By: Linda Villamarín
In 2018, we expect to see a clear step forward in every aspect of gender equality, such as in the field of literature, that women would have a much stronger voice, would publish more, would talk about any subject they wish to speak, and would express themselves freely, but how far does that freedom, that step forward go? Is there a real freedom of speech if it is conditioned by all the social and cultural influences that occur around it?
To explain myself better, I’ll tell you about an experience that I had some months ago. A few days after the feminist march on March 8, I had to go to a bookstore in search of a title I’d wanted to buy for some time. But to my surprise, when I entered the bookstore, I crossed the threshold into a purple, red, and pink world, with women on the covers of ALL the books that could be seen right from the entrance. Women defending their rights, women who refuse to do what they are told, women against gender inequality, and for those who don't know what feminism is, there were also several books explaining the topic to them; girls, women of all ages who spoke from their point of view about politics, love, sex, education, all in a strong and defensive position in relation to the "role" of women today from every possible aspect.
It felt like entering a uterus. I had never seen so many red cover books in one place in my life. I felt guilty for looking for a book that had nothing to do with the subject that this bookstore advertised so much; I had to look for help from one of the consultants because with so many pink books on the shelves, which normally housed another type of literature, I couldn't find what I was looking for. In the end, I didn't find the book I wanted in the first place and I ended up buying one of the most heavily stocked books on the shelves, the one with the largest poster, the one that everyone apparently is reading now. I justified it to myself by saying that it would help me with future research on women related literature, and I took it. A few days later, in a conversation with a woman to whom I discussed what had happened, she mentioned a phrase that remained in my head: "feminism is in fashion.”
She was right. It was just the subject of which women were writing and that was being sold in this country at that particular time, because by the following month, the bookstore had already changed the whole pink theme.
A large majority of women have been the victims of some kind of abuse of power, (physical, labor, etc.) and by giving them a voice in the 21st century and feeling the possibility of being in the foreground of a recognized bookstore, would they want to talk about something different? I don’t wish to express in any way my discontent with bookshops supporting women who write and defend a cause. On the contrary, I consider it important and necessary. But my question is, can I now, just now, write about a different subject at all? The answer is, of course I could, but it probably wouldn't sell or be read right now; it wouldn't be fashionable in the current market.
As my beloved Virginia Woolf would say, "Intellectual freedom depends upon material things.” If a woman today wants to dedicate herself to literature and live from it, she needs to write about topics that people are reading, topics that people want to buy. At the moment, one of the "boom" topics in literature is feminism, which is filling bookstores, especially at certain times of the year, creating an ideal of what a modern book for women needs to address and an ideal of the woman who appears on the published work.
It is a contradiction that the literature being targeted to modern women, especially around International Women’s Day, has as its biggest seller, the fight for gender equality, the defense of its rights of the women and the freedom of speech. This contrasts highly to the rest of the year when women who want to write about a subject different from these are barely considered, hardly managing to be published, and often their voice ends up not being heard because it’s not the stereotype of what women should be writing about nowadays.
We still have a long way to go because we live in a society in which the space for women in literature is still very small, still at the mercy of sales ideals and society’s image of the literature made by women. It is our responsibility to continue writing, to continue trying, to pave the way for new generations of women writers as they have done for us, and not to be satisfied with what we have obtained until we reach true equality of exposure in all fields of literature. Let’s continue to work for all our ideas and interests to be explored!