starts from scratch because they don’t see other female writers)

Finally she outlines the Responses female writers can have to these mechanisms and how one way to overcome this struggle is by changing how the Aesthetics are perceived to a more relativistic approach.

I really enjoyed reading How to Suppress Women’s Writing. Even though it’s 30 years old, it’s still very up to date and just extremely astute. Plus, Russ writes with a good sense of humor.

There are a couple of things that I would have wished for while reading this book. One was a bit clearer quoting – I think I would have trouble finding the quotes if I went looking for them in the source material. Might be because I’m not used to the scientific quoting from the late 70s, early 80s. The other thing would be another appendix with a reading list: the novels and poems mentioned in the book. So basically, I would have loved to have an updated edition.

But other than that I have absolutely no complaints about the book. It gets off to a funny start, it’s riddled with quotes that make you gasp with their ludicrousness sometimes and sometimes are incredibly insightful and always give life to her theories.

Plus it really makes you want to throw yourself into late 19th/early 20th century literature. I have to read (more) Brontë (all of them), Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish, George Eliot, Anne Finch, Virginia Woolf…

Summarising: It’s a fascinating read that I can only recommend.


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