I once read something, somewhere, that was discussing writers who claim they aren’t “political writers” or don’t write about “politics,” as though it was beneath them and that it could somehow ruin or cheapen their craft. The person commenting on this (who I truly wish I had found in my searches to credit them) claimed that regardless of what they said about being political, they simply are because of their identity. Writing as a man is political. Writing as a woman is political. Writing as a non-binary gender is political. The many other aspects of one’s identity make what we create political because politics has always been concerned with identity and it is impossible to write in a vacuum or as if a 100% neutral body were holding the pen. I’ve thought about this idea frequently since reading it, and sometimes I think it’s too radical but other times it feels crushingly true. I can’t just write a poem and expect that my own sensibilities and identity as a woman won’t influence a reader’s understanding of my/the poem’s values (even a gender neutral pseudonym won’t fully remove bias).

Sam’s post had some really good points about the ways art is politicized based even on who reads it and who it is marketed towards. Attacks on fangirls, who are typically young teen girls, is also common with books (Twilight, anyone?) and I’d say even the makeup industry. Instead of there being a sense of awe at the enthusiasm and passion behind these many, many people finding meaning in something, and for representing a huge potion of the economy supporting music and books, both the girls and the objects of their interest are denigrated. I believe politics come into play when the value of someone as a consumer, and in turn the object they are consuming, is questioned based on their identity.

Even the title of Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife can bring an individual’s personal politics to the forefront, which may then clash with Emerson’s own values. The view one has of marriage (which I believe has always been politically charged) and of wives and their right to certain agencies, rights or roles within a marriage are bound to be working in the background of one’s experience of her collection. Going by the comments from an unknown source that I mentioned at the start of this post, Emerson’s collection is definitely political because she is a woman writing her experience of a marriage–a marriage that was unhappy and eventually dissolved.

All this to say, I’m musing about how gender can be a political aspect of art even when it isn’t obviously invoked in a work of art, because it influences reception of the art and the perspectives presented in the art. It can also come up against the politics of the consumer, and, from another angle, those observing/commenting on the relationship between art and it’s consumers. (For example, I defended fangirls because I was a young teen girl once and I recognize the value of them. Someone who has never been a young teen girl and who places them lower in the hierarchy than themselves doesn’t respect or recognize their inherent political power and influence.)

One comment on “The Politics of Gender

  • I’m glad you bring politics into Late Wife because I think part of the reason I didn’t love it is that the poems seemed to me only personal without much of a gesture toward anything larger than an individual experience. I agree that Late Wife, and pretty much all literature, is inherently political because it is written by a political agent who is a member of a society that is governed by politics. However, I don’t think that automatically makes a piece of literature’s politics very good. I also don’t think it means that the author is intentionally engaging with politics, which means the ways in which the book works politically is outside the author’s control. I think the way Xie was able to engage with meter unknowing is how a lot of authors engage with politics.

    I totally agree that marriage is inherently political, as is simply being a woman, but I’ve been struggling to see how Emerson engages with those politics in her poems. The only gesture I see is the women killing snakes indiscriminately and her not killing a snake. I feel certain I’m missing something, but I struggled to find her putting her experience in conversation or context with people and issues outside the immediate experience described the poems.

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