These offensive political times have created some very interesting conversations.
Take the recent one I overheard at my bookstore, wherein two people (one male and one female) discussed the continuing tweet-commentary of J.K. Rowling with regard to the U.S. President.
He: “She needs to just shut up and write kids books.”
She: “I agree. I’m not even sure I want her books in my house or my kids to read her.”
He: “She needs to stay in her lane. She’s not even American. She doesn’t have any business commenting on our President.”
Way to display your ignorance of the true nature of Literature… and in a bookstore, of all places…
The Proof Is In Our Literature
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the classics. But the reason we are overwhelmed is because no one ever points out to us that Literature is all about multiple meanings. It is made that way, designed to reach more people, and then to curl up in the mind and inspire serious thought upon revisiting it.
Typically, there are three ways from which to view Literature as a reader.
One is to just read the surface story and follow the characters through the rise and fall of plot. Reading this way is escapist, and light, although in classic Literature it will also seem too often curiously slow-paced and frequently laden with boring passages that we will then skip with a shrug.
The second is to look curiously at themes and symbols, to notice the odd repetitions and to make light associations with other stories or fairy tales and to vaguely sense an indistinct atmosphere like humidity on a cloudy day. Sometimes we write our English papers on these things, and while the teacher is pleased that we saw them he or she is often disappointed that we don’t know what to do with them.
The third way to read Literature is to actively read and re-read passages if not the whole story, turning it like a Rubik’s cube in search of what the writer is really trying to say…looking at word choice, at repetition, at atmosphere, at social constructs, at every single thing…and then looking again. It is much akin to studying poetry, which also thrives on containing multiple meanings for multiple readers and multiple readings. And then reassembling it…seeing the power of the whole. And being amazed, bewildered and awed by it.
Literature is on a mission. There is a point to it…a purpose. And only by viewing it through the three different lenses mentioned above can we begin to see it.
But what one-lane critics don’t want you to know is that this is the lifeblood of Literature: oppression.
You will find it in ALL great literature, because you will find it in all great Writers…casting its shadow on their work.
And that means you will find it also in male-generated Literature as well – even he-man writers like Ernest Hemmingway, whose works are portraits of men who struggle against the “brutal ways of modern society” which threatens their sense of hope and faith… (https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1954/hemingway-bio.html)
Writing Literature is always about what it means to be human… and how it is to live with the flawed rest of us in the shadows of our own faults.
Literature is also always about injustice…about missed opportunities to understand each other.
What person can read Dickens and ignore the treatise about the brutal effects of poverty and social stratification on women and children and men of the underclasses of Victorian London? What person can read Dickens outside of his work and not hear the man behind it all?
Or Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the classification of all women’s ills as mental and peculiar to her gender?
Or Louisa May Alcott and her commentary on women writers and women’s choices in the beloved classic Little Women?
Or Fyodor Dostoevsky with his observations of sociopolitical upheaval in 19th century Russia?
Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez whose collective works reveal the times and conflicts of living in Latin America?
Literature is only and always about commentary on socio-political issues of the day – even and especially in Gothic Romance, in ghost stories, in virtually all women’s fiction…and thereby a hefty chunk of Horror.
Should we really be surprised that the women writers behind even modern fiction should be outspoken? It’s not like writers of the past have been reticent wallflowers.
Who we classify now as Literary Writers of both genders in their times were not mute.
They most certainly did talk about their writing, about issues of the day, about social and cultural faults, about politics and the failures of society and religion. They – as celebrities – felt compelled to speak out against injustices when and where they saw them. And as writers they could not remain silent in their prose or in good conscience.
That writers should be cardboard cutouts of what we imagine them to be, that they – especially when they are women – should “stay in their lane” and not to reveal themselves as human beings and dare to speak their conscience is not only petty misogyny, but a peer pressure attempt at oppression, and pure censorship, a violation of the right of free speech.
It is also a blatant revelation of the speaker’s own ignorance of the Literary Tradition…
And of writers in general… Because to comment on the injustices and flaws of culture is not just our impetus, but the thing that makes us writers and creates the very bones of our selves.
Writers are observers. We have an obligation to speak when moved to do so. And we are not obliged to only speak in code, in symbols, in double entendre.
It is also not a requirement that we do not offend. We were built to offend. To make others think. To make others see. To jar others awake…
And we are obliged to speak up just like any other citizen – whether we are male OR female – when we are outraged by what we witness.
About That Attic
Sometimes I think what disturbed me most was the male commentary that day in the bookstore, even as the woman’s words distressed and disappointed me.
