Pioneering feminists in the arts: Joan Didion

The influence that women have in the art world is ever-growing. Women writers particularly, document exactly what it means to be a woman, and to be working in industries still dominated by men. I have a lot of love for these writers. After all, I wouldn’t have wanted to become one myself if I hadn’t […]

Amy K Brown
23rd March 2020
Image: flickr

The influence that women have in the art world is ever-growing. Women writers particularly, document exactly what it means to be a woman, and to be working in industries still dominated by men. I have a lot of love for these writers. After all, I wouldn’t have wanted to become one myself if I hadn’t read works by Jane Austen, Mary Shelley and Maya Angelou just to name a few. 

Right now, I want to bring focus to Joan Didion. Didion has been writing since the 60s, and has covered everything from novels to screenplays to journalism. I only very recently read her novel Play It As It Lays (1970) and found it to be totally weird and addicting. Her sparse writing style, although something I could never achieve myself, is brilliant. She captures an essence of womanhood, while also bringing exposure to privilege. Didion never actually showed support to the feminist movement, as it was known back then. It’s important to remember that women in the arts shouldn’t only be admired because of feminism, but because of what they do and the groundwork they lay. Didion lives and works for herself.

Her work is not anti-feminist, nor is it feminist. It just is.

Her work is not anti-feminist, nor is it feminist. It just is. Speaking as a feminist myself, there is a lot of pressure on women feminists who have platforms, to speak for all women. No one asks male writers to speak for all men, right? Hopefully we're heading into a world where all women can use their own voices, regardless of race or sexuality.

Back to Didion. She openly defied ideas of gender roles, and never felt herself to be a feminine ideal. She has even been described by those who knew her as a distant and emotionless person, which is fascinating to consider when reading her material. She didn’t fit into traditional feminine roles. In an interview for The Paris Review, she commented: “There was a kind of social tradition in which male novelists could operate… a man who wrote novels had a role in the world, and he could play that role and do whatever he wanted behind it. A woman who wrote novels had no particular role.” Didion created that role for herself, and many women writers who came after her. She always emphasised that gender roles are arbitrary, and that the key to success was not being put into a box. Instead, it was in hard-work and self affirmation.

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AUTHOR: Amy K Brown
Head of Culture. @akathrynbrwn on Twitter.

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