Salome Benidze, 30, Tbilisi
“It is still prevalent today to view texts differently depending on whether they have been written by a woman or a man. I have had to face it too many a time. My texts have been evaluated as “written by a woman” too. Female writers have to fight tooth and nail to be recognized, yet, it’s fair to say that we have never been as daring as today and the Georgian literature has never been as open to accept women as now. Today, we, female writers, try to reach out to the readers and let them hear our voice that has been only barely heard or not heard at all throughout the centuries.
For ages, writing was seen as a male prerogative and entitlement and, suddenly, we came to the point when a woman’s voice was heard in this male dominated environment. Naturally, men, like in every other field, find it difficult to give up their positions in literature too. You will often hear something like: “It’s OK for a woman. Her writing is decent enough”, and so on. Male counterparts may tell you something along those lines or stroke your head and be done with appraising you. How can you judge something “for a woman” or “for a man”? This is something I will never understand.
If you dare become popular, widely read, with many copies of your books being sold, they will not forgive you that. I have had a rather “bitter” experience from my last book “The City on the Water”. It does not concern everyone, certainly, but I’ve received such sentiments mostly from the older generation. It must be the fear of losing privilege and sharing the world with women, which men have taken for granted as their own. I cannot claim that the new generation is completely cured of it, but it seems to be to a lesser extent. I have often felt strong support from other writers of my generation.
Against all odds, we, women still managed to acquire the right to write, just as we acquired the active and passive election rights. The right to write is extremely important as it gave us an opportunity to express ourselves. We were given a chance to tell what we are actually like because for centuries women in literature had been depicted the way they were seen by men. By acquiring the right to write, women became the subject (not just an object) in literature – the one who creates herself, who is part of this process and who speaks for herself.
There is a term “women’s fiction” widely and derogatively used in our society. I don’t think there is anything wrong with women’s fiction. In my observation, they call “women’s” every literary work where women are writing about themselves, their problems and their life. Does this mean that what has been written for centuries is “men’s fiction” and therefore must not be interesting for women? It certainly should be, just as women’s writings should be interesting for men. About my last book, “The City on the Water”, they have claimed that it is a book written for girls. Yes, this is a book written about girls, about women, but it is not written only for them. This world does not include only men or only women. So we need to know about each other and realize what it is that troubles us, what makes us happy, or what we are like… I’ve often said that if I could I would make all the boys read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath so that they had a better understanding of the women they live beside, they claim to love and, often, picture themselves as their owners, and in doing so, ruining their own self and life.
To go back to “women’s fiction”, let me put it this way – yes, there might be the so called “women’s fiction”, which is based on the women’s experience, but I think this relatively new phenomenon is actually very good. Like any other novelty, the society finds it hard to accept it but I strongly believe that it cannot and will not last long. I had a public lecture a few days ago where I said that I am sure after years the works of Tamta Melashvili will be included in school textbooks. What Tamta writes about will be an ordinary, daily thought for everyone, not something outlandish or strictly “women’s”. The history has always been on the side of progress and women’s contribution to modern literature is nothing but progress.
My general observation is that the wives of male writers are usually very proud of their husbands even if they are audacious in their writing. While, the husbands of female writers, do not seem very pleased with their wives’ works to me, especially if these wives write boldly and openly discuss their feelings. That is why, to be honest, sometimes I fear that the family that I may have some day will compromise my writing making my self-censorship stricter. The thought that one day you may not be alone in “the room of your own” is a little scary… In my last book, there are many bold scenes and every time I wrote them, I thought about how far I should go. I feared for my book being labeled. I am not afraid of being labeled myself.
Partly due to my line of work and partly on purpose, I turned my writing ability towards making a step to equality. I believe this to be a very important issue at the moment. In Georgia, feminist movement is on the rise and it is important that each of us make their own contribution – write, paint a poster, protest in front of the Parliament and so on. I think only such comprehensive measures can improve the condition of women in Georgia. We, women, have to fight even for fundamental issues like reproductive rights. That is why, it is very important that women struggling in different fields make each other stronger. This was the reason I decided to donate my author fee to help women with breast cancer. It is one of the most widespread diseases that plague women and often results in fatal outcome unless it is timely diagnosed and treated. This book has brought a largely positive wave in my life. I believe when you receive so much positive energy you are obliged to the world to give it away. Doing this was a continuation of the natural chain of events that I was part of. I just picked the topic that concerned women and every time I am given an opportunity to remind the society of any challenge the women face, I will seize this opportunity.
As a little girl, I wanted to have a superpower. After years, I realized that I do have the superpower and it is my ability to write. Obviously, I am unable to stop a doomed ship from sinking but if my works can change something in the outlook and life of a single person, it means I really have a superpower. What could possibly better than year someone tell you that your book has changed their life for the better? Wherever I go, I am followed by the feeling that I am not alone any more because there are girls around me who love “The City on the Water”, and who share the ideas that I’ve put in my book. It means there is a whole generation of young women who are ready to fight for their own rights and change their lives for the better.”