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Article Title

What Were Women Writers?

Document Type

Manifesto

Abstract

Asking what were women writers—to themselves, to those they denigrated or dominated, and to “us”—is another way of asking who “we” were and are as feminist critics. White feminist critics—writing in a moment when violence against Black, brown, immigrant, queer, and trans women has become more visible than ever—have a responsibility to our nonwhite, non-Christian, queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming students and colleagues who may find it impossible to identify with early modern women implicated in discourses that we now recognize as anti-Black, anti-Semitic, or homo- and transphobic. Accordingly, this essay argues that we must historicize early modern English women writers’ own self-identification as such in the context of the racial, colonial, and imperial projects from which many materially benefitted and whose hierarchies many instrumentalized. This history complicates assumptions that women’s writing is necessarily politically radical—or even necessarily feminist in the fullest sense of that term. English women writers in all their guilt and complexity must be studied more closely than ever if early modern scholars are to better understand the past that has helped produce our current discriminatory norms and systemic injustices, both within and beyond feminist criticism.

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