Gilbert and Gubar ask this same question but regarding women holding authority of authorship, particularly in poetry. I’m struck by the question of what it means for women to enter the world of poetry that was shaped and dominated by men. Is poetry a gendered enterprise? They introduce Harold Bloom’s literary history, and write that his model is “intensely (even exclusively) male, and necessarily patriarchal. For this reason it has seemed, and no doubt will continue to seem, offensively exist to some feminist critics” (Gilbert and Gubar 290). This seems to indicate that the way Bloom tells the story is gendered. I’m still not sure if this means that poetry was itself masculine, or if was just dominated by masculinity. Regardless, the question remains of how women poets fit into this model, particularly if they have no models or precursors, as Giblert and Gubar remind us, to guide her way.
Last week I raised the question of women entering this world of poetry and their possible dilemma of owning versus conforming. If women act like men in order to ‘prove’ they can succeed in poetics, they are conforming to a standard that isn’t authentic to themselves. Alternatively, given a standard set by men, if women carve out their own voice and write in a distinctly feminine manner, are they waving their white flag of inadequacy? Gilbert and Gubar’s answer suggests that women cannot simply just slip into the genre of male poetry and “fit in” (291). She struggles over the authenticity of her poetic voice. The woman stands out. She can then become objectified and tokenized, not seen as a creator of text but as a gendered body who entered poetry as an Other.
One of the other major problems stemming from this male dominated arena is the characterization of women. “It is debilitating to be any woman in a society where women are warned that if they do not behave like angels they must be monsters” (Gilbert and Gubar 294). This problem doesn’t allow women to be themselves, and it reinforces the notion that they were not shapers of the field. It reminds women that they are outsiders and must conform to the norms set by men. Raising these questions is frustrating and even angering, and in a somewhat subversive way, it also feels empowering. It means, to me at least, that women have the opportunity to define something new and shape what their own poetry can look like, without the confines of a masculine-defined poetic world.