Western's Caucus on Women's Issues

Essay Awards > Essay Award Winners 2007


Elan Paulson

"Digital Editing As Feminist Literary Adaptation"

Second Place:

Carolyn Hill

"A Feminist Invitation: A Painted Response to Feminist Invitations"


Digital Editing As Feminist Experimental Literary Adaptation  

      In the past few decades, feminist critics have made significant contributions to and rich cross-pollinations with the field of textual studies. Scholars such as Brenda R. Silver, Julia Flanders, and Ann Thompson have incorporated feminist theory into their critiques of the hierarchical and excluding logic underpinning mainstream textual theory and editing practices. Other textual scholars, however, are cynical about these recent interventions. For instance, in an article that questions the legitimacy of feminist textual studies, Laurie Maguire, attempts to describe how feminist “combative politics” (71), first asserted in the 1970s, become “a statement of the obvious in the 1980s, a truth universally acknowledged in the 1990s, and a cliché in the twenty-first century” (71). This belief that feminism aims to be “cliché,” or normative, textual scholarship, however, recovers the very centre/margin dualist rhetoric that many contemporary feminists challenge. Feminist bibliographers and editors who support a politics of difference promote decentred, relational, and multiple approaches to textual studies, continuously interrogating all forms of unexamined “cliché” in the field. This paper explores how a theoretical framework of feminist experimental writing and adaptation criticism might be useful in re-visioning[1] the process of feminist digital editing as a form of creative literary adaptation. In addition to producing more “feminist” editions that are yet conventional in their linear page design, feminist editors might also consider how experimental editing may subvert dominant editing conventions. In re-seeing digital editing as a practice of creative adaptation, feminist editors perform a re-making of the texts that they transform. Just as experimental writing enacts literary criticism while transgressing its traditional forms, so too might the editor’s use of new media help to produce dynamic digital adaptations of print literature that imaginatively perform and reinforce the editor’s own particular feminist approach and editing methods.

            While feminist approaches to textual studies are obviously multiple and diverse, in the introduction to Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, editors Robyn C. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl explain that, “Feminist critics generally agree [...] that feminist literary criticism plays a worthwhile part in the struggle to end oppression in the world outside of texts” (x).  To disrupt the patriarchal privileging of notions such as essence and sameness that construe women as objects, feminists often read marginalized, non-normative and transgressive writing practices by women as creating moments of literary/textual difference. Working within this transgressive mode, feminists often also make strategic alliances in order to challenge existing power structures that compartmentalize and value unequally diverse knowledges and experiences. For example, feminist textual and literary scholars often agree that cross-field criticism and trans-genre writing practices promote experimental and thus subversive ways to create, examine, and edit texts. Editors Laura Hinton and Cynthia Hogue explain that feminist experimental writers aim to “foster dialogue, explore interfaces and thresholds,” and “augment new reading practices” with their textual play (6-7). The editors characterize experimental writing as feminist because they argue that it transgresses fixed, hierarchical, and discrete ways of thinking about texts and gendered subjects in texts. They also explain that feminist experimental writers use textual innovations to “investigate racial-sexual differences in material society that dominant constructs cover up, creating women’s texts that proffer ways of seeing the unseen, looking at the unlooked at” (5). Like feminist writers and literary critics, feminist editors may use experimental editing strategies to expose how cultural and textual structures re-inscribe and cover up the “logic” of discrimination and exclusion circulating in the economy of mainstream textual studies.       

            Just as critics argue that feminist experimental writing exposes cultural mechanisms that perpetuate social inequalities, recent adaptation critics interrogate traditional models of adaptation studies that have marginalized the genre of adaptation. In her book-length critical study, novel to film adaptation critic Sarah Cardwell problematizes issues of origin and fidelity that constitute the long-dominant comparative approach to adaptation. The comparative method views adaptations, or “target” texts, as extending directly from a source, or “origin,” text and it also privileges the author’s “true” intentions over the adaptor’s mere  ”re-interpretation” of the source text (10). In this comparative view, adaptations are understood as little more than corrupted or diluted versions of the source text; it reifies hierarchical categories of authorship and originality, discretely separating (and devaluing) the copy from its source text, the adaptor from the source text author, and interpretive criticism from original creative fiction.

