In the years that my sister Maria and I have been writing for Nasty Women Writers, one of the things that has become increasingly clear is how connected women writers are to one another. Every time I explore the life of a woman writer for Nasty Women Writers, I learn of other women writers she is connected to, inspired and supported by. Some of these connections are through time, meaning one woman writer reads and interacts with the body of work of a woman writer whose lifetime preceded hers chronologically, others are alive at the same time and they interact in person or through letter writing.
Many of these women writers serve as mentors and support to younger writers, others are friends or relatives. However these relationships constellate, there are a lot of connections and interactions. There is a network; a web. Not all of the women we write about on Nasty Women Writers are writers, there are scientists, artists, activists as well. Still the connections are there. And often they are inter-disciplinary.
This surprised me. Why? Because I had always believed the lie that women who are successful or achieve within the context of the patriarchy do so in isolation from other women. I was told that these successful women are anomalies: other women cannot relate to them. I was taught that there were no other women like them and if there were it was way before or long after them — definitely not at the same time because they are so rare an occurrence. The woman who achieved in her field in spite of the odds of a woman doing so within the patriarchal structure stands solitary in her time and place like a lighthouse, alone at the end of a very long, unhappy and bumpy ride. She suffers and she has no friends. Because that is the price you pay.
These stories have been promoted and, I daresay, even romanticized. The successful woman holds her head high because she is not like other women. Like it is a badge of honor to be not like other women. They are far and few in between. WOW. Has this lie been exposed and shattered.
Let’s state right out of the gate that ideals of success and achievement are subjective. Women have been in communion and connection with one another all through time. Let’s get that straight. And women have succeeded and achieved a lot: none of us would be here if they hadn’t. I would say, looking at the population, that women have actually been very successful at the prescribed roles allowed to them within the patriarchal structures. There is nothing unsuccessful about women in general at all.
However, the point being made here is that if a woman did happen to be successful and achieve in male dominated fields, they had and do have —we are talking about past and present here—women friends who were also succeeding and achieving in male dominated fields. These women supported each other and one another’s work as well. Let’s repeat that. Women who have broken glass ceilings and achieved in male dominated professions have had and do have women friends.
However, these connections have been erased and the web and network of connection through time has been obfuscated. Why? In part to convince women that they don’t want to go that route because they will end up alone and miserable. And to deliberately create ruptures in the flow of energy and information that comes from intact lineages and a feeling of connection and legacy.
In her collection of essays from 1978, On Lies, Secrets and Silence, Adrienne Rich, a woman writer who dedicated much of her work to revealing these connections writes:
“The entire history of women’s struggle for self-determination has been muffled in silence over and over. One serious cultural obstacle encountered by any feminist writer is that each feminist work has tended to be received as if it emerged from nowhere; as if each of us had lived, thought, and worked without any historical past or contextual present. This is one of the ways in which women’s work and thinking has been made to seem sporadic, errant, orphaned of any tradition of its own.
In fact, we do have a long feminist tradition, both oral and written, a tradition which has built on itself over and over, covering essential elements even when those have been strangled or wiped out” (11).
Networks, or what I like to call webs, are important not only in living ecosystems and the internet but for human social health as well. A person who feels held within a web of interconnectedness not only feels supported and nurtured but can avail themselves of this network of support psychically, energetically and physically. A person can draw upon this energetic web and actually give back to it, thereby strengthening it and creating more hubs of interaction. Not knowing that this network is there has indeed left many women alone.
For me personally, finding these relationships and beginning to feel the presence of this web made me feel so much more connected, to writing, to women writers, to a legacy of women writing and to those who will come after me. Rather than feeling alone, despondent and misunderstood, I suddenly felt supported, connected and inspired. If all these women were connected through time creating a web of interconnection, then I could tap into that and get nurtured from it as well. I could contribute to the web. Every time I sit down at my desk to write I can call upon this web for support and camaraderie. If all these women writers saw each other and supported each other’s work, then it is not true that women’s work is unsupported and unimportant. It changes the game completely.
The erasure of this web is to make women feel alone and disconnected. Maybe it would make them want to give up.
This may sound extreme but imagine this scenario: You are a young woman starting out and you are told that the path you wish to follow is one of pain, loneliness and lacks any kind of support or network with other women that came before you. There are plenty of men but you are left out of that network.
Why would you want to do it? Because in your soul of souls you are a writer, or an artist or a scientist . . . So you decide to do it anyway. But instead of expecting support and connection you have already decided, based on what you have been told, that there won’t be any and so you start to not expect it.
Often we don’t see, look for or even try to cultivate what we don’t expect or don’t believe exists.
