Where are the women?

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).

A handwritten page from Edith Edmondson's Notebook, 1933
Edith Edmondson's Notebook, 1933, courtesy of estelle & ivy.

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.

4 thoughts on “Where are the women?

  1. I am at an Internet conference, and just saw three women (and none of them white) speak in a row! Pity this usually only happens when they are all lawyers, though.

  2. There are definitely places where more diverse perspectives are present, which is great! I suppose that’s part of the point of this quotation: women were there as part of the Beat generation, and it’s really just later accounts (and anthologies) that have edited them out…lots of places that we think of as being all about white (middle-class, straight) men can be quite diverse, but when it comes to representing them (whether or panels or in writing or in other ways) those at the margins disappear.

  3. 90% of boat captains in Italy are men including my husband. Today on board by husbands boat a man approached the boat and yells, “I see another boat captain in the family”. This man was referring to my son. I also have 2 daughters, one of which is 3, who where also standing there listening to the conversation. So I reply, “It could also be Tamara or Soraya who decides to be come the next boat captains of the family sir, not just Christopher”.
    Women will always be the minority unless we start raising our children differenty, and educating them to believe they too can become boat captains.

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