Silence and shame are contagious; so are courage and speech.
Literary history and the present are dark with silences, some the silences for years by our acknowledged great; some silences hidden; some the ceasing to publish after one work appears; some the never coming to book form at all.
The “real” identity of Italian writer Elena Ferrante was recently unmasked by a male journalist who, with an investigative intensity usually reserved for political and critical cases, used financial records to prove his case. Camila Domonoske wrote a great, concise round up of the case and reactions for NPR, aptly titled “For Literary World, Unmasking Elena Ferrante’s Not A Scoop, It’s A Disgrace.”
I want to also recommend a particularly insightful text on the issue by Dayna Tortorici for n+1. Tortorici describes how crucial the pseudonymity is for Ferrante’s writing, how beneficial it is for the reader, and how the unmasking in this case is basically a form of silencing:
Ferrante’s readers were quick to denounce Gatti’s revelation. I myself was irritated. Even the stones know that Ferrante is Ferrante, and that’s the way her readers want it. More than Ferrante herself, her readers have benefited from her choice, spared so much extradiegetic noise. We are as invested in her anonymity—and her autonomy—as she is. It is a compact: she won’t tell us, we won’t ask, and she won’t change her mind and tell us anyway. In exchange, she’ll write books and we’ll read them. The feminist defense of Ferrante’s privacy was especially swift. It’s difficult to read a man’s attempt to “out” a writer who has said she would stop writing if she were ever identified as anything but an attempt to make her stop writing.
The story of Cassandra, the woman who told the truth but was not believed, is not nearly as embedded in our culture as that of the Boy Who Cried Wolf—that is, the boy who was believed the first few times he told the same lie. Perhaps it should be.
Rebecca Solnit’s cover essay on silencing women in the October 2014 issue of Harper’s.
Such a good point.
There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard
Let the record show that you can be a United States senator of 29 years, you can be 71 years old, you can be the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and one of the most recognizable and most widely respected veteran public servants in your nation. But if you are female, while you are also all of those other things, men who you defeat in arguments will still respond to you by calling you hysterical and telling you to calm down. They will patronize you and say they “admire your passion, sweetie,” but that of course they only deal in facts—not your silly, girly strong feelings. It is inescapable; you can set your watch by it.
Ah yes, calling women hysterical, the classic tool to try and silence women. Pathetic in the past, really pathetic today.
Labeling women as “crazy” is a way of controlling them. It may not be something planned or pre-meditated, but the ease with which men call women “crazy” says a lot about them. Calling a woman “crazy” is a quick and easy shut-down to any discussion. Once the “crazy” card has been pulled out, women are now put on the defensive: the onus is no longer on the man to address her concerns or her issue, it’s on her to justify her behavior, to prove that she is not, in fact, crazy or irrational. Men don’t even have to provide any sort of argument back – it’s a classic catch-22; “the fact that you don’t even see that you’re acting crazy is just proof that it’s crazy.”
When people fight you to shut you up about a topic like race—and sexism, it means that you have stumbled upon the cultural silence that must be patrolled in order to maintain hegemony.