Women in Literature

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What is the history of the gender gap between men and women in literature?

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Most of the earliest literature we have was written by men for men. Although there are notable examples of early women authors, such as the Greek poet Sappho and the medieval writer Christine de Pisan, women have, prior to the 20th century, generally had lower literacy rates and participation in literary activities than men. The first major shift came with two forces -- the rise of the bourgeois in the late Middle Ages, which expanded the class of literate tradespeople, and the rise of Protestantism in which all people of all genders were expected to be literate in order to read the Bible for themselves. With the rise in vernacular literacy, women increasingly were able to read and write literary texts. In the 18th and 19th centuries the novel was an increasingly feminized (in terms of subject and author) literary genre and by the late 20th century women have achieved parity as authors, readers, and subjects of literature to a great degree in most developed countries.

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