Women & Literature Woes

Now that my Women and Literature class has finished the six-week study on sexism in the bible, we’ve moved on to other works of literature. The first on the list is Sophocles’s Antigone, which I read in high school and re-read for this course. After spending so much time studying the King James version of the Holy Bible, I was ready to read something with a much more complex analysis besides, “this text is incredibly sexist.” This is highly unlikely judging by today’s lecture.

I say this with hesitation because I absolutely love my professor. She is brilliant and the best English instructor I’ve had at this university, but the class book list is blatantly one-dimensional. What is the point of studying women in literature if all the selected novels stay true ancient chauvinistic ideals? It’s not a dynamic portrait of women to simply say they are subordinate to men, even if it was true in B.C. (or, to be politically correct, B.C.E.) times.

Antigone is a strong minded character, but the class was told to read the play with respect to the context of the time period. Here’s an excerpt of today’s classroom discussion:

Aristotle- Wrote Generation of Animals and equated women with animals. “Because women do not ejaculate/produce sperm, they are useless. Females have a lack, passivity.” Aristotle was against monstrosity and said such the “deviation of a female in the womb” was such a monstrosity.
* Women were a drain on finances.
* Women received less food, diluted wine.

Aristotle lived until 322 B.C. Philosophy has greatly evolved since then, as have most mature men. How is it useful to constantly study the oldest ways of time to relate women to literature? We can learn from the past, but we’re not learning anything other than the fact that women were mistreated for a long time.

Why can’t classes like these read stories about heroic women? How about Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which incorporates racial issues as well? What about the works of Maya Angelou or Sylvia Plath? Something more recent would be much more helpful than outdated works that share the same linear views on the female sex.

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5 thoughts on “Women & Literature Woes

  1. Welcome to college, where one big point is to learn how racist and sexist everyone is. And no, it does not seem like many professors think there’s a limit to how many times they can drill this concept into your head. I wish they would curtail this, as I myself grew endlessly tired of learning how apparently racist and sexist I am on the grounds of being a white middle-class male.

    There’s definitely merit in studying sexist materials from the past because, well, that’s how the past felt about women. One could argue that it would be historically inaccurate to read something from ancient history that was NOT sexist. But unless your class is a course on women in literature in a very specific time period, then no, there is not an excuse to keep regurgitating the “everyone is sexist” mantra.

  2. Thank you, Dan. Smart comment. I’ve only been in a few other college courses that have so blatantly and shamelessly taught such propaganda. I can imagine you grew tired of constantly feeling (or trying to feel) guilty about who you are because of some class.

    It’s valuable to study the old ways of time, but as you said, it’s inappropriate to keep teaching the same theme over and over again. Not only is it insanely biased, but boring, even for some of my feminist classmates.

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