Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar: The Madwoman in the Attic (1979)
To read this can make an American man in today’s American society feel attacked for something he does not believe of women in literature. I generally do not choose a book based on whether it is written by a man or woman. This takes the term “judging a book by its cover” to a new level of “judging a book by its gender”. Perhaps, this would have been a better title than, “The Madwoman in the Attic”. According to Gilbert and Gubar I guess I couldn’t help but to come up with a better title for their article being that I am a man and all.
The year 1979 was a different time. The film 9 to 5 starring Dolly Parton, Lilly Tomlin, and Jane Fonda released a year after “The Madwoman in the Attic” was written. This movie is a feminism film manifesto that brings to light sexism in the American workplace. Ten years earlier, in 1968, Jane Fonda stars in Barbarella, a movie that is the true embodiment of what feminists seem to hate. To preview this movie go to: (http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi1265106969/).
Gilbert and Gubars article expresses outrage directed toward the history of western literature and its “patriarchal” views. They seem to have difficulty understanding how this happened and why. They are not looking at this history scientifically and they seem to wonder, “Who put men in charge?” The question can also be asked in history, “Why didn’t woman take charge?” Perhaps it was social order that worked at the time. I am happy to see women’s dramatic progress in the western world. Women and men have always been mentally equal, but not equally educated. In America men and women have an almost equal standing. I believe this is because the west is much more technological than it was in the eighteen hundreds. Even in the early nineteen-seventies the world was still a bit technologically deficient. I believe that in today’s world there are more women graduating from college this year than men and I think that’s great!
Gilbert and Gubars article points out with a hint of unfair disgust that, “Western literary history is overwhelmingly male---or, more accurately, (here’s that word again) patriarchal” (1928). They then suggest that this fact has been ignored by many theorists because, “one supposes...they assumed literature had to be male” (1928). This is a good example of perhaps how the author feels, for the “one” in that statement may be the authors expressing their broad brush emotion towards men. The reason it has not been the focal point of most theorist could simply be that they have other things that interest them more.
Gilbert and Gubars then ask a question, “Where does a woman writer ‘fit in’ to the overwhelmingly and essentially male literary history Bloom describes?” (1928). They answer their own question and pronounce a glorious discovery, “that a woman writer does not ‘fit in’” (1928). They then pronounce their opinion in a factual way about how a female writer is viewed by this patriarchal society as, “a freakish outsider” (1928).
The article continues and unleashes sentences the length of long paragraphs forcing the reader to take in two or even three deep breaths to voice the complexity of long trains of thought while attempting to grasp its full meaning.
The article ends with these words of wisdom, “…we must begin by redefining Bloom’s seminal definitions of the revisionary ‘anxiety of influence.’ In doing so, we will have to trace the difficult paths by which nineteenth-century women overcame their ‘anxiety of authorship,’ repudiated debilitating patriarchal prescriptions, and recovered or remembered the lost foremothers who could help them find their distinctive female power” (1938).
Isn’t this self-absorbed way of thinking what they seem to hate about patriarchal society? This almost sounds like a war cry for women to unite and focus no more on literature written by men, for they had their turn. I imagine the authors saying, “Now it’s our turn! You are not a freakish outsider! You are a woman with thoughts that need to be heard!” This is true. Women, of course, should be heard. I never thought any different. The authors seem to assume that all men think this way, and that is why I take my sarcastic pokes at the article.
The authors state that, “Her battle, however, is not against her (male) precursor’s reading of the world but against his reading of her. In order to define herself as an author she must redefine the terms of her socialization” (1929, 1930). This seems to suggest that man has defined women and this has not been an accurate description nor credit her full ability. From my perspective I have seen strong women denigrated relentlessly by other women. In the job world I have had female bosses, and in the lunch room I heard the women of the office comment every day on what she wore. They would mimic her and any little thing she said to delegate the job was considered “bossy” by them. I have seen many examples in my life in which women in a group will tear down another that attempts to take charge. I’m sure this does not happen all the time, or even most of the time, but it happens, a lot. Before women can “redefine the terms of her socialization” I think they should respect each other’s goals, or at the very least try to like each other.
Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. "The Madwoman in the Attic". ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.