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About Me:18-year-old sixth form student, studying English Literature, History and Government and Politics. My articles will broadly cover topics from the current affairs of politics to reviews of books and albums, as well as adding my own creative pieces, whether it be short fiction or general opinion.
To pen an article with such a title may appear as somewhat treading on very thin ice, perhaps even asking to sink. Within this decade there has, what has been termed, a ‘third wave of feminism’, which, depending on your perspective and exposure to it, can be seen as either a liberating or constraining. I don’t seek to regurgitate the perpetuated argument that ‘feminism is about equality, it’s just a few that bring it a bad name’ etc. Instead, I’m more interested on how this all-pervading, wide-angled lens of feminism has an effect on the way in which look at literature, or art in general.
Of course there are novels that have the oppression of women as a core theme, such as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Colour Purple, and to discount this would be a hindrance to the appreciation of the writer’s craft and intention. However, if we are to view such great pieces of literature through just a feminist frame, then, I believe, this is as just a great defect to our appreciation. My first concern about this subject came when I was talking to an English literature undergraduate at a party. Seeing as I myself want to study English literature at university, I thought it apt that I should have a discussion with him about his course and in particular his favourite books and mine. As he was in his third year, I expected his range of novels to be broad and his appreciation and insight extensive. But instead what he said to me was, ‘I tend to read books purely through a feminist perspective’. No surprise, then, that he pooh poohed one of the greatest novels ever written, Lolita, after claiming that he just couldn’t really get around the injustice of it all. He also, to my great surprise, continued to argue in a somewhat slurred and erratic fashion that Shakespeare had no relevance to a modern society. What’s more is that it has become common knowledge that majority of English literature students, both in university and sixth form, focus on the presentation of gender within either their long dissertation or their coursework.
There are a few issues I have with a complete focus on gender, besides the fact that it limits what we can derive from a text. The first is that by its very nature it forces us to view characters through a binary format. If we are to appreciate characters of nuance, it is only by attaching them such epithets as ‘subversive’ or ‘contrary’ – we view them by the socially constructed ideal of male and female, and thereby contribute to the notion that there exist distinct differences between the two. The second is that it forces people to undermine the craft of writing by having it muddled with the historical context of the time. I’ll concede that literature is an important means for ascertaining the societal view within a historical context. However, it seems that novels and plays are being completely dismissed because they merely reflect a contemporary social view – you’ll see such phrases in essay like ‘within the [insert time period here], women were seen as inferior. [Insert novel, play or poem] resonates/display this/subverts this notion.
What it seems to accumulate to is a feeling of banality; that the focus on gender refuses to invite a deeply thought-provoking argument and merely stagnates in historical context.
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