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Intellectuals on Feminism

Feminism (n.)

the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia is a prominent name in both literature and feminism. Her writings predominantly engaged in women and their role in fiction. She ever so passionately and sincerely addressed the issues gender politics in history and literature. In her book, A Room of One's Own, Woolf illustrated,

"It is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally, this is so. Yet it is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are 'important'; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes 'trivial'. And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene in a shop - everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value persists."

Arundhati Roy

In an interview with Huffingtonpost, Arundhati expressed her views beyond the many feminist analysis of her God of Small Things.

"Let's just say there are people who find it easy to sidle up to power, and there are people who naturally have an adversarial relation to it, and I think that battle is what tilts the balance in the world. That's the line behind which I stand. Many people have fought long and remarkable battles to create the freedoms we have. How can we concede those spaces? How can we think that some natural phenomenon has gifted us these freedoms? No! They have been wrested, one by one. I get so annoyed when I hear "cool" young women say 'I'm not a feminist.'

"I mean, do they know what battles were fought? Every freedom we have today, we have because of feminists. Many women have fought and paid a huge price for where we are today! It didn't all come to us only because of our own inherent talent or brilliance. Even the simple fact that women have the vote, who fought for that? The suffragettes. No freedom has come without a huge battle. If you're not a feminist, go back to into your veil, sit in the kitchen and take instructions. You don't want to do that? Thank the feminists.

"It's wonderful to see the emerging independence of women in India, but then there's this dark undercurrent of conservatism running parallel to this revolution. Remember the women in Afghanistan? When we were growing up, they were doctors and surgeons, they partied and wore cool clothes. And now? We have to be alert to the dangers. We can be set back by centuries in no time at all."

Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag was called "somebody who is born a feminist" by Elizabeth Hardwick, a literary critic. In one of her lectures on literature in New York talking about gender and stereotyping she said,

"That all came from books, and it came from the usual books that are now called “the cannon” — used to be called “classics,” which is not a bad term either — and most of those writers are men. It’s not my choice that they be men, but as far as we know, Homer and Shakespeare and Dante and Rabelais and so on, those writers, they’re mostly men. Of course… George Eliot and Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson and so on [are] absolutely first-class writers, but most great writers have been men — this is not to justify it, this is not to be happy about it, it’s just the way it is. For all the obvious reasons, we know why the majority of distinguished practitioners of most arts have been, up to this time, men — there’s nothing about the future, nothing about what ought to be, just what is.

"Therefore, it was so natural to me to take the attitude that these were writers — in other words, Emily Dickinson isn’t a “woman poet” any more than Walt Whitman is a “male poet” — they’re just both poets. George Eliot isn’t a “woman writer,” whereas, let’s say, Dickens is just a “writer” — they were just writers

"I also live in a time in which it’s very important to me — and natural to me — to support and want to align myself with most aspects of the feminist agenda. I’ve always been a feminist — it’s not something I became.

"[But] there can be a contradiction, if you will. It is important to women coming to consciousness of the cultural disabilities under which women labor, in which their consciousness is formed, to make those distinctions — the distinctions that I want to, as a writer, not think about. They can be very important for women in general to think about. So there’s the contradiction — let’s say I do one thing as a citizen, as a civic person, and I do something else as a writer.


"But… if I truly considered people and their lives over a long span of time — people with marriages and love affairs and careers, living in a conventional society — it could not be the case … that I would not be struck by the ways in which women think of themselves in subservient roles and in which they become dependent, or even crippled, by gender stereotypes. … Everybody knows it. What we say is what we have permission to say — we always know much more than we say, and we see much more than we acknowledge that we see, but at any given time there are conventions about what we say we can say and what we think we can think. And one of the interesting things about being a writer is to try to open that out a little bit."


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