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Because of the circumstances under which it was initially recommended to me, I very nearly never read this book. That would have been a shame. And in the end, to be perfectly honest, one of the reasons I read it at all was simply so that I would be able to say that I had. Moreover, I was more than half-minded not to write about it, based on the suspicion that any discussion that followed would rapidly become tiring and unproductive. But not writing about it would be to do the book a disservice, so here I am; and if you've never trusted any other recommendation you've seen of it, please trust mine. Whatever issues I bring up below, bear in mind that if you have any interest in how society discusses and assigns value to writing I would still say this book is worth reading.

How to Suppress Women's Writing is a short book by Joanna Russ, about 150 pages, first published in 1983. It is part historical study, part feminist critique, part literary survey, and part polemic. It takes as its starting point the obvious fact that writing by women is under-represented in popular and literary canons, and then outlines mechanisms by which this is achieved. Occasionally writing by other cultural minorities is also considered. You can read the prologue and the first chapter here. Laid out baldly, the list of mechanisms looks daft:

- She didn't write it
- She wrote it, but she had help
- She wrote it but she shouldn't have
- She wrote it, but look what she wrote about
- She wrote it but she only wrote one of it
- She wrote it, but she isn't really an artist (but it isn't really art)
- She wrote it, but she's an anomaly

Some of them don't look any less daft in context, but Russ doesn't, for the most part, suggest that these mechanisms are conscious--
In the case of women writers and other 'wrong' groups practicing art, the techniques of containment, belittlement, and sheer denial are sometimes so very illogical (and so very prevalent) that it's hard not to believe there's a conscious conspiracy going on--how could anyone argue so idiotically and not be aware of it? Yet it's equally easy to insist that silliness like that must be a matter of ignorance--how could anyone aware of such idiocy not stop, if for no other reason than sheer embarrassment? And if the theory of conscious conspiracy won't do (with some exceptions, chiefly where money is involved), while the theory of total ignorance won't do either, what's going on? (17)
--rather that they are unconscious, inherent in the established framework of literary study. They propagate when people do not question their context or the context of ideas presented to them. This is a (relentlessly) negative view of humanity, but it does force you to sit up and think about your own complicity in the works that society has wrought.

In general, Russ writes acutely, honestly and entertainingly about these problems. But she can also be extremely frustrating; the most common experience I had while reading How to Suppress Women's Writing was one of saying "yes, but ..." For instance, immediately after the passage above she continues:
(There is a third theory, in which each supposed case of sexism, racism or class disadvantage becomes a matter of personal enmity here or chance there or some other motive somewhere else. Such a theory is part of the problem, not its explanation. It amounts simply to the denial that there is a problem.) (17-18)
Yes, but ... this is a substantial simplification, and that makes me uneasy. Several times, Russ makes it clear that How to Suppress Women's Writing is not intended as a definitive statement, that she has had neither the time or the resources to achieve that and encourages others to pick up where she leaves off, which is fair enough; and yet, and yet. Because the thing is, a given case of sexism, racism or class disadvantage does not become a matter of personal enmity, or chance, or some other motive, it almost certainly is a matter of personal enmity, or chance, or some other motive. It is both an individual case and part of a pattern, and while--as Russ correctly points out--to concentrate only on individual details is to miss the forest for the trees, to consider only the forest seems to me equally problematic.

At other points, she undermines excellent insights with less-than-perfect metaphors:
In everybody's present historical situation, there can be, I believe, no single center of value and hence no absolute standards. That does not mean that assignment of values must be arbitrary or self-serving (like my students, whose defense of their poetry is "I felt it"). It does mean that for the linear hierarchy of good and bad it becomes necessary to substitute a multitude of centers of value, each with its own periphery, some closer to each other, some farther apart.

[...]

There used to be an odd, popular, and erroneous idea that the sun revolved around the earth.

This has been replaced by an even odder, equally popular, and equally erroneous idea that the earth goes around the sun.