As a writer, I don’t care if you read what I write or not. I’m not going to stop writing, or change what I write. But what I do care about – especially as a female writer – is the tendency to divest women of their right to express their opinions especially if they are critical of an “alpha” male, to threaten banishment to The Attic.
As a rather newly minted feminist, I have only just begun to wake up, to realize how much, how thorough and how long the suppression of women’s opinions have been. And the knowledge has left me a bit rabid…I am thinking it should.
Because silence is to condone…to enable…to facilitate…to be COMPLICIT.
And women who agree with the status quo to ingratiate themselves to those they perceive to be Divinely led or in power are also COMPLICIT.
The sad thing is it tends to be right under our female noses. But we are raised to acquiesce, to mend fences, to be seen and not heard. It happens at home, often enforced by our own mothers and reinforced by our fathers, and further drilled into our self-awareness by the educational system which still tends to choose boys who raise their hands over girls.
The fact is that women have long been told to “shut up.”
And historically those who did not were beaten, incarcerated, placed in mental asylums, locked in attics, drugged, disfigured, raped, and often killed. It still happens in some parts of the world, and those of us blessed to be living in countries where the worst we suffer is employment discrimination, housing discrimination, public humiliation and proud, loud statements that we should just “shut up” most certainly do have an obligation to not only speak even louder, but to do it for and with those other women facing more severe penalties.
Most assuredly there are consequences for such speaking up – especially as a woman – because unlike men who are told they are just “wrong” women will be labelled as insurgent, lesbian, ignorant, unpatriotic, mentally unfit, and witless hormonal puppets of their biology.
Speak once and a woman becomes a label.
But we are all of us (writers included) human beings first. Worse, we are thinking human beings. We cannot undo what the creator has done. But we can most certainly comment on it when what humanity does with its gifts turns our souls inside out.
We not only have the right, but we have the obligation to speak out against injustice when we see it. Silence or speaking is a personal choice. But choice is our right as people.
Censorship is the tool of oppressors. Oppressors see life in lanes, and strata in society. No man or woman should “shut up” if their conscience drives them.
About those tweets…
For those who so love the Harry Potter franchise, one has to say you must then love something of its author, and she is indeed to one degree or another Literary. As such, she is (by commenting on whatever she feels like) living up to that very nature.
Sure you could demand your children never read writings by such a writer again…But then you would be missing the point of Literature…all three of them, in fact.
Don’t want to put money in her pocket to endorse her opinions? Fine. She no longer needs your money. But you ought to weigh the importance of debate, of disagreement, of the possibility that you might be wrong after all…Sometimes writers do get it right…
Think you can change the truths of what she might be saying by not purchasing her work? Too late: that fantastic beast is already out of the bag. Many of her truths are already in Harry Potter.
Think buying her work endorses her actions? Well, you didn’t read her work the second or third ways yet, did you?
And besides, how many times have you bought crap from Amazon no matter how many American and international jobs it has cost? Let’s just stop being hypocrites, shall we?
Right now – at this very moment – we get to see how Literature shapes us and we shape it. We get to see real people standing up to Power Brokers in Real Time, dismissing the potential personal consequences to communicate their own opinions. Sometimes that means catching a tweet and being surprised, angered, or amused. But that is what free speech and Literature is all about — generating conversation.
We see it because writers like J.K. Rowling do speak up about issues that they find disturbing.
That has nothing to do with lanes. It has everything to do with freedom.
Should that include commenting on other nations’ governments? Dear God, YES!!!
We live in a global village. There is absolutely no escape.
(Well, unless you want to unplug the Internet, reverse technological gains, and return to the Good Old Days where the fickle finger of despots and dictators could disappear anyone on a drop of mere gossip, innuendo, outright lies or rumor.)
I said it before. Writers are people first. And people of merit, of position, of respect…including artists, writers, actors, musicians who by the nature of their life’s work ALREADY comment on such – have not only the right but the obligation to speak up especially when the meek need a prod of the conscience, or when what happens on one side of the pond threatens to spill across borders and affect other countries and their political decisions.
Tweet, J.K., tweet.
Those who would hang labels on critics and stuff “loud” women in attics would do well to mind the consequences of what they are using their freedom, their status in society, their political currency to say.
Freedom to criticize is an American staple.
How dare WE who have that right use it to suggest any other human being EVER shut up.
Tweet, J.K…..Tweet like the wind….
Tweet: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha *draws breath* hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1014257237945176071 …hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha *draws breath* hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1014257237945176071 …✔ @jk_rowling ‘pour’ hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha