I’m reading Women of the Beat Generation in my spare time at the moment. This quotation really struck me:
“[A] woman from the audience asks: ‘Why are there so few women on this panel? Why are there so few women in this whole week’s program? Why were there so few women among the Beat writers?’ and [Gregory] Corso, suddenly utterly serious, leans forward and says: ‘There were women, they were there, I knew them, their families put them in institutions, they were given electric shock. In the ’50s if you were male you could be a rebel, but if you were female your families had you locked up. There were cases, I knew them, someday someone will write about them” (Scobie cited in Knight, p. 140).
There are so many times people have said, or written: ‘there simply aren’t any women (or queer people, or people from different ethnic backgrounds, or working class people, or …) working in this area. It just happens, somehow, that everyone writing (or singing, or painting, or whatever) in this area is a white (straight, middle-class) man.’ There has been a lot of excellent writing critiquing that approach. Lately I’ve appreciated Jefferson’s piece on Why White Men Should Refuse to Be on Panels of All White Men, and soon I will finally get around to reading Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing.
For now, though, I am taking a moment to reflect on the importance of chasing down the hidden stories, the perspectives that are not provided in the standard reading lists. I remember, during my first fieldwork trip to India, asking over and over again: “Where are the women?”, “Where are the people from other castes?”, “Where are the people from other religions?” I didn’t always get the answers that I would have liked, but I’m glad I asked rather than taking their absence for granted.