PEN Club Romania staged a debate themed “Women in the Public Sphere”.
PEN Club Romania staged a debate themed “Women in the Public Sphere”. The event was hosted in spring by the Humanitas Cismigiu Bookshop in Romania’s capital city Bucharest. Among the guests were president of the PEN Club Romania, writer Magda Carneci, writers, journalist and translators Svetlana Cârstean, Adina Diniţoiu, Ioana Bâldea Constantinescu and writer, translator and columnist Bogdan Ghiu.
Starting from the debate launched by PEN Club, we invited Svetlana Cârstean and Adina Diniţoiu to dwell upon the condition and opportunities of women writers in the Romanian public space. Svetlana Cârstean is an award-winning poet, since her volumes Vise Flower, brought out by the Cartea Romaneasca Publishers in 2008 and “Gravity”, issued by the Trei Publishers in 2015, were nominated for awards offered by Radio Romania’s Culture Channel and the Cultural Observer magazine.
Adina Dinitoiu is a literary critic, cultural journalist and translator from French. She is also an editor with the Cultural Observer magazine and a regular contributor to Romania Literara, Dilema Veche, Dilemateca, as well as to Radio Romanian’s Culture Channel. Adina Dinitoiu is the author of a book on the late novelist Mircea Nedelciu, entitled “Mircea Nedelciu’s fiction. The Powers of literature against politics and death”, published by Tracus Arte Publishers in Bucharest, in 2011.
We started by asking the two guests about their take on their status as women writers.
Svetlana Carstean: ”I have in mind an article published in Scottish PEN that I’ve read recently, and which still obsesses me, as there I found some relevant data. In short, using data and quotations, the woman author of the article reached the conclusion that the course of action a man usually takes is representative for humankind, while a woman’s actions are representative only for women. In other words, everything men write is representative for the entire humankind, while what we, women, write remains representative only for women. The article’s author also brought up a specific case - that of a writer who sent a hundred email messages to various editors, sending the same manuscript to all of them. Fifty messages were emailed using her own name, while for fifty others she used a man’s name. As a woman author, she received seven replies, while in the latter case she got seventeen replies. It’s up to you to judge if such a case is relevant or not.”
And here is what our second guest Adina Dinitoiu told us on the same topic:
Adina Dinitoiu: ”As a rule, literary criticism is an area of power in the sphere of literature as literary critics, through the discourse they have on literature, by means of which they validate or invalidate a text, perform an act of cultural power, securing for themselves a place in literary hierarchy. I made my debut with the innocence of someone who writes about literature, who does criticism, without having her gender identity in mind. At that time I tried to ignore the gender issue, I thought it was normal to do that, it was a step closer to having a normal literary and critical discourse. I really want us to be able to speak normally, as women and men, without us women having to fight for a cause, without us feeling marginalized in a public discourse, without us feeling marginalized.“
Adina Dinitoiu also spoke about the loss of innocence right after her debut:
Adina Dinitoiu: ”After the debut, I realized it was not that simple. And I had no choice other than to become aware of my gender identity. I realized I am a woman, not only a literary critic, and that this is something more difficult that I would have imagined. And what I felt then was not that I was necessarily being marginalized, I also became aware I was a literary critic, also having a woman’s identity, which complicated things in the public sphere of ideas, especially in Romania, which is a rather traditional country. The other day I read that in 2015, according to a European gender equality index, Romania was bottom of the table. And this is a study conducted at European level. The conclusions pointed to the fact that the European Union in its entirety was only halfway through that struggle for gender affirmation, for a balanced representation of men and women in the public sphere. So at the moment I need to fight more like a woman, so that my discourse may be heard.”
With more on the gender affirmation issue, here is Svetlana Carstean once again:
Svetlana Carstean: ”I think we don’t have to be marginalized. Labeling somebody is just enough, since it is a very subtle way, even an insidious one, I daresay, to avoid being marginalized overtly, against which it is much more simple to fight or point your finger at. It’s all about labeling and about preconception, concepts you operate with, oftentimes stemming from the sphere of literary criticism, which is an area of power.”
As it is still in its infancy, the discussion remains open. In her book, “The Lady Writer’s Divan”, Mihaela Ursa says, quote: “It is important to see whether, from the viewpoint of self-projection, women writers from Romania see themselves in an harmonious or antagonistic manner and especially if they think it is necessary to further explore the relationship between their public and private life, between the artistic creation and domestic life – these, as we shall see, are relationships with endless complications and nuances.”