On writing women's work
Title: On writing women's work
Author: SMITH, Bonnie G.
Series/Number: EUI HEC; 1991/07
When women's history reemerged so noisily in the 1970s it was guided by an initial quest for the most oppressed of the oppressed- the working-class woman. For the most part highly educated and in that sense privileged women made this gesture toward the poor or working woman as a way of finding the most authentic representative of womanhood. As we know, a voluminous literature resulted, but it was not unprecedented. Barely a century earlier, similarly privileged, usually feminist women in Europe and the United States had charted a similar course and turned toward poor mothers and working women to provide them with subject matter for their investigations. They too hoped to find something authentic in the working woman, especially in her utterances about work, motherhood, and life. Surprisingly enough, poor women responded to this gesture with budgets, daily reports of their comings and goings, and even a large autobiographical literature. Once she started writing, however, the working woman or poor mother became a suspicious figure, and even in some eyes, lost her class identity. Speaking, but particularly writing, made her lose what was so desirable. A way with words, the interpretation goes, is unworkerly. As for the middlyclass historian-investigator-feminist, her connection with workers is seen as a tissue of inauthenticity and one riddled with manipulation, duplicity, and bad faith - no term could be too pejorative to describe the relationship. Working with words only rigidified her positioning as middle-class. Such canonical formulations - and such they have become - demand a new look in this age of questioning canons. This essay tries to reconstruct the early print encounters between poor women and their researchers.
First made available online on 31 January 2017.
Type of Access: openAccess