In fact, the moon and the earth revolve around a common center, and this commonly-centred pair revolves with the sun around another common center, except that you must figure in all the solar planets here, so things get complicated. (120-21)
You can see what she's trying to do, and I'm sympathetic to it, but the problem is that as soon as you start thinking about her metaphor in terms of why, it breaks down. The reason a heliocentric view was (eventually) adopted is that it is more accurate than geocentrism. The reason we have not adopted a more general view of cosmology for our day-to-day lives, although we know that it is true, is because it is not particularly more useful to do so. Heliocentrism is good enough for most purposes, and I don't think that's an implication that Russ wanted there.

My biggest reservation about the book, though, is in what it says about reviewing and criticism, or more accurately in what it leaves me as a reviewer able to say: sometimes, it doesn't seem to leave me very much at all. That is to a certain extent to be expected. This is primarily a piece of political writing, one that draws attention to patterns that anyone thinking about fiction should be aware of; it is probably not intended to be taken as a literal model for criticism. And yet ...

Chapter 7 deals with 'she wrote it, but she only wrote one of it': the idea that, say, Jane Eyre is the only book by Charlotte Bronte in the literary canon because it's the only book she wrote that's worth reading. I had a number of problems with this. First, it is an argument directed at people who believe that 'the canon' is in some way definitive, whereas I take it to be a starting point. Secondly, it should be obvious that representative cherry-picking is not something that afflicts only women writers. Russ is well aware of this, and so it turns out that the first few pages of the chapter are misdirection before she gets to the real thrust of her argument:
One might argue--and justly--that many male writers are also represented by only one book or one group of poems. I would answer first that the damage done the women is greater because the women constitute so few of the total in anthologies, classes, curricula, and reading lists at any level of education. Moreover, the real mischief of the myth of the isolated achievement, as it is applied to the "wrong" writers, is that the criteria of selection are in themselves loaded and so often lead to the choice of whatever in the writer's work will reinforce the stereotypical notion of what women can write or should write. (65)
This makes sense; I buy it. It doesn't distill into a soundbite as neat as 'she wrote it, but she only wrote one of it,' however, which is a bit unfortunate for a book that is most often referenced by its soundbites. And what do you do if you believe that the soundbite is true? If you've read most or everything by a writer, but are of the opinion that only one or two of the works are genuinely memorable?

I also had problems working out what Russ actually thinks about "women's writing" as a category. In the above quote she appears to be against the idea that it is a category with unique content. This view comes up at other points as well: one of the variants of "she didn't write it" that she examines is "the man inside her wrote it", deriding the idea that "human or personal complexity is reduced to two sets of characteristics, one male, one female." (22) And yet at other times, she seems quite strongly attached to the idea that there are things only women's writing says, going so far as to argue that men misunderstand women's art, and therefore undervalue it, because they are ignorant of women's experience. This seems slightly contradictory, and leads into another restriction on what I can say:
If women's experience is defined as inferior to, less important than, or "narrower" than men's experience, women's writing is automatically denigrated.

If women's experience is simply not seen, the effect will be the same.

She wrote it but look what she wrote about becomes she wrote it, but it's unintelligible/badly constructed/thin/spasmodic/uninteresting, etc, a statement by no means identical with she wrote it, but I can't understand it (in which case the failure might be with the reader). (48)
There's a variant of the accessibility debate to be had here--is it desireable that a work contain the information necessary to make it comprehensible?--but I'm more than willing to accept that works can be misinterpreted by readers outside their context. But this seems to go further, arguing that because I am a man I can never be a part of the work's context, and that the only valid criticism of a book that I don't like that is by a woman is "I can't understand it."

