Check out Purvi Shah’s work for VIDA on the unbearable white maleness of poetry and the economy of Best American Poetry: “…[I]t is shocking to put these two facts together: 1) in his language, Hudson used an Asian American woman’s name to place his poems; 2) there has been only 1 identifiable woman of color editor and 0 Asian American editors of the Best American Poetry series. It is abysmal when poetry, which could be the most democratic of art forms, is reinforced as the locus of the privileged White male.”
We asked our regular contributors to write about the feminist books that they love—books that struck a chord, for one reason or another, books they couldn’t put down, that they’ll never donate, that are underlined and dog-eared and bookmarked eternally, that you can maybe borrow, but you most definitely have to give back. Here’s Caolan on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale:
I last read these books on my Kindle, which promptly broke; here I am with the broken title page of the Ballantine e-book of The Mists of Avalon.
I wanted to talk about these two books together because, for me, they’re two sides of the same coin. Marion Zimmer Bradley‘s The Mists of Avalon (1983) is a feminist revision of the King Arthur mythos, but also a reconstruction of a dreamed-of matriarchal prehistory; Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) is a feminist dystopian nightmare. In one novel, a society of priestess-revering, Goddess-fearing, woman-respecting Picts and Celts—everybody smeared in woad, wreathed in holly, rising with the sun and running with the deer—is slowly but inevitably crushed by the cold patriarchal grip of early Christianity, with its tyrannical, sex-negative priests making sure that every woman is the property of a man, and/or an illiterate virgin. In the other, a society of somewhat troubled but reasonably happy white North American 70s feminists—a lot of hairy armpits, conflicting attitudes about sex work, militant second-wave moms with casual, complacent daughters—is suddenly and terrifyingly crushed by the cold patriarchal grip of televangelist-style fundamentalist Christianity, as a military coup restructures the US as a theocracy, sends infertile women and feminist rabble-rousers and various other traitors to their deaths in radioactive work camps, and redistributes fertile nonbelievers as property—”handmaids”—to creepy powerful old couples, with whom they are expected to conceive and bear children in creepy sex rituals that physically involve the creepy old husbands and vicariously involve the creepy old wives. Both scenarios were projections—forward or backward—from the real world of the early 1980s, from actual evidence: The Mists of Avalon is a theological-historical-anthropological back-formation, a brilliantly orchestrated reconciliation of 20th-century Wiccan rituals and speculations about the historical Arthur and pseudoarchaeology about actual ruins on the British isles and conflicting medieval French texts and folktales, while the horrors of The Handmaid’s Tale are rooted in contemporary struggles over reproductive justice and women’s rights and the rhetoric of the newly powerful religious right in the US, not to mention the swiftness with which women’s lives were changing in Iran under the Ayatollah, or rather the swiftness with which so many regimes (including our own!) associated nationalism or political stability with women’s subordination. Continue reading