Iconography: Let's Get Lit Started

Hello, gentle readers. The good people at Bitch have made a terrible and now, I fear, irrevocable mistake, having hired me to write for you for the next eight weeks. There is an upside, however. I'm going to be writing about the greatest thing in the whole world: literature!

So, welcome to this here series called Iconography. We're going to look at the formation and celebration of feminist literary icons, both characters and creators. You better get ready for a trip through time and space* because we're going to explore icons from sixteenth century China to one Sookie Stackhouse. Sometimes, we're going to have running themes. Shortly, for example, you're going to endure my joyful tears over the late twentieth century feminist science fiction scene: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler and James Tiptree, Jr., my favorites! There will be crime and Harry Potter and picture books.

It's not simply a matter of listing "literary greats," however. The place of icons in feminist discourses is one I find disquieting, and I want to unpack why. When I first started to put together my list of characters and creators, I was horrified to see that just about everyone on it was white and American. Why were such particular kinds of icons, not of my culture or experience, the only ones I could think of? That's why I want to look to the cultural processes governing who gets to be an icon, why they do, and the place of icons in feminism. