Identify matrifocal themes in women's literature today and explain why you think these themes continue to exist in current women's literature. What do you see as emerging themes in women's...

  • Identify matrifocal themes in women's literature today and explain why you think these themes continue to exist in current women's literature. What do you see as emerging themes in women's literature?
  • Explore the continuing social boundaries for women. Do you see the borders of women's literature changing with society?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Matrifocal themes in women's literature today place emphasis on the same realities that have been embedded in the genre.  When examining the contours of women's literature, one sees how matrifocal themes emerge.  Women's literature can be seen as an exploration of "conditions usually very different from those which produced most writing by men."  The emphasis on matrifocal themes is reflective of these conditions.  Women's literature today seeks to place a matrifocal context within its discourse:

Regardless of whether a group consists of men or women or both, having a matrifocal orientation means that people ask, How is the problem we perceive exacerbated by patriarchy, and how has our way of responding to it been limited by patriarchal thinking?" Resisting androcentric norms by putting womens perspectives in the center, rather than the periphery, of social debates is a first step toward undermining patriarchy and the social ills it perpetuates.

In this light, an essential component of understanding a "matrifocal orientation" is the examination of the condition of patriarchy "and the social ills it perpetuates."  

The idea of how matrifocal interests should challenge a social order dominated by patriarchy is a critical aspect of popular women's literature today.  Much of the genre as defined by "women's literature" uses matrifocal themes to challenge patriarchal interests.  This includes to social and economic equality, displaying texts where women have to struggle in a patriarchal work setting and a social order filled with "ills" that seek to victimize women.  Novels or literature that deal with "the glass ceiling" of the workplace and the targeting of women in a social sense through criminal activity that challenges psychological notions of identity are reflective of a matrifocal thematic emphasis.  These literary realities explore the idea that being a woman is different involves "conditions usually very different" than that of being a man.  This is one way in which matrifocal themes are seen in the genre that is commonly defined by "women's literature."  They express a reality where what it means to be a woman involves struggle in the appropriation of internal and external reality.  There is an emphasis on women possessing power in their social and psychological interactions.  Such matrifocal themes emphasize agency as integral to one's gender- based identity.  Finally, there is a youthful emphasis on what it means to be a woman.  There is not a very dominant literary stress on the purer tenets of matrifocal themes that emphasize a domestic construction where women are the ordering agents.  Women's literature that asserts the challenges in being a woman do so under the idea that power and advancement are domains of the "younger" woman and not necessarily one of middle or older aged contexts. 

The continually changing social boundaries for women are reflected in the issues featured in women's literature.  Safety is one such social boundary.  Women find themselves still having to confront issues of sexual violence and assault perpetrated.  Famous cases involving media figures such as celebrities or athletes have displayed a particular disrespect towards women that are addressed in the literature.  Being able to depict what the experience of social disrespect is and how it impacts women is an example of how women's literature is reflective of society.  It also is reflective of how social reality must be transformed, something that the literature also seems to address.  Matrifocal themes underscore this idea of change in both society and the literature that comes from it:

A matrifocal orientation to social change draws directly on womens experience and knowledge and puts the needs of oppressed women at the center of social transformation. Matrifocal societies, real and imagined, do not challenge patriarchy by offering its mirror image--with women in positions of dominance over men. Rather, they embrace values traditionally seen as feminine: peace, nurturance, cooperation, and care for those most in need. 

I think that it will be interesting to see how the borders of women's literature addresses the issues of age and cultural context.  The literature's emphasis on agency and action is a very liberal and Westernized approach.  As globalization emerges, the reality of colliding cultural contexts with regards to women is also evident.  Matrifocal themes become placed in a context where one sees that being a woman might fly in the face of established and accepted practices. How the genre responds to this dynamic, if it feels the need to, would be interesting.  At the same time, where does the role of the matrifocal family fit into this.  For example, women's literature is skilled in emphasizing the relationship between sisters because it emphasizes a youthful demographic towards solidarity and alliance. How the genre appropriates this same unity amongst women in aunts, mothers, and grandmothers will enhance the construction of matrifocal themes.  This is going to be another area of change to examine within the genre.

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