This somewhat kneecaps criticism. For instance, I have read two particularly strong science fiction novels by women that were published this year, by Justina Robson and Tricia Sullivan. Can I say that I think the Robson is the more successful? What do you think of my opinion if I further tell you that the Sullivan is the more overtly feminist? How about if I say that a couple of the stories in Holly Phillips' collection In The Palace of Repose do, in fact, seem to me a little thin? The problem is that although every statement that means "I can't understand this" can be written as a more face-saving "this is badly constructed", not every "this is badly constructed" means "I can't understand this." Because fiction by women is going to be just like fiction by men: flawed. The solution, of course, is to write reviews grounded in specific criticisms that allow the reader to judge for themselves whether the conclusions drawn are valid; but this still requires a certain trust in the reviewer, rather than prejudging their suitability on the basis of gender.

As I said before this long litany of nitpicks, I think How to Suppress Women's Writing is worth reading. In a weird way, the fact that I've nitpicked is meant as a recommendation; it is such an argumentative book that you want to argue back, which is as good a way as any of testing how well your own positions stand up. The best way to avoid unconscious prejudice is to be conscious, and for the most part Russ does an excellent job of demonstrating how and why her list of suppressive mechanisms work (how relevant they are twenty-two years after the book was published is up to the individual reader to decide; for myself, some of them seem more prevalent than others). What's missing, perhaps, is a sense of the possible. This is a book that says 'this must be done.' It even ends with a direct challenge: "I've been trying to finish this monster for thirteen ms pages and it won't. Clearly it's not finished. You finish it." (132) But the book doesn't seem terribly confident that this can ever really be done. I'd like to be a little less pessimistic than that.
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is an interesting review. I like Joanna Russ' writing, I find her challenging and difficult, and she really makes me think. The Female Man was something that blew me away when I first read it - I have all kinds of problems with some of her points, and some parts of what she is talking about have actually gone now, or at least altered beyond recognition, but nevertheless, she makes some really important points about the way we are accustomed to think.

I don't subscribe to the notion that members of one category cannot critically engage with works by members of another category, if only because no one person is ever exactly the same as any other person. It doesn't matter who the writer is, the reader will never be coming from exactly the same place - but that doesn't mean that we can't learn from one another.

One thing I've found interesting with Russ, though, is that discussions often involve some of the participants saying that her attitudes are completely out-dated, that women aren't discriminated against these days - while others can cite examples of similar behaviour in their own lives. A lot of people are surprisingly unaware of discrimination within society, particularly sexism but also racism and all the various other -isms. And not all of the people in the "unaware" category are from the privileged side of things, either. Insofar as she makes us reconsider the way we think and act, I think she's still an important writer.

I shall have to get hold of this book.

PS I believe it's enmity, not emnity, from "enemy".
Insofar as she makes us reconsider the way we think and act, I think she's still an important writer.

Yes, I think that's what I was trying to get at, and I've noticed the same things about discussions of her writing. Even the conclusions I think don't stand I have to think about, question my views, make sure. That can't hurt.

(There is a whole other post to be written sometime about how she defends her style, which is as I said passionate and argumentative, and how and why that influences whether it's seen as 'scholarly'. But another day, I think.)

The Female Man is one I've been meaning to read for a while. 2006, hopefully.

PS I believe it's enmity, not emnity, from "enemy".

Ah. Hmm. How embarrassing! Thank you.
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discussions often involve some of the participants saying that her attitudes are completely out-dated, that women aren't discriminated against these days

I was reluctant to open the comments thread for just that reason. I get depressed.

I get particularly annoyed by the following exchange (crude parody follows):

'discrimination against women doesn't happen any more'

'well, I have experienced discrimination events x, y and z'

'I hate to say it, but that must be because you are weak, lazy and stupid'
I was more than half-minded not to write about it, based on the suspicion that any discussion that followed would rapidly become tiring and unproductive.

You are a better man than I. Glad you are writing about it. I think that the question of how to navigate these issues as a reviewer is a particularly important and interesting one. Not sure it's one I'm ready to have on the internet in public mind you, but I'm glad you are.
I certainly don't believe I have nothing valid to say about writing by women, but I do sometimes hesitate to say it for fear of seeming patronising, sexist or just stupid. (All of which i am quite capable of being, I'm sure.)

