The topic for my final paper for Book Design is Edward Gorey. I thought I could write a paper and read books about a white male artist & writer without colluding with patriarchy and misogyny, but I’m not so sure now that I’ve come across the following lines in the book The Strange Case of Edward Gorey by Alexander Theroux:
…things that Gorey could not stand:…extreme feminism (“Women poets? Who needs this kind of anthology?”) (p. 121).
Here’s something I can’t stand: extreme misogyny, which unlike “extreme feminism” really does exist and is ever-present in toxic, patriarchal society. Since the ultimate purpose of feminism is to overthrow the ultimate evil, this oppressive and violent societal system called patriarchy—a. k. a. dominator society—there is of course no such thing as “extreme” feminism.
What could possibly be “extreme” about an anthology that acknowledges and honors women writers, in a society that is customarily dismissive toward women writers and where an anthology has to have the word “women” in the title in order to not be packed full of samples by almost all white male authors?! Oh how dare we threaten your white male egos!
Not only has Alexander Theroux ensured that I never read anything by him again, but he has also disillusioned me about Edward Gorey. I don’t expect people to be perfect, but misogynists aren’t worth my spit. I suppose I should simple take a breath and acknowledge that I can admire Edward Gorey’s art despite this. Reading about what a curmudgeonly recluse he was, I suspected that he had no grasp of interconnectedness, but this certainly confirms it in the worst way.
I’m not saying I should completely avoid art and literature by white males; I know that white male feminists exist (such as John Stoltenberg), but this experience rather makes me think I shouldn’t study up on an artist unless I know beforehand that the artist is a feminist. Exposure to misogyny and patriarchy makes me feel unclean and deeply alienated. This exposure can be, as in this case, in the form of a book I happen to be reading. Since moving to Portland, a progressive city, I have less exposure to a white male supremacist perspective, but it’s impossible to completely avoid it in present-day America. Since I have had so much exposure to patriarchy without seeking it (especially before I moved to Portland), it hardly makes sense for me to choose patriarchal books to read.
Ever since I “woke up” in college so many years ago, I have had little patience for books and people who see the world from a patriarchal perspective. Many of them eagerly gobble up patriarchy as though it were made of dark chocolate-covered raspberries while they simultaneously are, in a way, oblivious to patriarchy’s existence. Or rather, they are oblivious to the fact that patriarchy is not the only option. At the age of four, I first became aware of boys’ completely inexplicable delusions of superiority over girls; with this in mind, it sometimes amazes me that so few people get it.
Fortunately, I have a capacious and "extremely" (or should I say truly) feminist private library. I’m in the mood to pull a very different book off the shelf, such as The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women.
After writing the above, it occurs to me that maybe I shouldn’t assume that Alexander Theroux interpreted Gorey’s behavior correctly; certainly when I look at The Penguin Book of Women Poets I’m disgusted at how thin it is given the subject matter, and I believe it should be at least a hundred volumes. It’s hard to say. On one hand, Gorey was gender-bending in his choice of clothes and excess jewelry, and his favorite authors were Jane Austen and Lady Murasaki, and he was close friends with Violet Ranney (Bunny) Lang, who was apparently an eccentric feminist. On the other hand, Gorey was a white male who was born in 1925, and he was a curmudgeonly recluse (somewhat reminiscent, in lifestyle, of my extremely misogynistic and racist pack rat Uncle Buddy) who embraced individuality and clearly didn’t embrace interconnectedness.