            In contrast, the more pluralist approach to adaptation that Cardwell theorizes is cued by Roland Barthes’ notion of intertextuality, that the text is composed of multiple quotations drawn from many cultural sources (160). If the source text itself is not one but many (inter)texts, then from a non-comparative view the adapted text undermines the source author’s intentionality as the basis for interpretation (McFarlane 21). The strength of this non-comparative approach lies in what McFarlane calls its “decentredness” as well as its ability to place adaptations in what Cardwell observes as “a far wider cultural context than that of an origin-version relationship” (25). Cardwell advocates this pluralist approach because it re-sees adaptation “as the gradual development of a ‘meta-text’” (25), rather than as a hierarchical privileging of a source text over other texts related to it.

            For instance, Marilyn Hoder-Salmon views her screenplay version of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) simultaneously as a critical adaptation and as a creative source text. Hoder-Salmon explains that her dramatic adaptation of Chopin’s fiction “[t]akes the genre [of adaptation] a step further by illustrating that a critic […] may […] use the process of adaptation as an interpretation of the original source” (Preface x). The author’s adaptation as interpretation, or “creative criticism,” approach redefines the genre of adaptation not as subsidiary to the genre of creative fiction, but as a form of feminist criticism of a source text that yet maintains its own “elegant, even poetic” original creative aesthetic (x).  

            Cardwell’s criticism of the hierarchical comparative view of adaptation resembles Brenda Silver’s reconsideration of the politics of adaptation as she edits Virginia Woolf’s fiction manuscripts. Just as Cardwell proposes and Hoder-Salmon demonstrates, Silver similarly redefines the adaptation as an embodied textual performance that carries no less authority or meaning than its source text. Silver believes that, even when they cross media forms, adaptations are not “subsidiary or marginal to the ‘original,’” but rather should be conceived as “texts with the same status as any other text in the ongoing, historical construction of a composite, palimpsestic work” (58). Like Cardwell, Silver views the adapted text as defined by its multiple intertexts. Silver assembles and edits Woolf’s writing not as individual and isolated extant versions, but as contextualized by her entire corpus of manuscript texts.  

            And, in fact, just as adaptation interprets a source text, so too might we re-see editing as a form of adaptation as well. In her formulation of the feminist politics of editing as adapting, Silver references gender performance theory, explaining that “various versions exist as materially as the bodies that are gendered through performative acts, and the way [versions] are enacted, received, and policed can have a material impact on the way we teach and write and live” (61). Silver exposes how the adaptation, and the relationship between versions or adaptations, are performed (and regulated) by medium and form, visual and textual structure, literary content, editorial intervention, and readerly engagement. Just as Hoder-Salmon’s screenplay adaptation literally performs its author’s interpretation, so to do editors adapt the source text by adding their own apparatus, including emendations, annotations, commentaries, indexes, lists of intertexts, etc. The editor’s work is performative in that that his/her textual apparatus enact and police the text’s reproduction and interpretation.

            Moreover, as feminist experimental writing and pluralist adaptation criticism expose and critique the unseen hierarchical and dualist rhetoric underpinning dominant literary and critical discourses, feminist digital textual scholars have revealed how patriarchal editing concepts conceal but maintain the illusion that the editor “objectively” reveals the author’s “true” intentions. In her gendered critique of digital textual editing, Julia Flanders, in her article “The Body Encoded,” explains that textual theory draws on a binary power structure that locates control with the editor who, as she describes, is “a source of intention sufficient to preside over every detail of a work that is to be considered a work of literary art” (131). In print editions, the editor’s authority has been justified by the convention of the “best text” concept, or what Flanders calls the “myth of the lost original” (130). The inherently masculine essence of the author’s true text cannot be materially realized, as its very—gendered female—physical matter inevitably corrupts the transcendent and universal meaning of the text, intended by the author. The editor’s “duty” is thus to restore the text to the author’s ideal form, to preserve the text’s “chastity,” which reinforces the patriarchal fallacy of a need for the editor’s gate keeping to manage the text (129).

            Later in her article Flanders reformulates digital literary reproduction not as a duty of restoration of an original text but as a creative act of adaptation, of intertextuality, for even for a mimetic textual representation on the computer screen, the digital text format requires adding tag sets to the body of the text. This coding process can present the visual presentation of a text, as with HTML tag sets, or it can describe the text semantically using XML tag sets.  Flanders argues that “semantic tagging definitely alters the meaning of the text” because the editor decides how the page contents will be interpreted, while the act of tagging physically “add[s] [additional] text to the xml layer of the text in the form of annotations” (136). The particular historical and material conditions of the digital text and the editor’s semantic tagging at the transcription level create a performative electronic version of the edited and transformed print source text.           

