From marital infidelity to mental breakdowns, women writers have been breaking barriers with their novels for centuries. In 1899, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening met with negative controversy for its unconventional subject matter. Chopin’s decision to write about a female protagonist whose disillusionment with her marriage leads to an affair, and, ultimately, to abandoning her children, did not sit well with critics or readers. Although we remain dubious on why woman writers like Chopin felt compelled to write provocative material, we can imagine that their disdain for inequality had something to do with it.
At a time when a woman’s contentedness was of little importance, female writers took to their pens and used narrative as a cry for help. While Chopin describes living within the confines of sexual restraint in her novel, other writers, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, chose to expose the deterioration of a woman’s mental health in her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Both stories raised eyebrows for eliciting awareness among women.
Female novelists seemingly used writing as a platform where their voices could be heard, even if it meant going beyond the social norms. Could, then, we deduce that their attempt in unearthing the truth about life as a woman, helped pave the way for future writers? By expounding on such issues, these writers took storytelling to a new level – one in which we have benefited from ever since. Today, women can choose to write more openly, but they often must still break social norms to cement their place in the literary world.
The next time you reach for one of your favorite classic novels by a woman writer, remember to consider that although fiction, tucked between the pages lies a written account from a woman desperate to have you hear her story. Allow her message to resonate. And most importantly, give thanks to the women writers who broke barriers for not only equality – but for the written word.
-Tara Lynn Marta