In the past thirty years a flood of women’s diaries and journals have been discovered and published. Attics, basements and libraries have provided perfect veils for the words and thoughts of women. No one expected that others would be interesting in their thoughts or lives. So many lived blindingly boring lives trying to be what she was supposed to be. Feminist scholars have found many of these writings and later generations recognized the gift their grandmothers left for the world. Several anthologies of these finds have been compiled and published in honor of these women who were invisible and silent except for their pens.
It is hard to describe the variety of women’s diaries, journals, and letters; they resist categorization and comparison. They now are called discontinuous prose, or writing that is done. Often letters are included in women’s writings. Diaries are often categorized by their duration; some are lifelong, starting in childhood; others stop and resume. Because of their traditional roles, even women of education and talent have been almost as silent as those men and women who were denied literacy by race and economic situations.
What we receive by reading women’s writings is their self-image. In diaries and journals, the masks come down somewhat. Some times they come completely down revealing the heart and soul of the woman writer. Sometimes, they talk about everyday happenings, sometimes they write about moral conundrums they encounter; times where husbands or fathers make them do or say something they feel is immoral. Some feared losing their souls for the family.
The following is excerpted from Marie Noel:
My name, my place among men: Surplus.
“Surplus in the flock.”
Surplus in the household.
Surplus in friendship.
Never, “first in some heart,” never essential never alone needful for some being, some soul, some life…
whatever betide…on earth or in heaven…
Nearly all the people of my age and class—especially those who write—have traveled, seen the world, visited cities, met people, attended theaters, gone to museums, heard the wonderful music of which I am always dreaming: Salzburg…Mozart…Figaro…The Magic Flute…and Pelleas!
But I, as long as I was young, spent Sunday after Sunday at the Church Club, and now that I am older, every Sunday for many years I have gone and gone with mamma to visit my aunt.
In seclusion in a good, faithful country home, tied down by duties, closely watched by old people, cut off from the universe and even from nearly places…
I have had only God for space.
In Him I have secured my liberty, my highways, I have dared my mountains and my precipices, I have risked like others, more than any other, my adventures and my perils…
When I was fifteen, I often prayed at night, I kneeled down, and God sometimes spoke to me.
One night when I had found Him prepared to grant me anything; I asked Him for three things all at once:
To suffer greatly,
To be a poet,
To be a saint.
With No Immediate Cause
Ntozake Shange is a black woman who changed her birth name to express her anger at the dilemma of being a black woman. In Zulu the name means, “she who walks like a lion.” She has written many stories and poems. Her words have an edge, and build an image of a sexual object.
every 3 minutes a women is beaten
every 5 minutes a
woman is raped/every ten minutes
a lil girl is molested
yet i rode the subway today
i sat next to an old man who
may have beaten his old wife
3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago
he might have sodomized his
daughter but i sat there
cuz the young men on the train
might beat some young woman
later in the day or tomorrow
i might not shut my door fast
enuf/push hard enuf
every 3 minutes it happens
some woman’s innocence
rushes to her cheeks/ pours from her mouth
like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn
apart/ their mouths
menses red and split/ every
3 minutes a shoulder
is jammed through plaster and the oven door/
chairs push thru plaster the rib cage/ hot water or
boiling sperm decorate her body
i rode the subway today
and bought a paper from a man who might
have held his old lady onto
a hot pressing iron/ i don’t know
maybe he catches lil girls in the
park and rips open their behinds
with steel rods/ i can’t decide
what he might have done i only
know every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes/ so
k bought the paper
looking for the announcement
the discovery/of the dismembered
woman’s body/ the
victims have not all been
identified/ today they are
naked and dead/ refuse to
testify/ one girl out of 10’s not
choherent/ i took the coffee
and spit it up/ i found an
announcement/ not the wman’s
bloated body in the river/ floating
not the child bleeding in the 59th
street corridor/ not the baby
broken on the floor/
“there is some concern
that alleged battered women
might start to murder their
husbands and lovers with no
i spit up i vomit i am screaming
we all have immediate cause
every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes
every 10 minutes
women’s bodies are found
in alleys and bedrooms/ at the top of the stairs
before i rid the subway/ buy a paper/drink
coffee/i must know/
have you hurt a woman today
did you beat a moman today
throw a child across a room
are the lil girl’s panties
in your pocket
did you hurt a woman today
I have to ask these obscene questions
the authorities require me to
every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes
every 10 minutes