Welcome to the first installment of Feminist Friday! In honor of Women’s History Month, each Friday, I will be highlighting some noteworthy women and their accomplishments. As feminists, it is important to recognize the trailblazer’s of our movement, as well as use their accomplishments as inspiration in our own work. This week’s category is literature.
Zora Neale Hurston
A leader for her time, Hurston gave black people a voice through her writing. Influenced by her own upbringing in an all black town, the Harlem Renaissance, and anthropology, Hurston has an uncanny ability to capture the struggle of being a minority in an unequal society, with a writing style where the words just fly off the page. Her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God deals with a young women’s contradicting desire for love and freedom, in a society where masculinity runs rampant and women are left feeling like objects rather than spirits. A familiar struggle, eighty years later. Hurston’s work went somewhat unappreciated at the time due to the segregated society in which she wrote to, but thanks to the efforts of Alice Walker, has made her way into the canon of great American literature.
Austen is best known for her dynamic characters, impeccable wit, and her existence as a published female author, which was quite radical for her time. Her six novels serve as a social commentary for the late 18th and early 19th century, from a bright women’s point of view. In a society that still did not allow women the right to vote, Austen created a unique voice for females through her multifaceted and electric characters. Although the ideas of marriage and societal norms seem a bit out of place in our modern day feminism, it is important to remember that women did not always have the agency to not consider these things. Additionally, the idea of a women commenting on her society or even writing in general was unconventional. Austen challenged these norms through her fiery female heroines that have earned a place in countless reader’s hearts.
Feminist philosophy rides on the shoulders of Wollstonecraft’s work. Author of, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Wollstonecraft championed the feminist movement back in 1792 when she argued that the idea that women are inferior stems a societal structure that denies women equal opportunities such as education. She argues for a society that embraces women and grants them the same natural rights as men. Her work has influenced countless other female writers including Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Emma Goldman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Gay’s work is so important in our time, when the idea of being a feminist is layered, tricky and sometimes, purely overwhelming. Her essays encompass her struggles and triumphs in her own feminism; with sentences that read like a breath of fresh air. Honesty is so important to modern day feminism. How can we as women receive the respect we long for if we do not contemplate or even celebrate the complex parts of our being? Gay is refreshingly real in that way, and creates a more inclusive feminism through her words; one in which feminism is not a set of standards meant to divide women, but a messy painting in which we live our honest and true lives as a form of protest. Her notable works include Bad Feminist, Hunger, An Untamed State, and Difficult Women, and she leads a fascinating Ted Talk.
While these women changed society through their literature, they are certainly not the only ones. Writing has been such an important vessel for women to proclaim their ideas and identities to a blind society, and we owe so much to these fearless women for championing feminism through their work.