8 Women Whose Work Persisted, Nevertheless
When it comes to books I'm pretty unbiased.
If you have pages and words inside, I'm interested in you.
But I do have preferences and tendencies. I prefer books with strong female leads and I tend to read more books written by women. I identify with rebellious, stubborn protagonists and I admire brilliant, disciplined writers, who write because they are compelled to, no matter what obstacles stands between them and their work.
With that said, what I present to you are 8 books by women, of women, who have had to persist in some way against an obstacle or oppressor. Whether that woman be the author herself, or the characters she penned, each has had to struggle and fight to be heard - but heard they have been, nevertheless.
1. Judith Butler
Descendant of Jewish immigrants, Judith Butler was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1956. A brilliant 21st century philosopher and queer theorist, Butler is best known for dismantling the construct of gender in her work Gender Trouble. While the book was widely praised and is still a foundational text in many queer theory & women's studies courses, Gender Trouble also faced aggressive opposition by highly outspoken and visible politicians and religious figures. Her arguments on gender were even addressed by Pope Benedict XVI before getting elected into the papacy. Despite divisive receptions to her writing, Butler persists in her pursuit of justice & understanding by continuing to pen influential, challenging, thought provoking works such as Who sings the nation-state?: language, politics, belonging and Senses of the Subject.
2. Marian Erle from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Marian is not the protagonist of Aurora Leigh; Aurora is. And Aurora persists against sets of very real challenges: namely, being a writer and a poet during Victorian times when a woman's role was not typically seen beyond the confines of wife, sister, or mother. However, it is not Aurora who interests me most Browning's tale, it's Marian Erle. Born into abuse, she was sold into prostitution at a young age and lived in misery until being discovered one day by the male protagonist of the novel, Romney Leigh. Romney eventually asks for Marian's hand in marriage, but, their union is thwarted by one Lady Waldemar, who's actions cast Marian into hiding, where she finds herself in a brothel and pregnant from assault. In spite of her extreme misfortunes, Marian persists in trying to find happiness for herself and her unborn child, and ultimately does so by the end of the novel, in a surprising twist I can't say more about... only that Marian's refusal to bow to social expectation is far braver and courageous than anything Aurora sets out to do. Just saying.
3. Frida Kahlo
Born in Coyoacán, Mexico in 1907, Frida Kahlo is one of the most well-known artists of all time. Her work has been reproduced into any object you can imagine, and postcards and handmade crafts with her fill museum gift shops and local haunts alike. Her incredible canon of work includes paintings, writings, photography, and more. Political activist and painter, Frida created her body of work while living with daily pain; a burden she would carry with her until the day she died. Caused by a horrible bus accident in 1925, Frida's body was nearly broken in half after an iron handrail impaled her through her pelvis, and left her with several other broken bones & fractures. Throughout the course of her life, Kahlo's body would be the source of great inspiration, but also great pain. Nevertheless, she created, and her body of work is among some of the most treasured pieces in the globe.
4. Bessie Head
Born in South Africa to interracial parents whose union was illegal in the country, Bessie Head faced harrowing racism growing up. Her mother committed suicide when Head was still a child, and she was sent to live in a mission orphanage for the remainder of her childhood. Living in poverty most of her life, Head persisted in her writing nevertheless, and her body of work includes meaningful works such as When Rain Clouds Gather, and a Question of Power. Known after her death as Botswana's most prominent writer, Head only gained the recognition she deserved after her passing, but, lack of recognition never stopped her from producing & creating.
5. Gloria Andzaldua
Growing up in a Texas border-town, Anzaldua faced harsh discrimination as a Tejana woman living in the Southwest. Stunted in growth by a endocrine condition she was born with, Anzaldua began menstruating at the age of 6, and had to wear girdles made by her mother to hide her developed figure. Leveraging these physical and bodily experiences that haunted her from her youth, Anzaldua became one of the most prominent Latinx & Xicana writers & thinkers of our time. Most famously known for her groundbreaking work La Frontera, Anzaldua gave voice and thought to the mestiza.
6. Simon de Beauvoir
I've gushed about Simon before - but let me take just a moment to acknowledge her persistence to continue to write and become one of the most widely known and consulted theorists on existential thought & feminist theory, despite being discriminated against for being a woman, and constantly have to fight against being seen as second fiddle to her contemplative counterpart Jean Paul Sartre.
7. Virginia Woolf
Suffering from mental illness and depression her entire life, Woolf's greatest obstacle was herself. Institutionalized at a young age following the deaths of her parents, Woolf also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her half brothers, George & Gerald Duckworth. Woolf would continue to experience nervous breakdowns for the remainder of her life that would often result in her seclusion, affecting her emotional and mental happiness, but never her literary ambitions. Known today as one of the most prominent modernist writer's of her time, Woolf's work made a great impact on contemporary studies of the modernist genre.
8. Can Xue
Born in the Hunan Province of China in 1953, Xue's life is marked by a series of hardships and deaths from her childhood that influenced all of her written works. Working in a series of hard labor positions that included metalworking, Xue wouldn't begin writing until 1983, but would publish her first piece of writing in 1985, just two years later. Her abstract and minimalist writing style has garnered international attention and intrigue, as not all readers of her work find her writing comprehensible in its layered and experimental form, yet she has a dedicated following of readers to her still growing body of work.