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Is the pen a metaphor? Is the art of letters, the masterly execution of prose and poetry, a creative male gift? Is male sexuality not just analogically but actually the essence of literary power? Is the poet’s pen therefore a phallic, and not a writing, instrument? 

The patriarchal notion that the writer fathers his text just as God fathered the world has been all-pervasive in Western literary civilization. According to critics too numerous to cite here, the metaphor is built into the very word author, by which writer, deity, and pater familias are identified. 

Where does such masculine theory of literature leave literary women? This patriarchal etiology and solitary male creator have long confused literary women, readers and writers alike. If the pen is indeed a phallus, with what utensil may females generate text? 

It is less easy to be assured of the genuineness of literary ability in woman than in men. The moral nature of women, in its finest and richest development, partakes of some of the qualities of genius; it assumes, at least, the similitude of that which in men is the characteristic or accompaniment of the highest grade of mental inspiration.

Yet critics continue to claim that feminine literature lacks a strong male thrust. Such male expectations and designs have long silenced many talented women. With no voice to speak our dread, no sigh, no speechless woe, we have an invincible sense of our own autonomy, our own interiority; we share a sense of our own experience—individually and en masse. 

Who do we love? Who do we hate? Who and what do we believe to be—and what is truth? 

Before literary women can journey toward autonomy, however, we must come to terms with the pervasive intellectual imprisonment and break out of the holding pen - with a hard thrust and a lot of seminal ink.


The Holding Pen

 by B.K. Smith


Lipstick Mountains Press

A boutique publisher of Arts & Letters & Ideas