Giving Her Write Arm To Be Heard

Validation. Recognition. Edification. An author is compelled to write for many reasons. She may stop at nothing to have her voice heard. But establishing oneself in an endless sea of literature, in the great slush pile, is a daunting ordeal.
One recalls Harold Bloom’s famous “anxiety of influence” – the theory that writers fear forever dwelling in the long shadows cast by their literary forefathers, sitting stumped at their typewriters with Shakespeare and Dickens looking over their shoulders. Bloom speaks of the Western canon but imagine, then, the pressure faced by descendant wordsmiths from the ancient cultures of the East. India’s forefathers are so numerous and etymologically disparate that one would need the many arms of Shiva to have enough shoulders to look over.
But what of Kali and her many arms? What of the female author who hasn’t even a place to stand in the shadow of the patriarchal tradition, trying to take up ranks with the forebears of her mother tongue? Feminist scholars Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s response to Bloom’s theory was their “anxiety of authorship” which presents the obstacles a woman must overcome to establish herself as an author. While a man wonders how he can channel a voice that is strictly his own, a woman struggles to have a voice at all.
Literature produced by men appears to be universally appreciated by both sexes. The works of female authors can be cast as something concerning only the female reader, disregarded by the undiscerning male.
Gilbert and Gubar’s assessment, however useful in identifying and underlining an issue of female authorship, falls as short as Bloom’s; they address a predominantly Western crowd. Though feminist issues were more urgent when they wrote, Western women have taken giant strides and now most female authors would enjoy the same liberties in their writing and be equally received as their male counterparts. While they may still grapple with the anxiety of authorship, South Asian women authors face an entirely different struggle.
Tradition and conservative cultural beliefs still dictate the freedoms of many women in India. Take Salma, a Tamil poet and speaker at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014. For her, a career in literature was not only challenged but also forbidden. Bound within the walls of her home from an early age, writing became her only link to her own identity, though it remained equally confined to the pages of a journal. Her writing’s initial escape was under a pen name, in the form of poems smuggled in the laundry by her mother.
Salma has since become an accomplished poet, novelist, short story writer, feminist icon, and politician, but not without first putting her family life and social standing at risk. Where Western writers endure a mental struggle to overcome the blocks placed by their antecedents, Indian women like Salma face real-life roadblocks on their way to authorship. Despite a void of female role models, Salma believed all along in her place in the world of literature. At last her voice has taken root, can be heard, and can speak for those who have none.
Although Western and South Asian women can face very different social realities on the road to authorship, establishing themselves in the literary realm can be equally elusive no matter the culture. Literature produced by men appears to be universally appreciated by both sexes. The works of female authors – even someone as renowned as Margaret Atwood – can be cast as something concerning only the female reader, disregarded by the undiscerning male.
Therefore the desire for women writers to establish themselves under the creed of feminism is understandable. But is it to the author’s favour or her detriment to establish herself explicitly as a “woman writer”? Can she ever erase the boundaries between male and female and hope to obtain readership on the sheer merit of her work?
Established contemporary short story writer Ambai, who attended JLF last year, comes to mind. Although she is a scholar and advocate of feminist studies, she does not like to be pigeonholed by gender in her literary vocation. As she puts it, when a man writes, one would say he is writing about life. Why should it be that when a woman writes it is said that she is writing about the life of a woman? Are women not equal players in this life?
We all have unique experiences and should be able to express them in even measure. It is through the many lenses of gender and race, culture and creed that literature is born – the hard part is turning it loose. Women continue to face challenges in establishing themselves as authors in every corner of the world, but the growing wealth of celebrated women writers is just proof that challenges are there to be overcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Duis senectus mus condimentum nunc ac habitasse duis consectetur a arcu a accumsan cras et metus ultricies justo cum a bibendum. Egestas vestibulum blandit sem vestibulum curabitur a vel aliquet gravida ullamcorper amet dictumst vestibulum a elementum proin id volutpat magna parturient. Id ac dui libero a ullamcorper euismod himenaeos a nam condimentum a adipiscing dapibus lobortis iaculis morbi.

Himenaeos a vestibulum morbi. Ullamcorper cras scelerisque taciti lorem metus feugiat est lacinia facilisis id nam leo condimentum praesent id diam. Vestibulum amet porta odio elementum convallis parturient tempor tortor tempus a mi ad parturient ad nulla mus amet in penatibus nascetur at vulputate euismod a est tristique scelerisque. Aliquet facilisis nisl vel vestibulum dignissim gravida ullamcorper hac quisque ad at nisl egestas adipiscing vel blandit.