What I do believe is that there is a casual assumption in the term 'Women's writing' which suggests that all women share the same concerns. Does Russ adress this?

Reading Gilbert & Gubar's The Madowman In The Attic I found a passage early on citing various authors assertion that imagination is inherently masculine. The trouble I then have is that one of the examples is from Coleridge who whilst stating that "imagination... echoes the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM" also believed that "a great mind is androgynous". My understanding of the first quote is that it has no gender component, but in order to add weight to a point already made Gilbert & Gubar make an unsubstantiated claim that Coleridge's 'androgyny' didn't actually mean 'man-womanly' in the way Virginia Wooolf meant it. This enables them to claim that Coleridge meant a male creation not a female creation. They might be right, but the examples they use don't support that, which undermines the rest of the argument.
Russ addresses the heterogeneity of women's concerns in the later book, To Write Like a Woman,.
I left my Christmas present copy in Bradford. Gutted. Expect comments to this post in three months time.
You could always nominate it for instant_fanzine. (I think I'm going to put The Female Man up at some point.)
I read your first paragraph here and had to open another browser window and scamper off to your user info to see if you might have had the same read-this-book! experience that I had. Heh.
I'd say there's a decent chance that I did, yes ... :)
I sometimes read your lj but I've never commented before. I was tempted not to do so this time because I'm not really interested in discussing the same old same old for the trillionth time but... I do have three points which nitpick your nitpicks, if y'know what I mean, so I'm gonna post the first one and, if you think it's interesting and you think you can cope with me possibly driving you ever-so-slightly nuts, then you can decide if you want to see the other two and I'll decide if I'm still prepared to post them, ok? I've decided to include a substantial chunk of the context so you'll mebbe have a better idea what I'm trying to say (I apologize if that seems unnecessarily repetitive).

1. Russ (as quoted by coalescent): (There is a third theory, in which each supposed case of sexism, racism or class disadvantage becomes a matter of personal enmity here or chance there or some other motive somewhere else. Such a theory is part of the problem, not its explanation. It amounts simply to the denial that there is a problem.)

coalescent: Yes, but ... this is a substantial simplification, and that makes me uneasy. Several times, Russ makes it clear that How to Suppress Women's Writing is not intended as a definitive statement, that she has had neither the time or the resources to achieve that and encourages others to pick up where she leaves off, which is fair enough; and yet, and yet. Because the thing is, a given case of sexism, racism or class disadvantage does not become a matter of personal enmity, or chance, or some other motive, it almost certainly is a matter of personal enmity, or chance, or some other motive. It is both an individual case and part of a pattern, and while--as Russ correctly points out--to concentrate only on individual details is to miss the forest for the trees, to consider only the forest seems to me equally problematic.

spiralsheep: It's not equally problematic, which is the point, it's unequally problematic because a privileged group can impose their point of view on any less privileged group while the less privileged group can only suggest their point of view to any more privileged group. It doesn't matter whether were talking about sex privilege, ethnic privilege, wealth privilege, or health privilege, if one group has more power and can impose upon others then they can choose to be oblivious to a problem and deny that problem and impose their denial upon the less powerful group in a way that the less powerful group can't do in reverse: unequally problematic. The inequality being the underlying problem.
[holding comment]

I do mean to reply to this, but I need to find time to think about it properly. Bear with me--and feel free to post your other comments as well. I'll try not to make my responses too boneheaded ... :)
If you want to reply, and that ain't necessary, then take as much time as you need. It's a busy discussion and no-one can give thoughtful responses to a whole crowd simultaneously.
It is both an individual case and part of a pattern, and while--as Russ correctly points out--to concentrate only on individual details is to miss the forest for the trees, to consider only the forest seems to me equally problematic.

