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Obstacles Faced by American Women Writers

During the 17th century, there were only a few women than men who wrote for publication. Outside the social elite class, only a few women were fortunate enough to receive sufficient education that would enable them to become writers. Moreover, those who were lucky enough to access education were instructed in other areas other than the art of language. This made it extremely difficult to have female writers. Women who were gifted at writing rarely received the needed encouragement to write since at that time, the art of writing was regarded as improper for female gender by the society. Rather than engage in writing, they were expected to attend to domestic chores. Making forays into writing was viewed as inappropriate and unwelcome since this sphere was regarded as being meant for men. In this paper, an analysis of women writing in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries is discussed based on some of the historical conditions and obstacles mentioned by some of the authors from this period.

Women in the 17th and 18th centuries found it extremely difficult to express themselves in patriarchal societies that denied women opportunities to air their views. Despite the numerous obstacles intended to dissuade them from becoming writers, a few of them managed to write and publish their work. The majority of these females’ writers went a step further and wrote about topics that were regarded as unacceptable to be discussed by women. One such writer is Anne Bradstreet. The development of her writing is a clear indication that the challenges female writers faced were influenced by the support they received, mostly from the male members of the society. In the introduction provided before her poem The Prologue, we learn that she was one of the first female American writers. It is evident that her father contributed immensely to her success given that he had taught her a number of languages including Greek, French, Hebrew, and Latin. By the time she attained age 16, she was already a poet.Obstacles Faced by American Women Writers

In the 17th and 18 centuries, society did not expect to hear a woman’s voice. Women were supposed to keep quiet in an atmosphere in which they had been assigned the traditional roles. This view is supported by evidence from ‘The Prologue” which expresses the author’s voice on the position of women in the society. In the seventh stanza, Bradstreet says that “Men can do best and women know it well/ Preeminence in all and each is yours/ yet grant some small acknowledgment ours.” From these lines, it is evident that society did not regard women to be as intelligent and opinionated as men. Moreover, Bradstreet underscores the lack of support and appreciation for female writers at that time when she says that “If what I do prove well, it won’t advance; / They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance”. The lines show that women were only given credit for doing what society expected them to do. For those making forays into writing and achieving success, men would say that they were just lucky or had stolen the writing from a man. It is, therefore, evident that during the 17th century, female writers rarely got support or appreciation from society.

By the 18th century, female writers continued to experience the same problems faced by women a century earlier. Just as it had been the norm a generation earlier, only male members of the society were permitted to study. However, Fuller spent most of her early years with her father since her mother had died. This could have prompted her father, whom she describes as “a severe teacher” to raise her as if she were a boy. From her childhood, she was exposed to a wide range of literate intellect, which according to her came with a price. She says that the consequence of her father’s efforts was “a premature development of the brain that made me a “youthful prodigy” by day, and by night a victim of spectral illusions, nightmare, and somnambulism.” From the Autobiographical Sketch, it is evident that Margaret’s father gave her the freedom to read, a factor that contributed to her advanced reading compared to the rest of her classmates in school who would only play and do other things that normal children were used to. From the passage, it is evident that while Margaret’s reading and writing skills were nurtured by her father, the other children did not have such an opportunity. Therefore, the kind of support that females would receive in advancing their writing skills was a key determining factor of the extent of their success in the future.Obstacles Faced by American Women Writers

Before the start of the 18th century, women had been relegated to traditional domestic chores. As the century progressed, women began to actively take the roles that had initially been reserved for males only. Before the 1850s, female writers exerted little influence on the sphere of literature. The role of writing was reserved for men and any women who attempted to venture into it were harshly criticized by men, probably as a result of fear of competition. Most female writers felt that society had little value for the literary products that they wrote. By virtues of being women, it was extremely difficult for the female writer to publish their work in an industry that was dominated by male publishers since the society regarded women as having an inadequacy or supposed deficiencies that could not permit them to becaome writers. Around the mid-nineteenth century, however, women writers began to emerge. While before the 1850s there were only a few female writers, the period beginning from the mid-nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of these writers primarily as a result of increased movements advocating for the rights of women in America. These writers include Rebecca Harding Davis, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Louisa May Alcott.Obstacles Faced by American Women Writers

The most influential form of literature composed by women during the 19th century was the short stories written by a number of female activists that included Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Village Do Nothing, May Alcott Transcendental Wild Oats, and Rebecca Harding Davis’ Marcia. In this story, Rebecca Harding Davis, tells of how women were muted during the 19th century through either the sentiments or silence by husbands, literary traditions, and publishers. The short story depicts Marcia Barr, the heroine of the narrative, as a young female writer that refuses to conform to the society’s sentimental prototype. Davis points out that Marcia had “vowed herself to literature”, a significant metaphor given that in the mid-19th century, it was unusual to find a woman that had dedicated her life entirely to the business of authorship rather than getting married.

It is evident that during the 17th and 18th centuries, nearly all female writers whose works were published came from an elite social class. Those from less privileged class encountered more hurdles that only the persistent potential writers could overcome. Margaret Fuller, Anne Bradstreet, and Phillis Wheatley are some of the most persistent writers of the 17th and 18th century that achieved a lot of success as a result of the help that they got, especially from their immediate families. The support that they got was in the form of education. The lack of education, therefore, was a major obstacle for female writers because it denied them access to the wealth of knowledge.Obstacles Faced by American Women Writers


Work Cited

Jordan, June. “The difficult miracle of black poetry in America or something like a sonnet for Phillis Wheatley.” The Massachusetts Review 27.2 (1986): 252-262.

Showalter, Elaine, ed. The Vintage Book of American Women Writers. Vintage, 2011.