            Following Flanders’ logic in the context of feminist experimental writing and pluralist adaptation criticism, I believe that because the digital transmission process incorporates other texts and apparatus, such as HTML or XML tag sets, DTDs, and style sheets, each digital textual reproduction may be re-conceived as a creative literary adaptation. Following Cardwell and Silver’s revised views of adaptation theory, I propose that each digital version of a print source text has its own value as a uniquely transcribed text, in which the descriptive and/or semantic tagging alters and adapts the source text. Thus, the feminist literary and textual criticism assembled here together promotes a re-vision of the critical edition as an adaptation; like feminist experimental writing, Flanders’ feminist digital textual studies criticism reveals how the editorial process and digital technologies that transform codex texts also enact and regulate the digital text’s visual presentation as well as the user’s level of interaction with it.

             These recent seismic shifts in the status of the adapted text and the authority of the adaptor have blurred the boundaries that distinguish the author, editor, adaptor, and user as the primary source of literary meaning-making. To once more draw upon experimental writing criticism, Loss Pequeño Glazier explains in Digital Poetics that Western culture’s (post)modern condition has encouraged a greater “awareness of the conditions of texts” (1), while digital technology allows for more user interaction with texts, realizing the reader’s position as a Barthesian “writerly reader.” Glazier believes that early twentieth century experimental poetry and contemporary digital texts share some overlapping tendencies, particularly “the same focus on method, visual dynamics, and materiality” (1). Thus, just as experimental writing of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries continues to encourage readers to “become contingent producers of our own texts” (Hinton and Hogue 5-6), feminist editors explicitly acknowledge their role in co-producing women’s writing in the form of critical editions. Moreover, editors have capitalized on the ever-increasing dynamism of digital technology to create multiple entry points into, and user-directed navigational processes across, digitized literary texts. Because twentieth century modernist and postmodernist poetics share a concern with investigating the literary and graphic dynamics and effects of linking, metonymy, fragmentation, and non-linear reading processes, experimental poetry is in what Glazier explains as “the perfect position to inform digital practices” (92-93), which in my view includes digital editing practices as well.

            This use of poetics to inform digital practices is timely because, as editors Peter Stoicheff and Andrew Taylor explain in their essay anthology The Future of the Page, the traditional printed page, since before the Enlightenment, has reinforced linear and hierarchical epistemic structures that have determined the way that readers tend to prioritize information, and, subsequently, how information has been presented on digital web pages. “If websites still tend to reproduce the features of medieval page design,” as Stoicheff and Taylor explain, “they do so because these features have become fully integrated with our habits of thought and with the structures of academic publishing. This means,” the authors say further, “that there are many good reasons for doing things the same old way and that it will be exceedingly difficult to do things differently” (9). Although the authors do not discuss this “tyranny” of the hierarchical and linear page in explicitly gendered terms, the feminist criticism that I have gathered clearly shows that “doing things the same old way” recovers rather than contests the patriarchal structures that inform conventional (digital) page design. As Glazier recommends the transformative capacity of visual and concrete poetry for digital poetics, Stoicheff and Taylor describe new media as offering productive and multi-modal alternatives to hierarchical and linear page design. “The digital page,” the authors write, “now encourages a nonlinear progression through a text, which in turn has begun to reshape how literary texts, written for the digital platform, are conceived and structured” (13). By restructuring codex source texts using dynamic digital features—such as three-dimensional graphics and other highly interactive designs—digital editors may expose concealed epistemological structures that guide readers’ interpretive habits.

            These defamiliarizing digital features can be read, furthermore, as productive editing tools for the feminist digital editor, who may consciously deploy them in order to encourage the user to re-think through not only the production of texts but also the politics that underscore digital (re)production. The moment at which the editor employs dynamic digital editing tools to reveal the editor’s subjective interpretive and adaptive practices also allows feminist digital editions of literature to be re-seen as feminist experimental literary adaptations. If a digital transcription of a text necessarily includes the editor’s own tagged additions, then instead of concealing her decisions in a hierarchical, two-dimensional page design that replicates established interpretive patterns, feminist editors might instead explore ways of explicitly re-making their editions with experimental editing practices. By practicing experimental editing, feminist editors expose established editing processes that support yet conceal the (often privileged) subject position of the editor as “gatekeeper” of the text, and would also promote creative cross-discipline experimentation that draws from feminist theory, digital poetics and editing practices. Moreover, if digital archives of women’s writing offered creative adaptations alongside the mimetically reproduced source texts, the different renderings of the source text would further reinforce a feminist politics of difference by offering multiple yet related critical and creative adaptations of a text.