It's not equally problematic, which is the point, it's unequally problematic because a privileged group can impose their point of view on any less privileged group while the less privileged group can only suggest their point of view to any more privileged group.


Sure. But (I think) my argument is that you can't argue effectively only from individual examples, otherwise the privileged are going to turn around and say 'but those are just isolated instances'. You have to win both arguments; you have to make the pattern clear. But to do that, you have to understand how the individual examples fit into the pattern, and to do that--I suggest--you have to acknowledge their individual nature, and, sometimes, account for it.
I've been trying to think about the practicalities of considering this stuff when writing reviews.

First off, and I know you know this already, not reviewing women's writing for fear of accidentally suppressing it is not the answer. Because not reviewing it is basically to say 'She wrote it but it's not worth our time talking about it' and there's a lot of very interesting writing by women out there that I definitely want to talk about.

So, given that we do want to talk about and review writing by women, what can we do to take Russ' points into account when doing so? Here's a couple of thoughts:

1. - Check our assumptions - Being aware of these sorts of issues and bearing some of Russ' points in mind when reading/reviewing is probably the most important step here.

2. - If it doesn't need to be said, don't say it - If we are going to make any statements that fall into any of the categories that Russ has pointed out, then it's worth asking ourselves why we're making it. Is it true? Does it add an important dimension to the book/author we're discussing or to the way we consider that book/author? Would leaving it out mean missing out an important angle to the discussion?

3. - Qualify our statements - If we ask ourselves all the questions above (and more) and still find the statement worth making, then why not explain the thought processes that led us to make such a statement? Explain that the reason we're mentioning this is because it helps us view the work in such and such a light, and that it's worth looking at in that light because of x y and z, but that there's a danger that saying this might gave the other impression, so readers should be aware of alternative perspectives, etc.

4. - Don't get defensive when we're challenged for making such statements - If we've gone through the above thought processes then we shouldn't get all uptight and defensive when someone challenges what we've said on the sort of grounds that Russ is arguing from. Because we know that fundamentally they have a point. We can give our reasons for having made the statement we made, but it's also our duty as reviewers to take responsibility for what we say and accept that sometimes we're going to be challenged on it, and rightly so. If we're walking a tightrope between speaking the truth and suppressing women's writing then we have to expect to be pushed off that tightrope sometimes, and when that happens we should accept it, absorb the experience, add what we've learnt to our critical tool kit and resolve to do better next time.
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Oh, I second that, trying not to get defensive when someone points it out... Whose post was it, recently, that was a Primer for White People on how not to get defensive? The point was to thank the person and think about it or fix it. Like, if someone said, "Hey, you've got snot hanging off your nose" then you'd wipe it off. You wouldn't explain to them for an hour about how you couldn't, and would never, have a gross drippy nose.

Anyway, well said!

Because of the circumstances under which it was initially recommended to me,

What were those cicumstances?
On implication and inference (my trivial choice-of-language nitpick of your trivial choice-of-metaphor nitpick).

2. Russ (as quoted by coalescent): In everybody's present historical situation, there can be, I believe, no single center of value and hence no absolute standards. That does not mean that assignment of values must be arbitrary or self-serving (like my students, whose defense of their poetry is "I felt it"). It does mean that for the linear hierarchy of good and bad it becomes necessary to substitute a multitude of centers of value, each with its own periphery, some closer to each other, some farther apart.

[...]

There used to be an odd, popular, and erroneous idea that the sun revolved around the earth.

This has been replaced by an even odder, equally popular, and equally erroneous idea that the earth goes around the sun.

