- From the Editor
Discussions of women’s accomplishments in the public discourse of the United States have been dominated over the past year by responses to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential candidacy. Debates about the role of gender in her campaign, her public reception, and her policies—particularly the question of how much sexism damaged her candidacy—continue as I complete this preface, weeks after her campaign has ended and Barack Obama has become the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. Entries in this debate have ranged from empirical to visceral, from thoughtful to unthinking, some of the last sort containing unfortunate echoes of the infamous rupture between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass,1 others exhibiting a shockingly casual sort of misogyny (witness the widely televised images of Hillary Clinton nutcrackers) reminiscent of earlier times.
Preoccupied as the United States has been with presidential politics, the awarding of the Nobel Prize for literature last October to Doris Lessing—the eleventh woman to be so honored since the Prize was first awarded in 1901—occurred with relatively little comment in this country. As the editor of a journal devoted to the study of women’s writing I take particular pleasure in hearing of this award, and yet I express this satisfaction with the knowledge that Lessing herself would likely be ambivalent, at best, at being held up as an icon of women’s literary achievement. Lessing, whose early novels, especially The Golden Notebook, were embraced by many in the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s, has acquired some notoriety since the 1980s for the discomfort she has expressed with feminism, especially with her being labeled as a feminist writer.
Still, I would like to argue that Lessing fills an important role in contemporary feminist study for her very discomfort with this term. Her discontentment with “feminism” is not a postfeminist complacency that the problems of sexism are behind us. Indeed, some of the criticism she has directed at feminists focuses on the narrow applicability of feminist complaints, achievements, and goals to “privileged women in the advanced Western countries.”2 Far from conveying that concerns, for example, about women’s treatment, the opportunities afforded them, or their textual depiction are irrelevant, her comments suggest a profound frustration with the oversimplification that follows from an outlook content with labels and accusations. “Oversimplified” was, in fact, one word she used in 1982 while repudiating feminists’ efforts to claim her as their writer: “Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? [End Page 7] In fact, they do. I’ve come with great regret to this conclusion.”3 Such frustrations sharpened more recently into anger at a feminism focused on vilifying men. “Doris Lessing Attacks Feminists,” reported a BBC headline in 2001, for a speech in which Lessing criticized “the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men” so pervasive in contemporary culture.4 The headline notwithstanding, I see in these comments not an attack on feminist agendas and critiques, but rather a spurning of feminism as caricature of itself, as marketing strategy, as put-down, as tribal slogan. Her comments push us to undertake a richer, more careful articulation of what feminism is, can, and should be, especially in global context. For this reason alone, those who would call themselves feminists should recognize and thank her while we congratulate her for this most prestigious of awards.
To turn to matters more material but increasingly less concrete, I am gratified to report that over the past semester the staff of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature has continued efforts to computerize most of our operations. I have witnessed these labors with the bewildered pleasure of one who maintains something of a magical relationship to most technology, and so it would be hard for me to understate my admiration for this work. The most visible accomplishment to this end in the past few months has been the revision of our web site, completed by our advertising manager Michael Griffin with input from Courtney Spohn-Larkins. We invite you to view the results at http://www.utulsa.edu/tswl/ . Broc Randall and Michael Irion, from the University of...