Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

#Gender and #Writing ~ What’s Up?

There’s a university in the USA called Yale.

No matter which set of numbers you check, Yale seems to rank quite highly

You might think you’d receive a good education (let’s say in English) at this university

However, a group of undergraduates have called on the administration to

“…abolish a core course requirement to study canonical writers including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, saying that ‘it is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors’.”

That quote is from an article in The Guardian—Yale English Students Call for End of Focus on White Male Writers—and might seem an acceptable revolt on the part of modern English students

Just a few more excerpts:

“The prestigious Connecticut university requires its English majors to spend two semesters studying a selection of authors it labels the ‘major English poets’: ‘Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Donne in the fall; John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and TS Eliot or another modern poet in the spring’.”

Fairly heavyweight writers

However, one of the undergraduates said that while students

“’…are taught how to analyse canonical literature works’, they ‘are not taught to question why it is canonical, or the implications of canonical works that actively oppress and marginalise non-white, non-male, trans and queer people … It is possible to graduate with a degree in English language and literature by exclusively reading the works of (mostly wealthy) white men. Many students do not read a single female author in the two foundational courses for the major. This department actively contributes to the erasure of history…’.”

I’m sure many folks would heartily agree with that student’s appraisal

However, Katy Waldman, writer and Assistant Editor at Slate, has a different take

Her article is called, The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway.

A few excerpts:

“Rethinking the major’s prerequisites to reflect a wider array of perspectives, gifts, and experiences is an awesome idea.”

“Here’s the thing, though. If you want to become well-versed in English literature, you’re going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets. Like, a lot. More than eight.”

“There is a clear line to Terrance Hayes (and Frank and Claire Underwood, and Lyon Dynasty) from Shakespeare. There is a direct path to Adrienne Rich (and Katniss Everdeen, and Lyra Belacqua) from Milton. (Rich basically says as much in ‘Diving into the Wreck‘.) These guys are the heavies, the chord progressions upon which the rest of us continue to improvise, and we’d be somewhere else entirely without them.”

And, this, which, to me, seems brave:

“It is possible to graduate a lot of ways, and every English major is responsible for taking advantage of the bounty of courses the department offers to attain a full and deep education. What is not possible is to reckon with the racist, sexist, colonist poets who comprise the canon—and to transcend their failures—via a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ policy.”

Then, after listing a number of courses that Yale already has in its curriculum, (that might satisfy what the students are demanding} she says:

“…you cannot profess to be a student of English literature if you have not lingered in the slipstreams of certain foundational figures, who also happen to be (alas) both white and male: In addition to the majors listed above, Jonson, Shelley, Keats, Pound, Auden, and Frost. This is frustrating, unfair, and 100 percent nonnegotiable. (But hey, try to have some fun reading Frost? You could do so much worse!)”

What’s your take on all this?
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8 responses to “#Gender and #Writing ~ What’s Up?

  1. philipparees June 8, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    Unfortunately white and male dominate most fields in the Western progression. Its called history, philosophy, engineering, architecture, music. Lets all go looking for the black and female and create whole landscapes of education on a slim diet of political correctness. The facades of Oxford Colleges must remove tributes to Rhodes for his colonialist attitudes ( led by a Rhodes Scholar from South Africa, financed by the Rhodes foundation!), remove plaques from houses commemorating those who were the leaders of the arts and sciences in an era where neither black nor women could(or did) compete.

    The hypocrisy of all this enrages me. Not because there is not an adjusted balance to be struck, but because it strives to correct the imbalance by denying the richness with the danger of condescension. Worse than neglect in my view.


  2. juliecroundblog June 9, 2016 at 5:56 am

    I think denying history is ignorant. It is up to the students of today to add what is missing, not destroy what has gone before.


  3. Jane Watson June 9, 2016 at 10:02 am

    I think students should be exposed to all types of literature, including the historical cannon which helped to shape both men and women writers. Picasso could break the rules because he knew what the traditional rules were. In other words you can’t revolt against a style if you don’t know the style in the first place. Students should read Shakespeare and Adrienne Rich. You need to read the Bible to be able to understand the western literature of poets like Milton. That does not mean that you should only read the Bible and ignore the Koran or the Talmud or the Bhagavad Gita. To be truly educated you need to read both historical and modern and alternative literature – you don’t have to love it all but you need to know that it existed and still exists.


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