            Feminist Shakespearean editor Ann Thompson explains that as editors, “we cannot stand outside the ideological baggage we carry, though we can at least attempt to be aware of the preconceptions and prejudices that may affect our interpretation” (89). The current lack of creative digital literary adaptations of women’s writing at this time reveals through their absence how editors yet seem to favour protecting the mimetic or “universal” design of the digital edition or archive.[2] In re-seeing digital reproduction as also capable of enacting feminist criticism, new ways of engendering such theory become possible. This does mean merely supplanting mimetic versions with dynamic ones, which would only invert the rhetorical hierarchy, but perhaps editors may instead aim to create, as Flanders writes, “textual resources which fulfill the purposes which we most care about” (135). And what many feminist scholars care about is extending legitimacy to marginalized texts, authors, and approaches to literary (re)production. Feminist textual scholars may productively articulate feminist and other minority agendas not only by acknowledging their subject positions at the outset of their digital editions, but also by performing their own feminist approach to editing/adapting literary texts.

Works Cited and Consulted

Andrews, William. “Editing Minority Texts.”  The Margins of the Text. Ed. D.C.         Greetham. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1997. 45-56.

Barthes, Roland. Image, Music, Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang,          1977.

British Women Romantic Poets: 1789-1832. University of California, Davis. 03 03 07                http://digital.lib.ucdavis.edu/projects/bwrp/index.htm

Flanders, Julia. “The Body Encoded: Questions of Gender and the Electronic Text.”      Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory. Ed. Kathryn Sutherland. Oxford, Clarendon P, 1997. 127-43.

Emory Women Writers Project. Emory University. 03 03 07   http://chaucer.library.emory.edu/wwrp/

Groden, Mike. “Contemporary Textual and Literary Theory.” In Representing Modernist

               Texts: Editing as Interpretation, ed. George Bornstein. Ann Arbor: University         of Michigan Press, 1991, pp. 259-286.

Hoder, Salmon, Marilyn. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Screenplay as Interpretation.        Gainsville: University of Florida, 1992.

Hinton, Laura & Cynthia Hogue, Eds. We Who Love to Be Astonished: Experimental            Women's Writing and Performance Poetics. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2002.

Karpinska, Aya. “arrival of the bee-Box.” Technekai. 03 03 07.           http://www.technekai.com/box/index.html

Literary Works by Women. University of Maryland. 03 03 07



Maguire, Laurie E. “Feminist Editing and the Body of the Text.” A Feminist Companion

            to Shakespeare. Ed. Dympna Callaghan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000. 59-79.

McFarlane, Brian. Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. Oxford:      Clarendon, 1996.

Plath, Sylvia. The Collected Poems. Ed. Ted Hughes, Harper Perennial, 1981.

Silver, Brenda R. "Textual Criticism as Feminist Practice:  Or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Part II." in Representing Modernist Texts. Ed. George Bornstein. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1991. 259-86.

---. “Whose Room of Orlando’s Own? The Politics of Adaptation.” The Margins of    the Text. Ed. D.C. Greetham. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 199757-82

Stoicheff, Peter and Andrew Taylor. “Introduction.” The Future of the Page. Toronto: U         of Toronto P, 2004.

Thompson, Ann. “Feminist Theory and the Editing of Shakespeare: The Taming of the   Shrew Revisited.” The Margins of the Text. Ed. D.C. Greetham. Ann Arbor: U    of Michigan P, 1997. 83-104.

The Victorian Women Writers Project. Indiana University. 03 03 07 http://www.indiana.edu/~letrs/vwwp/

Warhol, Robyn C. and Diane Price Herndl. “Introduction.” Feminisms: An Anthology of         Literary Theory and Criticism. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers UP, 1997.

Women Writers - Electronic Text Centre. University of Virginia.


[1] My use of the word re-visioning, and the visual metaphors that resonate throughout the essay, are resonant of Adrienne Rich’s emphasis in “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision” on her own experimental textual play, the revisionary/adaptive mode in which she discusses Ibsen’s play, “When We Dead Awaken,” and her interrogation and re-vision of issues of canonicity, a dominant discourse that deeply influences both literary and textual theories and practices. “[U]ntil we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched,” Rich writes, “we cannot know ourselves” (604).

