It's Right There in the Name

Let me imagine, since the facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say...

She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter - indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father's eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly, but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighboring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer's night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager - a fat, loose-lipped man - guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting - no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted - you can imagine what. She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women and the study of their ways. At last - for she was very young, oddly like Shakespeare the poet in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded brows - at last Nick Greene the actor-manager took pity on her; she found herself with child by that gentleman and so - who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body? - killed herself one winter's night and lies buried at some crossroads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle.

That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Shakespeare's day had had Shakespeare's genius.

--Virginia Woolf

You might have heard that the original name of this blog and Liss's original handle came from a Smiths song. They did. But they also came from that section of Woolf's classic essay, A Room of One's Own.

This is and always has been a feminist blog.

We've come a long way since Shakespeare's time, of course. White, middle- and upper-class western women do not generally go uneducated, are not routinely forced into arranged marriages in their teens, are not usually told that no amount of talent makes them fit for more than housework and motherhood. In 2008, a white, upper-class, extraordinarily intelligent and well-educated woman can theoretically become President of the United States. That's really something.

And it's not enough.

My own mother went to college in an era when only a handful of her white, middle-class female friends did--and my grandmother went to college when practically no women did. They both went on to become professional housewives. Honestly, I don't even know what else my grandmother might have wanted to be--her degree (conferred in 1927) was, I shit you not, in Home Ec--but I know what my mother (B.A., English and Philosophy, 1958) wanted to be: a writer. And she was fucking good at it.

The only problem was, she got married 6 months after graduating from college, got pregnant about 10 minutes after that, had another one 13 months after the first, devoted more than a decade to raising those two and then, just as her kids were becoming self-sufficient, got pregnant again. And then, 4 years later, again, at nearly 40. (That was me.) She had an adult life without children in the house for a grand total of 7 years before she died. And she suffered from undiagnosed depression for nearly the whole time, only treating it in the last couple of years, when she was so physically sick she couldn't enjoy much anyway.

As for her writing talent? Well, for a few years at the beginning, she taught English for extra cash. And for a few years toward the end, she wrote newsletters for real estate agents and dentists. Her greatest success as a writer was being known among her friends for the only Christmas letters people actually wanted to read. Her career was motherhood. There was no time or space for anything else substantial.

That's an educated, white, (eventually) upper-middle-class, straight, mostly able-bodied woman with a kind husband who wasn't into super-rigid gender roles, one generation ago. Take away any one of those privileges, let alone all of them, and the story gets grimmer and grimmer.

That's why Woolf's essay continues to resonate with so many feminist writers. That's why--in addition to the obsessive Morrissey love, of course--Liss chose the name.

This is and always has been a feminist blog.

It's also a blog about a whole lot of other things--politics, culture, LGBTQ issues, racism, ableism, sizeism, pop culture, pets, travel, relationships, clever things said with a Scottish accent, photoshopped pictures of John McCain... There are currently 23 regular contributors, all posting about whatever strikes our fancy. The blogroll is fucking epic. We cover a lot of ground.

But it is and always has been a feminist blog. Because it is and always has been a progressive blog, for starters, and because the name "Shakespeare's Sister" has always been there, representing women's historical and ongoing fight to be taken seriously, to be heard.

Apparently, however, this is news to some people. Not the trolls and MRAs--they come here because they do know it's a feminist blog. No, it's news to both new and long-time readers who are just so tired of hearing "misogyny this, misogyny that"; the ones who think a certain amount of feminism is all well and good and necessary, but expecting them to read post after post about it is really just asking too much; the ones who want to talk about the first viable female presidential candidate in, you know, ever, but leave aside her gender to focus on the "real issues"; the ones who just get exhausted trying to see the subtle sexism that feminists keep telling them is there; the ones who think believing that women should be allowed to have careers and control their own bodies 'n' stuff means they've earned their Feminist Card and can therefore say any damn fool thing they want without being called sexist; the ones who can't stand all this bickering and really wish we'd all CALM DOWN and get back to the IMPORTANT things... Those people don't seem to get that this is and always has been a feminist blog.

And you know what happens on feminist blogs? People write about sexism. It stuns me that there are people who would deliberately come to a feminist blog and then ask that people quit talking about sexism so much. I don't fucking get it. But this isn't even the only place where I've seen this happening lately. Zuzu's getting slammed today for "reading too much into" comments by Obama, seeing sexism that isn't there, refusing to talk about the "issues" instead of boring old sexism, etc., on a blog called... hmm, what was it again? Oh, right, Feministe. Yeah, I can't imagine why a contributor over there would think it appropriate to discuss subtle sexism. That's just crazy.

As Spudsy pointed out earlier today, if you want to talk about Clinton any way you like without sexism discussions obscuring the "real issues," you can surely find a comfortable home at any number of fauxgressive blogs these days. But if you want to talk about Clinton around here, you're probably going to end up talking about sexism, because she is doing what no woman has ever done before, which means her gender colors everything, and that's the kind of thing that gets discussed on a feminist blog.

In the past couple of days, I have seen one contributor and our fucking blogmistress say they feel like throwing up their hands and leaving, because there ain't enough teaspoons in the world to deal with all the people telling feminist contributors and commenters to quit being so goddamned feminist all the time. On a feminist blog. I don't know about you, but I'm not okay with that.

You know, I recently wrote a short piece about how Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville helped turn me into a feminist, because she described the shit some men heap on women in a way that totally resonated with me, even though I hadn't ever given it much conscious thought before. Hanging out here over the last few days, getting involved in fight after fight about whether something is really sexist, and whether we really need to talk about something from a feminist perspective on a feminist blog, and why those of us who keep getting all red-faced and spluttery can't just calm the fuck down and focus on the real issues already, I've found I have "Help Me, Mary" running through my head a lot.

They egg me on, and keep me mad
They play me like a pit bull in a basement
and for that

I lock my door at night
I keep my mouth shut tight
I practice all my moves
I memorize their stupid rules

I make myself their friend
I show them just how far I can bend
As they egg me on, and keep me mad...

That right there is the cultural script for women of my generation. We get to go to school, we get to have jobs, we mostly get to decide what to do with our own bodies, so we're a hell of a lot better off than Shakespeare's fictional sister or Virginia Woolf or our own mothers. But still, when men push us, we are not supposed to push back; we're just supposed to change our behavior so they'll like us better. We're supposed to apologize and admit that they're right, suppress our real feelings to keep the peace. We're supposed to show them just how far we can bend.

Oddly enough, though, that's not how things work on a feminist blog.

And this is and always has been a feminist blog.

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