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The Importance of Being Female

The Importance
of Being Female

There is a lot of research trying to explain how and why
women write. But there is still a long way to go.
Literary criticism has not recognized the right place
of women in literature yet.
By Nilza Amaral

"Imagine the sex among flowers, this strong stalk penetrating this red
hibiscus. Don’t be afraid to rest your hands over these strange lovers, my dear. It will
be a wonderful sensation." (The Florist)

In our times it is very difficult to state concepts. The modernity due to globalization
mixed up cultures and in fact nobody can say what defines the culture of a nation
nowadays. The word folklore has lost its real meaning. Is it good? I do not think so. The
narrowness of a national literature has little meaning today. The world has become larger
and larger. We had better speak about a world literature. Globalization advises everyone
to consider literature as a world’s possession. We have to look beyond our national
horizon; it is impossible to live a typical life in the calmness of our nation. The means
of communication will find us. The ¨big brother¨ is peeping.

However it is very true for many people, mainly for men, that literature made by women
is attached to the erotic or lascivious writing. Worse than that thought there is another
one that places the feminine literature in the rank of the cheap erotism found in those
libidinous magazines that can be bought at newsstands.

Once I heard from a critic that women who write pretend to be elegant in their writing,
trying to imitate Anaïs Nin style for example, or write in a way to demonstrate "the
supremacy of the fragile sex." Another group considers the feminine literature as a
stereotyped portrait of commonplace: a sweet home surrounded by well cultivated gardens, a
family in the proper frame, and blames the author for not making a stand on today’s
political and social problems and forgetting the cultural movement for which every writer
is responsible.

I cannot see any difference between men and women who write. Both are writers for me.
Women differ deeply in the field of impressions and ideas. Feminine impressions are very
different from those of men’s, as they reveal the interior of a feminine soul. Underneath
a tender love there is sometimes a courageous élan, a vehemence of passion and
desire often misunderstood.

It would be better to consider the literature made by women as a kind of cover for
emotions and sensations sometimes impossible to utter. In Brazil this idea of sexuality is
connected to the freedom of the sixties. At last, women were free to spread their ideas
over the world and the feminine literature since then has chosen its track between the
psychological and the erotical ones, achieving in this sense a very interesting mixture.
The correlativity between women and mystery seems to come from the Bible, thus
establishing a kind of myth hard to deal with.

In my lectures I use to say that the language sets the difference between an obscene
reading and a literary one. The choice of accurate words and the writing technique
establish the border. In fact, women had a tough time getting into literature and being
accepted socially in Brazil. The first legislation concerning the social role of women
dates from 1827 assuring them only complementary study. Although men were allowed to go to
school since 1840 women weren’t given the same right before 1876.

In the middle of the 19th century, women were still set apart from the cultural life
even from their family members’ lives. Their father decided about marriage and if they
refused the chosen husbands they were sent to a convent to be nuns. As they were to marry
at fourteen, the level of learning at school was basic. Visiting Brazil between April 1865
and July 1866, Swiss physician and naturalist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873)
wrote about women’s education in Brazil: "There is no woman that conjecturing about
the subject is unaware of a life of oppression and restraint."

Why had they to study if their life would only develop in the closed circle of their
home? Ask the male society of that time. By that time the path from home to literature was
not an easy one, even for the most tolerant and free women. What would have women to say
besides that they were born to raise children and take care of their husbands? Women were
supposed to be at the head of the house but it was only a role to play as an image of
Saint Virtuosity. From those chairs they looked like ruling the house hence carrying out
the illusion of power.

A great many women hide themselves behind masculine nicknames as George Sand for a
remote example, even though that name was always connected to Chopin. It can be
interesting but looks like fake. Nowadays there are a great number of women who write in
Brazil, but they have already experienced how hard it is to publish. Men for the most part
say that women write for leisure, to waste their free time and should not be taken
seriously.

In 1922, during the Semana de Arte Moderna, Tarsila do Amaral, Oswald de Andrade’s
wife, introduced Patrícia Galvão to the intellectual society as a writer. She was only
12 and later she would be better known as Pagu. Oswald de Andrade was the leader of the
cultural movement and Patrícia Galvão would become Andrade’s next wife. Her first book
was written in 1931 and published two years later under the nickname of Mara Lobo.

It is said that Pagu was someone important at that time because she was a journalist
involved with politics. She was important mostly for her journalistic chronicles in the
column named "The woman of the People,"— meaning masses. She was published
in a newspaper together with Oswald de Andrade. In 1931, the publication was closed by the
police after quarrels between journalists and students from the São Paulo Law School.