[2] See Works Cited and Consulted for a few representative examples of mimetic or quasi-facsimile digital reproductions of women’s writing, such as the Emory Women’s Writing Project and the Victorian Women Writers Project.


Second Place

 Feminist Invitation: A Painted Response to Feminist Invitations

In her poem Feminist Invitations[1], Kristen Warder invites the reader to reflect on the feeling of “otherness” which places her outside the heterosexual norm and on the source of anger which infuses its expression.  In particular, the offer is made to explore the feeling of alienation of the lesbian poet within a classroom of feminists. The poem invites the reader to consider the need for inclusive content in feminist pedagogy and to reflect on how anger can be transformed to facilitate mutual respect amongst all women. To respond to the invitation, the reader must recognize that the expression of anger is a tool to energize effective change in the institutions and assumptions which underline our daily experience.

My painting responds to the issue of content in feminist pedagogy by the use of metaphors to trace the development of a body of feminist thought and study. In addition, the painting records my initial personal response to the poem. In identifying the anger which informed this response, I have been afforded an opportunity to use that information and energy[2] to express the place and time in which I find myself as a woman and as an advocate for feminism.

In order to relate the ways in which Warder’s poem informed my painting, it is helpful to review the message of Warder’s poem and the tools with which her meaning is conveyed. 

Warder begins her poem by identifying the source of her anger: “there have been some complaints about the lesbian content in this class”. The messenger is identified only as “she”, a term both specific in its gender and vague enough to be an “any/every” woman designation; possibly a representative of the teaching academy. In the course of the six separate stanzas, Warder then elaborates on her response to this message. 

In the second stanza, the poet uses the metaphor of “Eyes”: “Eyes peering embarrassed for me for Themselves”. Both the capitalization and the image bring to mind the “dominant gaze” which regulates and defines our behaviour and identity[3]. The play on the word “I”s, the plural form of “I”, emphasizes the way that Warder is reconstructing the heterosexual practice of language in poetry, where “I” assumes a heterosexual bias.  This emphasis through word play makes the assumption recognized and explicit.[4] In the same stanza she states her position: “I Refuse”.  The double meaning of “refuse” in this assertion serves to state a categorical refusal to hide her response and a setting apart of her position as refuse, that is, abject or outside the accepted norm.[5]  The visual cues of word fragmentation, irregular lines and patterns serve to demonstrate the fragile nature of her condition, her multiple selves, “cra ckin g” to the point of breaking.  In this stanza, Warder makes reference to the uselessness of guilt as a response to anger, a theme consistent with the works of Audre Lord, one of her named “top Ten Feminists” (166).  Audre Lord has written extensively about the use of anger transformed from silence into language as a tool to communicate across differences and gain understanding between peers.  Neither the lack of ability to identify with the experience of being oppressed in a certain way, nor the retreat into guilt is condoned by Lorde as an appropriate audience response.  Rather, she exhorts her audience to listen to and recognize the differences in contexts and living experiences of women and others marginalized by race, class, and sexual orientation (128).  This is behind Warder’s statement that:  “…exile can never be rectified by guilt.”

In the third stanza, Warder builds on her position outside the world that does has forced her to withdraw and voices her lack of identification with “this world”. She feels pride in finding herself outside the norm.  In this way her identity as “other” is established. The binary of the “normal” and “not normal” is reiterated. She is defined by what she is not[6].  In this stanza, she makes specific reference to the title of her poem: Feminist Invitations. She refers to “this class full of feminist invitations to pretend” (ie. everyone is part of the heterosexual norm).

The fourth stanza is used to describe how the “norm” is perceived from her outsider position.  While still not complaining, she identifies the compulsory heterosexual assumptions which underlie the images and language she confronts everywhere.  The relentlessness of this message is emphasized by the run-on list of sources and phenomena where heterosexuality is assumed as the “norm”.  She has not complained about this assumption because she does not want to condemn it: “because love is something to celebrate”, but she adds in the same phrase “and not just Your love”.  The capitalization of the possessive pronoun serves to emphasize again the dominance of the presumption of heterosexuality in the institutional patriarchy of her daily experience[7].