We cannot avail ourselves of something we don’t know about and we often won’t even see something that is there if we do not believe it is there.
Once I felt the web and it began to grow with ongoing research, my place in the herstory of time changed. I felt things I had never felt before: women writer friends and women writer friends who had friends and supported friends and inspired and encouraged friends. I felt I belonged to something bigger, that my writing mind could embed inside this larger web of women writers’ minds and rest in context and feed and be fed.
And I felt happy that these other women writers had friends. Their lives were suddenly not so sad. Then other things began to be revealed: like all the deliberate work of women writers mentoring other women writers, all the intentional work of women writers supporting other women writers that also went undocumented and unnoticed. Women writers like Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison, Margaret Fuller, Adrienne Rich and Toni Cade Bambara. Women writers who have worked hard on behalf of and for women writers of all time.
Women writers, I say unto you: it turns out there isn’t lack. There is connectedness and a wholeness that you can call upon and be fed by. But first you need to believe it is there.
If the web exists, it can be a source of nourishment and support. The interconnections on the web feed the whole. Then as women writers we understand that we may contribute to the web with our work. We can support the work of other women writers in the network by reading them, talking about them imbibing their wisdom, learning from their mistakes, growing from what they wrote and learned. And the web becomes like the mycelial web in the ecosystem. It has its own intelligence and sends information where it needs to go based on what it senses. The web is alive. If we know we have this alive, interactive web of support available to us and we can avail ourselves of it, how different would our lives be?
This doesn’t mean there will not be personal disappointments and interactions with other women and women writers that are less than wonderful. But it does mean that we won’t be so upset and knocked off our center by those because we we are part of the larger web. A personal infraction cannot destroy the entire web of woman writers. The web, woven out of centuries of interconnection, is stronger than a string breaking. We are held by the wholeness of the entirety. Individual relational breaks, which are normal and bound to happen, will be less devastating.
Let’s expose and reveal this web and keep it hidden no longer. Let’s believe in this web and expect to be supported and nourished by it. This will help strengthen it and make it more visible and felt.
Some connections I have found without looking for them:
- Writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings + writer Zora Neale Hurston.
- Writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings + writer Margaret Mitchell.
- Writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings + writer and activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
- Writer Toni Morrison + writer Virginia Woolf.
- Writers Ursula Le Guin + Virginia Woolf.
- Woman writer Virginia Woolf + writer Anne Thackeray.
- Writer Virginia Woolf and woman writer Vita Sackville-West.
- Writer Toni Morrison + writers Toni Cade Bambara + Angela Davis.
- Woman writer Adrienne Rich + Emily Dickinson.
- Emily Dickinson + the Brontës + Jane Austen.
- Writers Adrienne Rich + Audre Lorde.
- Toni Cade Bambara + Adrienne Maree Brown.
- Toni Cade Bambara + Alexis Pauline Gumbs, scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin, filmmaker+ activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons, artist and abolitionist Kai Lumumba Barrow, healer and organizer Cara Page, + editor and intellectual activist Cheryll Y. Greene: all were personally influenced, mentored, “sistered” and “mothered” by Bambara.
- Artists Paula Modersohn-Becker and Clara Westhoff.
- Writers and academics Tiya Miles + Saidiya Hartman.
- Woman writer Cathy Park Hong + writer Theresa Cha.
- Writer Claudia Rankine + Cathy Park Hong.
- Writers and activists Harriet Beecher Stowe + Angelina + Sarah Grimké.
- Sarah Grimké + suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
- Sarah Grimké + Harriot Kezia Hunt, first female medical practitioner in the United States.
- Writers Jane Austen + Frances Burney.
- Women writers Margaret Fuller + George Sand.
- Sculptor Edmonia Lewis, actress Charlotte Cushman + sculptor Harriet Hosmer.
- Mathematicians Ada Lovelace + Mary Somerville.
- Artist and writer Judy Chicago + writer Anaïs Nin.
- Feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony + Sojourner Truth.
This is the smallest tip of a very large iceberg. I did not go looking for any of these connections. They are just there on the surface when I read these women’s autobiographies or personal stories, essays or biographies about them. I only began writing them down very recently when I could ignore it no longer. Imagine all the ones I have not written down.
Nasty Women Writers will begin including pieces about these invisible connections between women writers to further reveal and strengthen this vital and powerful web. Read them all in the category found on the sidebar: “Nasty Women Writers: Revealing the Web of Women Writers-Connections that Nurture and Inspire.”
We can change the world and the way we feel in the world one connection at a time.
© Theresa C. Dintino 2021
Rich, Adrienne. On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978, W.W. Norton & Co., 1979.