The Self-Perception of the Macedonian Women Writers, or: I Am Not a Woman Writer

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The Self-Perception of the Macedonian Women Writers, or: I Am Not a Woman Writer

At the beginning of her essay I Am Not a Woman Writer, the feminist theorist Toril Moi asks the question of why women and writing, i.e. women writers are nowadays such a marginal topic in the feminist theory (according to: Moi 259); then she first focuses on – in my opinion — one of the key subsequent questions, the one that touches upon the identity issue, or the self-perception of women writers.1F The identity issue (i.e. the answer to the question on the essence of being a woman writer, both with respect to the concept of “woman”, and with respect to the concept of “writer”) is, as said by Pamela Gerrish Nunn, a “fundamental issue”, because if women want to speak of themselves, they “have to know who they are” (Nunn, As a Woman, I Have No Country).
The Macedonian women writers (or, the women writing in Macedonian) basically express their opinions about themselves or their writing in two ways, i.e. via two media. The first one is within their own writing, i.e. meta-textually and auto-referentially, referring to writing as such or to their role (i.e. identity) as (women) writers.2F These reflections are most often introspective and intimate and they revolve around the well-known issue of “anxiety of authorship” or the anxiety of women writers facing doubts in their creativity. Such examples can be found with Olivera Kjorveziroska, like in her paradigmatic shot story The Woman Writer, My F(r)iend (Мојата (не)пријателка писателка), where her subject (her literary alter ego) Marija Misleva, has a “deadly fear of the Word” (Ќорвезироска, (С)плетени раскази 97-98). Metaphorically, women’s creativity in writing is also the theme of Rumena Buzharovska’s short story Scribbles (Чкртки¸ from the collection with the same title), and Lidija Dimkovska also refers to her own writing and creative process in her novel The Hidden Camera (Скриена камера).
The second, much more symptomatic way of expressing opinions about the state of affairs with the Macedonian women’s writing is found externally, outside their literary writings, in the views expressed by women authors first of all in texts that are clearly meta-textual (criticism and essays, even theory at times), as well as in the public (popular media) discourse. The predominant self-perception with the Macedonian women writers is quite illustratively summarised by Lidija Dimkovska who says that they “are either indifferent to the concept of women’s writing or are against singling out the feminist discourse and divisions of writing to women’s and men’s, thinking that by recognising the former, literature written by women is actually discriminated and ghettoised, or they consider themselves feminists who advocate the particularness of women’s writing” (Dimkovska 99). I would like to add that the third category, the authors who consider themselves feminists, pointing out some particularity of women’s writing (regardless whether they speak of their own writing or the writing of another woman writer) are exceptionally rare. The women writers mostly react quite harshly when the discussion they are in moves to the issues of women’s writing (i.e. to some gynocriticism attempt). Asked about the characteristics of women’s writing, in an interview for a popular (women’s?) magazine, Olivera Kjorveziroska says: “I deeply respect the biological differences between men and women, but I have no respect for the literary differences in their writing” (Доневска-Најдовска 25).
Similar views, which seem to strive towards a universal human creativity and aim for minimising the specific features of the feminine in the creative process, rejecting the (seemingly essentialist) axioms about the particularity of the women’s writing and approximating a certain (seemingly “normal”) egalitarianism of writing, can also be found with other women authors. In line with the above quoted words of Kjorveziroska, Lidija Dimkovska states that the woman author “is not indifferent to her own sex and she positions herself within it as a person that is more in a harmonious rather than disharmonious relation with her gender identity, although the Macedonian women’s writing is basically hermaphroditic” (Dimkovska 99).3F Or, in other words, comfortable in the standard performativity of her gender, the usual (traditional? already canonised?) Macedonian woman writer looks (behaves, or is perceived) as a woman, but she writes like a man. Therefore, instead of asking for a special (social and critical) treatment as a woman, she has to focus herself to authorship, i.e. she should (continue to) write and to prove herself (only, solely) via her writing (i.e. her phallic? creative power) instead of outside it (i.e. with her feminist? activism). Thus, Olivera Nikolova (probably the most established Macedonian woman writer) says that there is “partial truth in the thesis that women’s writing is somehow neglected… However, the main reason for this lies with women. Their agility is not always at the level it should be… Most importantly, I think that they expect some special treatment, some privileged relation, not because they are of the weaker sex, but because of the fact that they are overburdened with many everyday obligations. Most often, they put the care for their families before their work. This treatment still exists, although now the chances are equal…” (Дамчевска, Полова гетоизација во книжевноста).
What are the reasons for these views of the Macedonian women writers, or why “are some women writers reluctant to acknowledge that they are women writers? How are we to take the claim ‘I am not a woman writer’?” (Moi 259).4F The answer is found in the same context in which the women writers absolutely refuse to identify themselves (first of all) as women writers.5F When a woman author (and the Macedonian woman author is not an exception to this phenomenon) has the need to refuse to declare herself, i.e. to be marked as woman-author, it is It is always in response to a provocation, usually to someone who has tried to use her sex or gender against her. Such statements, in short, are a specific kind of defensive speech act…” (Ibid 265). These provocations, implicit and explicit, conscious or unconscious, seem to be an essential element of the discourse of the public opinion which in a popular (commercially-promotional) or critical (in the sense of literary analysis) way shapes the general perception of literature (and especially literary values) in each environment, including Macedonia.6F
Even Olivera Nikolova, although she most often stands for a utopian androgynism in writing, and rarely writes/speaks of her own writing, especially when it comes to her specific position as a woman author, reacts to the question/conclusion: “There are no many capital books written by women in the Macedonian literature. Do we really have so few women writing talents, or do they sleep in the shadow of their male colleagues?” (Петревска-Георгиева 15). Apparently irritated by this conclusion that legitimises the current canon of the Macedonian literature which is dominated by the “big men” and their “big books” on “big topics” (or, the so-called “double standard of contents”, as called by Joanna Russ), she responds: “What does it mean – capital book? To write about Alexander of Macedon or Zoki Poki? The capital book is defined by time… It is the time that piles on it the values that it deserves. And it is not true that we have only a few women writing talents. Lately, the leadership of our literature seems to have been taken over by women, good authors in every way. Educated, inventive, collectors of prestigious awards and capable of subtly diving within themselves and around themselves, giving proofs of their exclusive qualities” (Ibid). In line with this opinion, Olivera Kjorveziroska says: “Every topic of a great author is a great topic…” (Доневска-Најдовска 25), and she adds: “What is actually women’s writing? Sometimes I think that ‘women’s writing’ is a cultural pejorative about what the women write. A discrimination in the qualification itself, given as a cheap compliment (Ibid).
The Macedonian women writers in general refuse to adhere to a common identity, such as “women writers” and they do not encourage or accept he discussions on “women’s writing”. In this respect, it seems that they agree with the view of the American feminist theorists Peggy Kamuf, who opposes “the reduction of a literary work to a signature” (according to: Moi 261). However, if one starts from the view of Mary Eagleton that “feminism has always dealt with the fight of women for authorship and authority” (Ibid 264), it is clear that despite their support of a creative egalitarianism and “universal” literary standards. And despite their sometimes anti-feminist views (no matter how shyly expressed), the Macedonian women writers also try to revise the dominant patriarchal, male canon, and the dominant (in its essence quite misogynous) reception of women’s writing.7F These attempts are also seen in the fact that quite a few of the Macedonian women writers write about each other, i.e. they produce their own meta writing about women’s writing, as popular and academic criticism and analyses.8F However, for the time being, these writings are most often promotional in the traditional meaning of the word, and the feminist theories are very rarely used as additional analytical tools. Apart from this, as Lidija Dimkovska says, “the feeling of collective identity is yet to be born with the Macedonian women writers, while the sisterhood support seems even smaller with respect to the support that the men critics give to women authors and women critics to men authors” (Dimkovska 100).