The fifth stanza is a transition in the poem where the reader and the “You” of the poem is addressed in capital letters.  The anger of Warder’s experience as an “outsider” is unleashed.  She demands to become visible, for her identity to be recognized.  She concedes that the “Eyes” have recognized her but not as anything other than an aberration of the norm.  In a list of expressions of intolerance and ignorance, she relates the misunderstanding she, as a lesbian, has endured. Wistfully she allows for hope that it might be different “Someday”.

The sixth stanza asks for support from someone.  This person is a particular individual (the ‘you’ hiding at the back of the class in a dress) but it is possibly the reader.  In any event the “you” is not capitalized and is therefore neither threatening nor part of the “Your” world. The expression of anger is fully dissipated and the tone of the last stanza is of resignation and grief. There is opportunity for the reader to respond to the questions posed in the first lines:

“Oh this has been one of those days

when i need to know

where am i  are we are you”


These questions hang as she leaves open the one line gap before the last line.  The final word is “silent”. 

It was into this vacuum that I found an opportunity to paint a response[8]. I found myself echoing Warder’s question: “where am i?”  

The painting is mostly collage, as a metaphor for the way in which things are cut out of experience and given special meaning.  In particular, this is the case for the selection of subjects for study in academia. Given that universities were first founded to school the sons of gentlemen, there has been historically an inherent patriarchal and heterosexual bias in the selection of subjects for study.  Women’s Studies by definition resist this founding model. The black lower third of the painting is representative of a blackboard, the classic template for teaching. It is on this template that the collage has been assembled.

At first, the poem triggered a response of anger.  Warder’s ranting list of cultural phenomena in the fourth stanza touched a nerve, particularly the opening word “minivans”.  I have been a “minivan mom” and in identifying with this term on the first reading, I felt maligned and misunderstood as a member of the “Your” world articulated by Warder. When she set up the binary, I felt that she had made assumptions about my attitudes and behaviours.  She seemed to be making the same kinds of universalizing claims that she resists .  My initial thought was: “It’s not just a piece of cake you know!” The image of a white cake accompanied this thought. The initial anger was muted by further understanding of the poem.  Warder does not attack the integrity of the individual audience/reader.  The object of the critique is much broader and encompasses homophobia, feminist pedagogy and more generally, the  patriarchal heterosexuality assumed in media representations, institutions and the practices of our daily lives.  It is these assumptions which have angered and continue to anger me.

I kept the image and used the cake as a metaphor for my identity in the central part of the painting. The cake is three-dimensional, pink and fleshy; it is rich and the icing is white.  It conforms to the ideal appearance of “a white cake”.  The cherry on top and the shape of the missing slice suggest female sexuality. As a woman of the white upper middle class, I have enjoyed many inherited benefits due in a large part to the efforts of many people of lower economic standing who work to provide goods and services. The cake has been resting on a cake pedestal which is brown and very plain. The “majority” world which supports the lifestyle I enjoy is largely brown and/or poor.

The upper two thirds of the board are covered in yellow wallpaper which has been designed with a pattern of lovebirds nesting around a heart. This is a direct reference to Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper[9]. It is meant to reflect the assumptions of a woman’s place and role so powerfully resisted in both Gilman’s story and Warder’s poem.  For me, assumptions about being contained and accommodating, flexible and nurturing as a wife and mother have on occasion made me feel angry and limited.  That I conform to expectations and feel stifled is represented by the cake safe which is meant to bring to mind a bell jar[10].  A bell jar is used to preserve its contents by keeping the air out.  Inside there is silence and a vacuum.  In the painting, the cake and the cake safe are toppling as are all the objects represented.  Everything is destabilized. Air is flowing and energy is unleashed.

The other objects on the board are selected as a response to the nursery rhyme question: “What are Little Girls Made of?”  The answer in the rhyme suggests that:  “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice, That’s What Little Girls are Made of!” This rhyme popped into my head as I was thinking about the cake metaphor and provided a good vehicle for representing some aspects of the evolution of Feminism/Women’s Studies into the postmodernist world[11]. The tearing down of the paper represents the challenge to regulatory practices and attitudes in patriarchal discursive systems. It invites us to rethink and to fully experience our selves as women and people of compassion.  This stripping allows for an appreciation of similar themes in striving for full personhood in different contexts[12]. The only word of the nursery rhyme which is not included on the board is “Nice”. Its conspicuous absence emphasizes the anger I experience from the expectation to be, amongst other traits, “nice”. The metaphors from the rhyme speak to various aspects of the evolution of feminist thought.

