How Not To Review Women’s Writing

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Over at The Toast, Mallory Ortberg writes:

I have gone back and forth several times over the last few days on whether or not it would be worth addressing Adam Plunkett’s New review of poet Patricia Lockwood’s latest book here. I don’t write much on topical issues to begin with, there have been plenty of more noteworthy stories about women’s issues in the public eye over the last week or so, and it’s not exactly hurting her career any.

Also, if I am being perfectly honest, I didn’t want to seem mean by criticizing a man twice in public. I have since overcome this reluctance.

And yet! It is such a perfect illustration of Joanna Russ’ How To Suppress Women’s Writing that I think it merits mentioning, if only as a cautionary example for all you future New Yorker (dot com) reviewers out there. (Have you forgotten her main points? Let us revisit them briefly here. How many points do you think Plunkett’s review scores? By my count, he nets at least six out of eleven, but I’m open to a recount.)

Prohibitions Prevent women from access to the basic tools for writing.

Bad Faith Unconsciously create social systems that ignore or devalue women’s writing.

Denial of Agency Deny that a woman wrote it.

Pollution of Agency Show that their art is immodest, not actually art, or shouldn’t have been written about.

The Double Standard of Content Claim that one set of experiences is considered more valuable than another.

False Categorizing Incorrectly categorize women artists as the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers of male artists.

Isolation Create a myth of isolated achievement that claims that only one work or short series of poems is considered great.

Anomalousness Assert that the woman in question is eccentric or atypical.

Lack of Models Reinforce a male author dominance in literary canons in order to cut off women writers’ inspiration and role models.

Responses Force women to deny their female identity in order to be taken seriously.

Aesthetics Popularize aesthetic works that contain demeaning roles and characterizations of women.

Find the complete essay, with plenty of supporting links, here.

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