In fact, the moon and the earth revolve around a common center, and this commonly-centred pair revolves with the sun around another common center, except that you must figure in all the solar planets here, so things get complicated.

coalescent: [...] Heliocentrism is good enough for most purposes, and I don't think that's an implication that Russ wanted there.

spiralsheep: And, in the time and place Russ was writing, most people believed that male-centrism was good enough for most purposes (many people still do). I don't think that's the implication Russ wanted there either, although it works, but then I don't think that's what she implied and I don't think that your inference from Russ' work is necessarily the inference which most of Russ' readers will have arrived at. It's certainly not the inference which I drew. Consequently I see no reason to privilege your inference as the normative understanding in this instance (and, interestingly, it appears to me that Russ' metaphor, which you chose to use as an example, is about normative viewpoints). And yeah, I noted that you wrote "an implication" not the implication but that still leaves "implication" (implying her choice of meaning) where I think you should've used inference (implying your choice of meaning).
OK, let's start here, since this is just pedantry, and therefore the one I'm most certain of my thinking on. :)

And, in the time and place Russ was writing, most people believed that male-centrism was good enough for most purposes (many people still do).

Agreed. But the difference--and where I think the problem with the metaphor comes in--is that the 'good enough' view of male-centrism is a belief, and a false one, but the 'good enough' view of heliocentrism is, basically, factual. There's no point using a more generalised cosmology on a day-to-day basis; it only has benefits for specialised calcuations. Whereas a more generalised view of culture is vital.

That's why I say it's not what Russ intended. The legitimate scientific reading of what she wrote actually undermines her argument; I don't buy that you can read it in a different way just because we know what she did mean to say.
Although I've only quoted your response here I also paid attention to your introductory comments on sex/gender essentialism.

3. Russ (as quoted by coalescent): If women's experience is defined as inferior to, less important than, or "narrower" than men's experience, women's writing is automatically denigrated.

If women's experience is simply not seen, the effect will be the same.

She wrote it but look what she wrote about becomes she wrote it, but it's unintelligible/badly constructed/thin/spasmodic/uninteresting, etc, a statement by no means identical with she wrote it, but I can't understand it (in which case the failure might be with the reader).

coalescent responds: There's a variant of the accessibility debate to be had here--is it desireable that a work contain the information necessary to make it comprehensible?--but I'm more than willing to accept that works can be misinterpreted by readers outside their context. But this seems to go further, arguing that because I am a man I can never be a part of the work's context, and that the only valid criticism of a book that I don't like that is by a woman is "I can't understand it."

spiralsheep: A generalisation follows which I'd only apply to an individual according to her or his individual circumstances, natch.

If, in a society, men choose to exclude themselves from female experience in a way that women don't choose to exclude themselves from male experience then male critics in that society are presumably likewise excluding themselves from understanding some of the context of women's writing because they will choose to avoid certain experiences which they choose to believe are unmasculine e.g. (warning deliberately silly but potentially instructive example ahead): in our society most women choose to wear skirts and trousers whereas most men choose only to wear trousers so the men exclude themselves from understanding experience of skirts in a way that women don't exclude themselves from understanding experience of trousers (although the male and female experiences of trouser-wearing will still differ in, erm, two or three specifics, heh). If males choose to exclude themselves then that's their responsibility because males are a privileged group who have the power of choice. It's not the responsibility of female authors to include male critics by talking exclusively about things which men choose to experience but conversely it is the responsibility of male critics to either broaden their experience or confine themselves to criticising from a position of claimed understanding only what they have a reasonable expectation of understanding i.e., don't criticise skirts until you've had the balls to wear skirts. If a male critic criticised, from a claimed position of understanding, a description of giving birth which was written by a female author who had actually given birth then why should I accept his imposition of his male privilege of claiming omniscience or objectivity? And no I'm not saying that female critics can claim understanding of exclusively male physical experiences, such as the male orgasm for example, but I am saying that, in contemporary western societies, most women share more male-coded life experiences with men than the quantity of female-coded life experiences which most men choose to share with women. Skirts + trousers > trousers.
Firstly, I accept that there are experiences that are unique to each sex. I further accept that the 'unique experiences' are probably imbalanced due to existing societal norms.

But.

