Feminism and Literature

Occasionally, I enjoy watching IFC’s Portlandia. It’s a sketch comedy television show that is shot and filmed in Portland, Oregon. My favorite skits feature the ladies at the feminist bookstore, Women & Women First (one of these skits can be viewed below).

Fred Armisen, who dresses in drag, and Carrie Brownstein play two female employees at a feminist bookstore. The employees fit the image of the stereotypical “I am women. Hear me roar!” feminists. You know, the kind who refuse to shave their armpits or wear bras; the kind that hate all things male.

Can you put that away please? Every time you point I see a penis.

Armisen and Brownstein as Women & Women First employees

Although Armisen and Brownstein’s characters are a bit extreme, they are, sadly, the type of women some people think of when they imagine a feminist. First, they are women. It would be a lot less funny if Armisen wasn’t in drag. Which leads me to number two, they aren’t the most attractive women, both wearing frizzy, unkempt wigs and baggy clothing. But its extremeness (that’s a word, right?) is what makes the skit so hilarious.

My real reason for sharing the video is to point out some dialogue from the first few seconds of the skit:

That’s a top selling author. Do we want that here?

No. We want bottom selling authors.

Okay. So i’ll admit, it made me laugh. But then I thought, is that what really what feminist literature is? The stuff that no one else wants? Because if there’s one thing we all know about a joke, it’s that they’re more funny when there’s truth to them.

To say it simply, feminist literary criticism is focused on the way women, and their condition, are represented in literature. It also focuses on female authorship and exclusion from the literary canon. So, in a way, I suppose feminist literature is the stuff that some people don’t want to claim. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good stuff.

Feminist literature tends to bring topics that are uncomfortable, like equality, rape, depression, suicide, and sex, to the surface, and because of this, it is understandable why, so much of the time, it is at first rejected by people. But I kind of like its grittiness.

If you’re interested in reading some feminist literature, start with these:

1. “Ain’t I a Woman?” (speech) by Sojourner Truth, 1851.

2. A Doll’s House (play) by Henrik Ibsen, 1879.

3. “The Yellow Wallpaper” (short story) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1892.

4. The Awakening (novel) by Kate Chopin, 1899.

5. The Bell Jar (novel) by Sylvia Plath, 1963.

6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (novel) by Maya Angelou, 1969.

7. The Handmaid’s Tale (novel) by Margaret Atwood, 1998.

They’re from all kinds of authors (not just the low-selling ones).

– Melanie Figueroa

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