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Have the Standards of Women Writers Changed Since the Early 20th Century?

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According to a recent article, which was published in the Washington Post, the “key to literary success” is to “be a man or write like one.” This assertive quote, which was written by Julianna Baggott, a female novelist, suggests that society has an inclination of evaluating and viewing works by male and female writers differently and unduly. Since the early 20th century, women have been viewed by the eye of the public in several ways. Throughout the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith and American History, society has set static academic standards for female writers; therefore, these principles, as opposed to the varying standards of male writers, are recognized as a form of sexism (Baggott).
In the novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Francie Nolan, a growing young woman, discovers an outlet in writing. Miss Garnder, Francie’s teacher, unknowingly discourages her by expressing her views about writing, which are specifically critical towards women—such as, Francie, herself (Smith 328). Similar to Miss Garnder, society continues to view literature by female writers as less intriguing or predictably typical. “Women are supposed to be experts on emotion.” It is quite rare to hear one state “that they were surprised that a book of psychological depth was written by a woman…men get points for simply showing up on the page with literary effort.” (Baggott) This blind, yet sexist, societal prejudice was not a recent setback for women. It is an ongoing issue, which began with the development of literacy.
During the 20th century, it was very rare to see a female writer’s name in print. A majority of female writers found it difficult to attain the opportunity to publish their work. Most publishing houses were occupied by men, who depreciated the works of female writers substantially because of gender. Publishers conventionally tried to sell books and other works that would attract a large audience; popular works that would have a widespread following (Batchelor 163). Women felt the need to use pseudonyms, such as George Eliot, which was the pseudonym of a 19th century writer with the valid name of Mary Ann Evans. This idea of using a pseudonym to disguise gender is still seen today; however, the reason for doing so is often denied (Marcus). Male writers never had to hide their gender, much less their identity, in order to publish their works; nevertheless, they received praise for their accomplishments in literature. The need for female writers to occupy pseudonyms reveals only a fraction of the conflict, prejudice, and consistent standards forced upon women by society.
Much has changed in the field of publishing; however, sexist mindsets are still very common, whether it is intentional or not. Pseudonyms are often used today, as well. For example, a strikingly popular blogger and stay at home mother concealed her identity with the pseudonym of James, along with Chartrand, her valid last name. For years James Chartrand worked as a writer. She was“treated like crap... bossed around, degraded, [and] condescended to,” all while receiving a measly $1.50 for every article she had written. As soon as she decided to disguise her gender with the penname of James Chartrand, the tides quickly changed. She had received respect, and employment was instantly easier to obtain. “There was no haggling. There were compliments...Clients hired [her] quickly.” (Chartrand)
Pseudonyms may hide one’s gender; however, they strip away human dignity and individuality. Other modern day female writers, such as S.E. Hinton and J.K. Rowling, have resorted to pseudonyms in order to succeed by means of literature. Pseudonyms may be considered “the easy way out,” but under any circumstance, hardwork is a neceessity for success. (Harding) The public unfailingly sets expectations that restrict female writers to genres of sentimental value; furthermore, standards, which make literature more intriguing when written by a man, are also set.
The standards of women writers unfortunately have not changed since the early 20th century. These limitations on the effort and success of female writers will not fade away with time. Society must work to accomplish equality. This form of sexism is represented as an underlying theme during the novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, through the actions of Miss Garnder and other characters at Francie’s school. This theme of chauvinism towards female writers was subtly portrayed throughout the novel similarly to the way it actually took place during the time of the 20th Century. It is still a growing problem today; however, if society ceases the act of indifference and approaches this prejudice with open minds, this obstacle can and must be put to an end. “Prejudice is the child of ignorance.” (William Hazlitt)



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