Explain yourself, woman!

by zunguzungu

In a paragraph on Alice Munro that begins with a comparison to Chekhov, Ruth Franklin observes that: (h/t)

“one can easily lose sight of the fact that her fiction (quite unlike that of the great Russian master, incidentally) focuses almost exclusively on “the lives of girls and women,” as the title of her lone novel put it. This is not necessarily a flaw, but it is worth examining what exactly makes women the subject of her concentrated attention, and what this focus says about where they stand in the world according to Munro.” (my bold)

Franklin goes on to speculate on what makes the lives of women more interesting to Munro, but the back-handedness of that “not necessarily” stays with me, the inescapable implication that to write about women is somehow worthy of note, and at best only excusable. And though she contrasts this interest in writing about women with Chekhov’s emphasis on men, she ends with this little sting:

“Is this not too quick a dismissal of half the human population—even if (in the world of Munro’s stories, I mean) they often seem to deserve it? Chekhov was never so neglectful.”

I’m not well enough versed in either Chekhov or Munro to judge, but when I see the critical assumption that a woman writing about women requires explanation while silently failing to address an explicitly contrasting male-centricity in an explicitly comparable male author, it’s hard to read it as anything other than the unstated (because it doesn’t need to be stated) implication that writing only about men is and should be the norm. In a review of Alice Munro’s newest short story collection, that’s sort of a ridiculous starting point.