This week it's been my pleasure to be in an online discussion about writing with fellow Christian memoirists Lauren Winner (Still) and Sarah Sentilles (Breaking Up with God). You can check out the initial post here and then follow the round-robin discussion as we all share our different perspectives.
After my first post, in which I raised the question about whether feminists must always write feminist books, I had a minor epiphany. Women whose religious traditions more readily embrace their authority don't have to wear their feminism on their sleeves. Women in more conservative traditions just might:
... Mormon women don't yet have the luxury of taking their own voices for granted. What [an online] Mormon sister is advocating of course smacks of propaganda, if propaganda can be defined as any art form whose primary raison d'être is to promote a particular sociopolitical agenda. But I totally understand the lonely and tenuous position where she is coming from, because I live there every day. Mormon women still need such propaganda.
Lauren writes from a tradition in which women can be ordained—in fact, Lauren herself was just ordained—so her perspective is more settled. She does not need to agitate for change within her faith. As her friend, I celebrate this confident authority she has. As a Mormon, I am jealous.
I bring up Mailer's quote and Prose's article because I think as women who write we have to be feminist, explicitly feminist—because the reception of our work will often be sexist. I don't mean to argue that our feminism should dictate our content. I mean, instead, to argue that even if you don't understand yourself as writing an explicitly feminist text, you are writing in and sending your words out into a sexist (and racist and heterosexist and classist) world.
Mailer's view of "women's ink" is alive and well in many reviews of women's books today, even if the sexism is not always as blatant. Initial reviews of Breaking Up with God called me "hysterical," "wimpy," "immature," "depressed," and "off-kilter." I do not believe these words would be applied to a book about God written by a man. One reviewer from a respected newspaper called Breaking Up with God "micro" and "claustrophobic," and though I am 38 years old, he referred to me as "a twenty-something."
Women--all women--still write for a sexist world, Sarah points out. In that environment, the simple act of writing and publishing a book is in itself a feminist statement.