Sunday, 21 December 2008

An inconsistent list that could have been comprehensive

The revealing fact that literature courses outside Australia, as I have mentioned before, have been drastically changed over the past couple of decades in a manner that I fear as potentially very shallow, has made me look further for criticisms of literature even as I try to seriously read it for the first time in my thirty-one years. I had known of the Modern Library list since reading Pat Buchanan's The Death of the West when I felt it might be useful to understand Islamic terrorism back in 2002 or 2003.

However, when I was trying to look for assessment of authors criticised in the PIGs like Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood, I fond a large list titled Masterpieces of Women's Literature and had a good look.

Based on a volume written in 1996, the list contains a few books with which I am familiar, notably Alone of All Her Sex by Marina Warner which I read as an admittedly immature student a decade ago, and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin which I read at RMIT last year and whose description of androgynous humans is frankly a not inaccurate description of where most developed nations outside Australia are today. I have looked at a great many others without reading them seriously.

The thing that annoys me is that, whilst most of Masterpieces of Women's Literature is as many critics on the site point out, focused on the self-consciously feminist and omits famous religious writers and is short on poets, there are writers like Jane Austen and Flannery O'Connor who vigorously opposed such attitudes. Their presence makes the omission of such famous spiritual writers as Dorothy Day or even Teresa of Avila appear a serious (and inconsistent) mistake in the interest of political correctness via opposition to extremely rigid ecclesiastical decrees against female ordination. To put it another way, they are excluding women who loyally support these decrees no matter how great the merit of anything they write.

With age, I can in fact name the mistake being made for what it is. Namely, it is seeing the rigid restrictions on the role of women found in traditional churches as by their nature repressive to women. Having looked at books on basic personality theory and a great many biographies of women, I conclude somewhat differently. It is definitely true that many women find being rigidly restricted from leadership and influence unacceptable, but others find it allows them to find a more fulfilling, even more dutiful, role than they could ever achieve competing with men. Personality theory tells me clearly that

- thinking type women find traditional gender roles repressive
- feeling type women find them fulfilling (and believe there are terrible dangers in changing them)

If this is correct, then the list is neglecting a large proportion of female experience because only a small proportion (historically less than twenty percent) of women have been thinking types. It may be true that, because feeling types tend to be suspicious of too much education, thinking types have always been more creative, but nonetheless one should look at women whose lives are enriched rather than repressed by marianismo is still important at least for balance.

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