Sources in the Macedonian language:
Бужаровска, Румена. Чкртки. Скопје: Или-или, 2007.
Дамчевска, Весна. „Полова гетоизација во книжевноста.“ Време (бр. 947, 5 јануари 2007). ( Пристапено на 15 август 2011.
Дамчевска, Весна. „Расказот не е лек за романот, ни негова антиципација.“ Нова Македонија (бр. 22184, 18 јануари 2011). ( Пристапено на 15 октомври 2012.
Димковска, Лидија. Скриена камера. Скопје: Магор, 2004.
Доневска-Најдовска, Бранка. „Имам несовладлива потреба да раскажувам.“ Теа модерна (бр. 528, 10 ноември 2010): 22-25.
Јорданова, Ирена. Помеѓу. Скопје: Или-или, 2008.
Котеска, Јасна. Македонско женско писмо (Теорија, историја и опис). Скопје: Македонска книга, 2002.
Петровска-Георгиева, Мимоза. „Капитално дело се пишува и за Александар Македонски и за Зоки Поки.“ Нова Македонија (бр. 22548, 4 април 2012): 14-15.
Поповска, Невена. „Интервју: Пишувањето е добра професија. Ирена Јорданова.“ Утрински весник (бр. 3446, 1 декември 2010): 16.
Ќорвезироска, Оливера. Две перници. Скопје: Три, 2010.
Ќорвезироска, Оливера. (С)плетени раскази. Скопје: Магор, 2003.
Ќулавкова, Катица, уредник. Феминистички стратегии. Скопје: Сигмапрес, 1998.
Шелева, Елизабета. Дом / Идентитет. Скопје: Магор, 2005.