Later on, activist Pagu was arrested in France and coming back to Brazil remained in
prison for five years from 1935 to 1940. She was connected to the Workers’ Party and to
communism. She continued writing and classified women in classes. According to
Pagu’s categories, the mares of the same pedigree were unproductive and futile. We
can say that Pagu was essentially the first feminist politically correct in Brazil.

Women who write are always constructing new paths, trying to find a feminine identity.
Clarice Lispector, a Jewish writer born in the Ukraine, living in Brazil, in his novel A
Hora da Estrela talks about poverty and lack of identity that most women in Brazil
suffer. Her heroine, Macabea, comes from an arid region to Rio de Janeiro to live in
complete poverty. She lives on the fringes of society due to her ignorance and illiteracy
and draws inspiration from Hollywood star Marylyn Monroe, whose fading picture decorates
her wall. Through Macabea the writer describes a woman’s destiny.

There is a lot of research trying to explain how and why women write. But there is
still a long way to go. Literary criticism has not recognized the right place of women in
literature yet. In an effort to change this state of affairs we decided to found REBRA
(Rede de Escritoras Brasileiras—Brazilian Women Writers Network) a non-governmental,
non-profitable organization (NGO) that assembles and renders service to women writers in
Brazil and helps them to establish themselves as professionals.

Founded on a Woman’s International Day, on March 8, 1999, REBRA intends to rectify the
great injustice that women writers in particular and Brazilian women in general have
suffered and continue to suffer besides being excluded from the historical records of our
society.

We have made a public commitment to literature, culture and social justice,
understanding that the ideas expressed in written have the power to change human society.
I dare even say that if reading a book does not change a reader behavior in any way the
reading was useless. We have observed that society has changed completely by means of what
is written by their women.

We work in cooperation with a worldwide organization headquartered in the United
States, the WWWORLD (Women’s World Organization of Culture, Literature and Development).
In Latin America, we work in partnership with RELAT (Rede de Escritoras LatinoAmericanas)
with head offices in Peru, which acts in South America and Mexico. Our guidelines are as
follows:

1—To permanently defend women’s universal rights.

2—To permanently defend human beings’ rights to free expression.

3—To enable the exercise of solidarity and fraternity with no restrictions
whatsoever.

4—To promote respect and preservation of the Humanity culture assets in Brazil and
abroad.

5—To promote respect and preservation of the planet’s environment.

6—To repudiate any form of violence to human life.

7—To publicly repudiate any form of prejudice, tacit or explicit to the female
gender.

8—To repudiate any form of color, race, faith and gender prejudice.

9—To fight for justice and equality envisaging the well being of the human race.

All who agree with and share these same ideals are invited to visit our homepage and
become more familiar with our work.

Lygia Fagundes Telles, Nelida Piñon, and Rachel de Queiroz, all of them famous
authors, are our honorable members. Late Clarice Lispector as well as Lygia Fagundes
Telles are believed to have had profound influence on women writers in Brazil this
century. 

Regarding literature made by women there is another important fact: after having
published the writer is often forgotten. Despite being published the book disappears.
There are no reviews, the book is dead. This was valid in the past and continues to be
true today. Great women writers appeared as meteors that brightened the skies for a brief
period and then disappeared for good.

Nowadays Brazil has a good team of women authors writing poetry and prose in a variety
of styles and themes. I would like to mention Hilda Hilst, "the forgotten poet,"
as she calls herself. She’s been interviewed constantly though by important magazines that
deal with literature. A team of first-class writers goes on producing masterpieces, as
Adelia Prado, a housewife whose writing from my viewpoint is associated with a devilish
religiosity.

Analyzing my last novel, O Florista (The Florist) a critic commented: "The
author describes Tulipa, the heroine, as a woman who wants to be the owner of her body and
her desires, breaking up the usual convention the readers put on women." I partly
agree when he says that readers expect to find a placid story or a family saga when they
read a book written by a woman.

Discrimination is a dangerous word. Whether written by men or women, literature should
be considered art and should not be subject to prejudice that would hinder the freedom of
expression. I would like to stress that first impressions must be revised since there is
no universal truth nowadays. Everything may be changed, even the speed of light.
Concerning art there is no genetical license to exist.

Nilza Amaral is a Brazilian writer. She has published The Day
of the She-Wolves, Love in a Zafron Field, Modus Diabolicus, The Estóica
Balad and The Florist. She belongs to Rebra (http://rebra.org)
and UBE (www.utopia.com.br). You can reach
her at nilzamar@osite.com.br 

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