The Sugar tin is regularly shaped, and is virginal blue.  The label is neatly adorned with diamonds. It represents educated women of the middle class who were the driving force of Liberal Feminism demanding equal opportunity for women within the patriarchal system in the public sphere.

The Spice jar is curvy and cut out of animal skin.  It is exotic and primal.  The red label suggests something vital and sexy. In addition to providing the polar stereotype of “woman as virgin”, the jar is also meant to represent the rise of consciousness of women of Colour.  That racism, class and sexism are interlocking oppressions in the experience of women was revealed by Women of Colour and Black scholars and taken up by and reconfigured by Marxist, Socialist and Radical Feminists. The oppressions of women in the both the public and the private realm, and issues of domestic violence, class, sexual orientation, social and economic justice, and ability became parts of the rising consciousness.      

Finally, the lavender[13] coloured jar of “&”s on the canvas represents the problem with the categorization of listed identities which divide the interests of women. The “Problem of the Ampersand”[14] is that, by creating potential hierarchies of oppression and exclusivity in naming the experiences of identified groups of women, there is no common ground.  The jar is spilling and the “&”s are overlapping to signify that definitions of identity can be fluid, unfixed and overlapping. Issues are open, fluid and interconnected. Identity categories are, however, necessary tools for allowing for spaces of resistance. (Butler, 118). Within the women’s movement, anger between women needs to be articulated with precision to facilitate learning outside one’s comfort zone.  Audre Lord spoke to this proposition and concluded that:

 “the strength between women lies in recognizing the differences between us as creative and in standing to those distortions which we inherited without blame, but which are now ours to alter.  The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power.  For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal but a sign of growth.”(131)


            Feminist pedagogy that is inclusive allows for all women to feel there is an opportunity to be heard as they struggle to be empowered.  Differences can and should be articulated and respected.

The painting is framed by a mirror coloured border of eyes.  This is meant to play on the reference to the “Eyes” in Warder’s poem.  They look at all of us all of the time. There is also the opportunity for the viewer of the painting to see herself in the small mirror atop the bell jar.  By examining our reflections we ask “where am i” and attempt to unite our outward self with our inner experienced self.

The cake is the only three-dimensional representation in my painting. The rest of the collage is made up of two-dimensional representations. The only other three- dimensional aspect is the physical lifting of the wallpaper exposing the word behind on the template of the painting. This is meant to provide an invitation for the audience to be involved with the painting and to continue the unfinished stripping of the paper to expose the board underneath. The word that is partially exposed is meant to convey the possibility of transformation. Anger can be expressed.  “Everything” is possible. The board is natural and unbounded.  The word is written in red: the colour of anger, of blood, and of transformation.  The silence which contains anger is given voice in this word. The vacuum at the end of Warder’s poem can be filled. The title of the painting “A Feminist Invitation” borrows from the title of Warder’s poem. The invitation is extended.

“Everything”/ “Someday”.

End Notes


[1] Kristen Warder, “Feminist Invitations,” Turbo Chicks Talking Young Feminisms, ed. Allyson Mitchell, Lisa Bryn Rundle, Lara Karaian (Toronto: Sumac Press, 2001) 162-166.  Please see Appendix I for the full text.


[2] One of Warder’s list of “Top Ten Feminists” is Audre Lorde.  I have adopted Lorde’s phrase.  In Lorde’s experience, the anger which fuels the expression of experiences of oppression is “loaded with information and energy” (127).   Audre Lorde,. “The Uses of Anger:  Women Responding to Racism (1981)” Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches. (California:  The Crossing Press 1984) 124-133.


[3] This concept is explored fully in Sandra Lee Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” Reading Women’s Lives, ed. K.J. Verwaayen (Boston:  Pearson, 2005) 87-113.  “In contemporary patriarchal culture, a panoptical male connoisseur resides within the consciousness of most women:  they stand before his gaze and under his judgement.” (99).  


[4] Liz Yorke, “Constructing a Lesbian Poetic for Survival: Broumas, Rukeseyer, H.D., Rich, Lorde” Sexual Sameness textual Differences in Lesbian and Gay Writing ed. Joseph Bristow. (London: Routledge 1992) 187-209. York discusses the use of pronouns as neutral terms in the context of classical lyrical poetry where masculinist/heterosexual bias goes unrecognized.  The need to resignify differences in gender specific language is one technique used to challenge heterosexual patriarchal discursive systems.


