Editorials
#1: Dateline: 07/19/99, by Kim Wells

Shakespeare's Sister

or; Why Anonymous Was Probably A Woman; And, why we should bother reading her work.

 

I am a grad student; I am also a "teaching assistant." You might remember, from your college days, those younger people, usually dressed in wrinkled, funny clothes and looking as though they hadn't slept much, who hung around the professor, picked up your tests, and generally looked hassled. And if you haven't met or don't remember us, well, just picture that image of a tired, overworked, and underpaid person, who probably has several 20 page papers to write and hasn't eaten much more than what he/she could get out of a vending machine (coffee is a staple) in the last week, and imagine that person dealing with tired, grumpy students who just want an "A," and who just don't see why they were required to take a literature class anyway.... That's me, and my peers. One of the first times I ever encountered skepticism from a student of mine about my personal favorite topic (women writers), I was a little taken aback. This young woman (that it was a woman made it feel like a deeper betrayal, somehow) said "Why would you want to waste your time (and hers, consequently) with that stuff?" I have since encountered that question many times over, along with, "Aren't all writers, if they're truly, really great, going to be remembered and treasured?"

"Why does gender have to matter, if their work is good, it will be applauded." My reply to these questions is this: imagine, as Virginia Woolf asks us to do in her famous essay "A Room of One's Own," (not available online but easy to get at any library) an imaginary sister of Shakespeare. This sister of the Bard burned to write, to express her talent, which for the sake of argument we will imagine was equal to her brother Will's. Her society would not let her and there were few, if any, role models to show her that rules could be broken and women could do it too. Imagine not being able to look out and say, "I can do that, see, that person, who is just like me, also did that and succeeded." Women were meant to be in the home; not out traipsing around on the "boards" of the stage. Only loose women aspired to publically display themselves.

Now, once you imagine the same talent as old Will's, and the same desire to tell great stories, and then imagine society saying "NO!!," imagine how you, if you were that sister of Shakespeare, would feel. Would you go insane? Would you throw yourself into a river? Or would you quietly inspire your children to make the world a different place, a place where men and women could express themselves equally, if differently, and where a woman could be free to choose any job, while telling them bedtime stories you made up yourself? What great stories might have been lost? What if we didn't have the works of Shakespeare? What kind of loss might we suffer without the works of his sister?

Well, women today, both readers and writers, ask themselves, " Where are my predecessors ?" What happened to the sisters/mothers/wives of those male authors that I do know about, who were maybe as talented but through politics, or not having the right connections, or writing about topics that those in power (mainly the white male professors who chose the books in the "canon") didn't enjoy (like babies, like interior scenes, like marriage and love)? I can tell you about a few of those women writers, and where to find more information about them. And after you've met these women, then you can decide for yourself "why bother." It's my opinion that your answer will be much like mine: Because they are just like me, human beings with a desire to express their lives.

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