A Brief History of Pandering

Claire-Vaye-Watkins

Claire Vaye Watkins’s essay “On Pandering,” about how much her writing has been influenced by a desire for the approval of the “white male lit establishment,” caused such a frenzy that it crashed Tin House’s website. Responses rapidly appeared at Salon, Jezebel, Flavorwire, Slate, and the LA Times, with more to come, surely. . .

Thus begins an essay I wrote for The Rumpus, “A Brief History of Pandering.” I wrote it because while reading Watkins’s Tin House piece, I had a strong feeling of déjà vu. As I explain, “The practice of looking to white male writers for models and validation has been for centuries the surest way for those on the margins to gain credibility.”

Woolson etching

Constance Fenimore Woolson is a prime example, as I show. Yet Woolson also challenged male writers’ versions of realism in her fiction. She wasn’t a passive mirror. She tried to change their attitudes toward their female characters, in particular, and created a more empathetic realism that has not been fully recognized. I’m hoping this piece will contribute to the important debate Watkins has initiated and introduce Woolson to new readers.  As I argue, “Erasing women writers like Woolson carries immense implications. It creates an environment ripe for the continued marginalization and silencing of women’s voices today.”

Read more at The Rumpus.

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