This blog post is in response to the question concerning a lack of women published in literary journals in spite of being the majority of MFA’s.
My opinion on the subject: I think the gender bias is language centered. I think patriarchy is a strong word. There is certainly misrepresentation of women, even by women themselves.I think the root of all human passions-if I may be Biblical- is fear. Deep down everything that stirs us creates a tension based on fear. People get angry when they lose control- fear of no longer having power.The archetype of ‘Father’ is a very fearful one– fathers possess physical strength and a rough physical appearance (perhaps a beard, a deeper voice, a particular swing of the arm, the fact that fathers were only recently sharing the breadwinning with women)– how many plays like Equus are written to show that a child fears and envies his father for his masculinity, strength, controlled gait, trimmed beard. Fathers are often compared to foresters in old fairy tales and some poems too. That’s a perfect image of a father’s role stirring in the unconscious depths of the human psyche. Since poetry is all about passion, I might suggest that the Father, as the central source of ruggedness and fear– fear of being alone, fear of being overpowered, fear of being wrong and looking stupid– perhaps the masculine use of language by men stirs passions more and editors are prone to respond stronger to the primitive primal instinct. As archetypes, men are strength and woman are grace/beauty. It’s nurturing parenting vs. the push toward independence that the Father has historically represented. Freud psychoanalyzed a kid who was afraid of horses and found the root of the phobia was his nervousness about his father’s penis. Even if none of these assumptions are true, they are embedded in our history and consciousness– and we have forgotten their origins, and don’t look at them anymore. Perhaps the last twenty years, as Casey mentioned, has seen more female representation because some of the old archetypal myth has been emptied of content by our social arrangements.Fear is the root of all powerful human emotions– we are moved most strongly by it. It is deep in the coldest depths of our soul, the very root of our being– it is God itself. I appeal to Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ here in thinking that even the root of a power struggle is fear. Even the most manly man has fear– many soldiers come back from war and kill themselves, years later sometimes. A struggle awoke in them that had to be faced and their humanity wouldn’t let them resolve it. How do you move forward when the dead are behind you and you were their last face? T.S. Eliot writes this line at the end of The Wasteland– “Iyl fit you.” Fit is meant in two senses– get revenge, or oblige. We have the choice of which path we approach and what guides we take, but we will see the same difficulty and fear is always the root. I thought on Eliot’s words for years. I see it as a dualism– another natural tendency rooted in fear (‘them and us’). I wrote a poem in high school that said, “Stop the denial, my child. Some are scared of fear.” I made it into a punkish sounding song. In that poem, the Father becomes the voice of escape– how to leave fear. The Father sets his child free by unveiling the secret of his prison– he can’t acknowledge his fear. Once he acknowledges it, he can dig under it and find sources and level them. Perhaps marriage, which seems a beautiful and solid thing, is also rooted in fear. I believe a colleague of Freud’s had been married for years, and both him and his spouse started digging into psychic content until they uprooted their reason for loving each other– it was something banal, and basic, and shortly after there was a divorce. So don’t gaze longingly in the abyss because it gazes back, and it has a killing stare. Perhaps I can oblige someone by getting my revenge? Would that be a negation of Eliot’s principle? John Updike wrote that he agreed with the Old Testament that love is essentially fear. (‘Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ It also implores one to obey, sometimes to take shady commands from voices in the sky.)