Sources in other languages:

Dimkovska, Lidija. “Frauenliteratur in Mazedonien.” Trans. Klaus Olof Detlef. In Tomašević, Dragana, Birgit Pölzl & Robert Reithofer, eds. Frauen schreiben. Positionen aus Sudosteuropa. Graz: Leykam, 2006, 96-101.
Moi, Toril. “I Am Not a Woman Writer: About Women, Literature and Feminist Theory Today.” Feminist Theory, vol. 9(3), (2008): 259-271.
Nunn, Pamela Gerrish. “As a Woman, I Have No Country.” ( Пристапено на 2 март 2012.

1. When one speaks about the issue of identity with the Macedonian women writers, one should of course bear in mind that the identity issue, especially in this context, “does not only consist of noting (being noted) of what we are, but rather, and even more, of aspiring (subjunctive mood) of what we want to be” (Шелева 53). Thus, the way in which the women writers see themselves, especially as opposed to (or within) the Macedonian (prose) canon refers both to the current state of affairs, but also to their aspirations/desires/needs for (eventually) redefining themselves and/or the canon as such.
2. Katica Kjulavkova also indicates the thin and fluid line between women’s writing and women’s meta-writing in some of her theoretical texts (according to: Ќулавкова 12-13).
3. If I read the syntagm “hermaphroditic” in this case as “gender neutral” I should mention that this claim is also found with other Macedonian women authors, critics and theorists. This concept that essentually states that writing is in come universal (ideal?) neuter gender, is to an extent opposite to the one that every writing (language) is coloured with certain features and has a certain filling (cultural, historical, but also a gender one), both with respect to what is contains and to what it strives for. When the author of the writing is a woman (in the sense of Toril Moi’s view that women authors are “those that are perceived as women who write and who also consider themselves to be women” (Moi 267)), her writing can aspire towards the prevailing standard of writing (phalogocentric, according to the feminist theory) or towards exploring within the assumed particularity of the feminine (i.e. écriture féminine).
4. In the Macedonian context, these views are clearly summarized in Lidija Dimkovska’s words: “Personally, I would not accept an award for the best book written by a woman writer, but I would accept to compile an athology or woman writers only if this would help the canonisation of women authors in a certain lietature of other culture” (Dimkovska 99).
5. Or, in other words, this is the same context in which their writing is created, as it is “extracted either under fatal (tragic) or social coertion… as a protest against terror that… is conducted by the other, largely male, patriarchally organised world” (Ќулавкова 10).
6. Of course, what is fascinating is that in this discourse, most of those who speak about the Macedonian women’s writing (journalists, culture editors, literary critics and theorists) are themselves women. It is in their meta-writing that one can also find questions and conclusions that promote patriarchal stereotypes, which (most often unconsciously, automatically, following the habits obtained by their own participation/”complicity” in the phalogocentric discourse of public writing) question the creativity with women as opposed to the social representations for them as empty-headed beauties, conscious and hardworking housewives or dedicated women. In an interview, the wife and mother Olivera Kjorveziroska answers the question: “Howe can an employed woman, wife and mother find time to create, time for art?” (Доневска-Најдовска 23). Irenda Jordanova, on the other hand, answers a question that puts her in the category of gentle, innocent beauties: “Those who have met you think that your physical appearance does not correspond to the novels that you write. Do not misunderstand me, it is that you are a gentle and beautiful girl, and you write about such difficult topics” (Поповска 16). Although fascinating, this issue is not surprising, as the women themselves are historically quite persistent guardians of patriarchalism and phalogocentirsm, and “…each female subject assimilates every other female subject with a patriarchal eye” (Котеска 290).
7. In this case, reception has two meanings. First, it is the way in which women’s writing is read by the “educated readers” (critics), i.e. the contents of the meta-writing. Second, it is the way in which women’s writing is not read, i.e. its ignoring by the critics, and its non-inclusion in the standard manifestations of the literary cannon (such as selections and anthologies).
8. For example, Olivera Kjorveziroska has written book reviewes for the culture pages of “Utrinski vesnik”, which were largely about other Macedonian women writers, her contemporaries, such as Olivera Nikolova or Jadranka Vladova. Lidija Dimkovska, on the other hand, has written the afterward for Kjorveziroska’s short story collection, Two Pillows (Две перници, 2010).

2018-08-21T17:22:43+00:00 September 21st, 2013|Categories: Essays, Literature, Blesok no. 91|0 Comments