[5]Adrienne Rich’s poem “Splittings (1974)” provides a similar use of the phrase “I refuse”. Yorke (198)


[6] In this way the poets self “othering” typifies the problem discussed  by Judith Butler in “Intimation and Gender Insubordination,” Women’s Studies 020E, ed. K.J. Verwaayen (theBookStore at western, M8244,Sept. 2006) 117-122.  “…identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures or as the rallying points for a liberatory contestation of that very oppression.” (118).  The declaration of  “other-ness” , in this case lesbian, “is a process that reinscribes the power domain it resists, [ ] it is constituted by the very heterosexual matrix that it seeks to displace…”(120).


[7] Adrienne Rich, one of Warder’s named Top Ten Feminists, challenged the presumption of heterosexuality in institutional patriarchy in her landmark article “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence (1980) Foreword (1983)” Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose. ed .Barbara Charlesworth (New York: Norton 1993) 203-224.  Her recognition of and challenge to this presumption provided a revelation that has had lasting resonance.  In particular, Rich made observations about the inequality of power between men and women and between heterosexuals and homosexuals.


[8] Please see Appendix II for a copy of the painting “A Feminist Invitation”  (Collage and Acrylic on board 2’X 3’ , 2007 C.R. Hill)


[9] Charlotte Perkins Gilman “The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)” Reading Women’s Lives, ed. K.J. Verwaayen

(Boston: Pearson, 2005) 243-260


[10] This is a direct reference to the title of Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel The Bell Jar” London England: Faber, 2005. Her novel is of a woman struggling with the expectations of her mother to settle down to a good marriage, the desire to write and the breakdown of wellbeing between these two options.  It is similar to Gilman’s piece in that it uses subversion to resist heterosexist and patriarchal discourses.


[11] The development of feminist theory is treated with a very broad brush in this paper.  bell hooks summarizes the development in “Feminist Class Struggle (2000)” Reading Women’s Lives, ed. K.J. Verwaayen (Boston: Pearson, 2005) 355-362


[12] “As we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule over our lives and form silences begin to lose their control over us.” Audre Lorde “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”

Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches. (California:  The Crossing Press 1984) 36-39 (36)


[13]Lavender is chosen to reflect lesbianism, a descriptor with which Kristen Warder identifies.


[14] An expression attributed to Judith Butler in lecture. (K.J. Verwaayen  October 10/06 Women’s Studies 020E Section 001, U.W.O.)








































Works Cited


Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” Reading Women’s Lives. Ed. K.J. Verwaayen.  Boston:  Pearson, 2005.  87-113



Butler, Judith. “Intimation and Gender Insubordination.” Women’s Studies 020E. Ed. K. J. Verwaayen .  theBookStore at Western M8244: Sept. 2006.  117-122



Gilman, Charlotte Perkins.  “The Yellow Wallpaper (1892).” Reading Women’s Lives. Ed. K.J. Verwaayen.  Boston:  Pearson, 2005.  243-260



hooks, bell. “Feminist Class Struggle.” Reading Women’s Lives. Ed. K.J. Verwaayen.  Boston:  Pearson, 2005. 355-362



Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger:  Women Responding to Racism (1981).” Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches.  California:  The Crossing Press, 1984.  124-133

 “Poetry is Not a Luxury.” Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches.

California:  The Crossing Press, 1984.  36-39



Plath, Sylvia.  The Bell Jar. London England: Faber, 2005



Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence(1980) Foreword (1983).” Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose. Ed. Barbara Charlesworth Gelphi, Albert Gelphi.  New York:  Norton.  203-224



Warder, Kristen.  “Feminist Invitations.” Turbo Chicks Talking Young Feminisms, Ed. Allyson Mitchell, Lisa Bryn Rundle, Lara Karaian.  Toronto:  Sumac Press, 2001. 162-166



York, Liz.  “Constructing a Lesbian Poetic for Survival: Broumas, Rukeyser, H.D., Rich, Lorde.” Sexual Sameness Textual Diffences in Lesbian and Gay Writing. Ed. Joseph Bristow. London:  Routledge, 1992.  187-209






Kristen Warder, “Feminist Invitations,” Turbo Chicks Talking Young Feminisms, ed. Allyson Mitchell, Lisa Bryn Rundle, Lara Karaian (Toronto: Sumac Press, 2001) 162-166.




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