Something I feel quite strongly is that good fiction makes you understand. It shouldn't matter that I've never worn a skirt; if it's necessary to the story, good writing should be able to convey that experience to me. Something else I feel quite strongly is that empathy is a powerful thing. With sufficient attention and care, a writer should be able to portray people different to themselves, whether men, women, black, white, or from the planet zod.

A man writing about a woman walking down a street wearing a skirt may very well get it wrong, and he may get it wrong in such a way that it will only be picked up by a woman. That is possible. I just don't think it's terribly likely; I think if it's unconvincing to a woman, it's likely to be unconvincing to any moderately aware man, too.

There's a quote from John Clute's introduction to Her Smoke Rose Up Forever that I think is pertinent here:
(In 1975, in his introduction to Tiptree's "Warm Worlds and Otherwise," Robert Silverberg gave voice to a bio-critical speculation about the author which has since become famous. "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female," he wrote, "a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing." Given human nature, it's unlikely many of Silverberg's readers could have failed to enjoy the discomfiture he must have felt in 1977 when Tiptree's identity was uncovered; and there is no denying that what he said was both inapposite in its self-assurance, and culture-bound in its assumption that an artifact of language—in this case the phallocentric assembly of themes and tropes and rhythms and rituals and syntaxes greased for power which makes up "masculine discourse"—was in itself inherently sexed, so that only a biological male could utter it. This was surely careless of Silverberg. Artifacts—like jungle jims, like pseudonyms—are in themselves inherently "learnable". They can be climbed into. At the same time, of course, Silverberg "did" have a point. To deny that Tiptree did in fact sound "like a man" is to deny one's clear sense that male hegemony utters itself in recognizable terms; it also scants the masterly uses to which Tiptree put that artifactual language which owns the world "and tells it": tells it what it is, tells it what to do. Having aerated and ennobled that language, having turned the tables on the biological presumptions it rides on, she used the sly potent enablement pheromones of "man talk" as a kind of "speed". She mainlined on the artifact, from within the babushka of Tiptree, itself snugly hidden inside the larger babushka of the sf community; and in that tongue she said some things which burned. Like ice. Like fire.)
If a male critic criticised, from a claimed position of understanding, a description of giving birth which was written by a female author who had actually given birth then why should I accept his imposition of his male privilege of claiming omniscience or objectivity?

I think my point is that it should be possible for a male critic to judge the plausibility or otherwise of a birth scene, because good writing should convincingly convey the experience to any other human. In fact, I would probably go so far as to say that it's essential that there be good writing that does so. And similarly, it should be possible for you to judge the validity of a male critic's opinion of a birth scene from the way they present their argument. They should present evidence, if they find it implausible. If they just assert that it's bad then yes, I would suggest getting a second, and female, opinion. :)
- She didn't write it
- She wrote it, but she had help
- She wrote it but she shouldn't have
- She wrote it, but look what she wrote about
- She wrote it but she only wrote one of it
- She wrote it, but she isn't really an artist (but it isn't really art)
- She wrote it, but she's an anomaly


And this continues to the day ... for example several people have suggested that 'Belle de jour' 'must have been written by a man'. Now I'm not sure why but maybe Belle's not just sticking to 'things women write about' is part of it. Another blog supposedly written by a prostitute of Asian origin has been attacked as 'probably written by a white middle-class man'. Not by a white woman, not by an Asian man, not even just by someone not a prostitute. No, all boxes must be ticked!
and while we're on that subject, why is 'white' so often followed by 'middle-class'?
for example several people have suggested that 'Belle de jour' 'must have been written by a man'.

But surely just as many were suggesting that Belle was a female journalist, a female "writer" (bogglement commences, but I presume they meant "a writer who wasn't also the woman depicted in the book"), and any number of other people. Most of the suggestions I saw presumed that Belle was female, but not who she claimed to be. Suppression? Maybe, but if so, rather less on the grounds of gender, and rather more on the grounds of "no-one who fucks for a living could possibly write in coherent sentences".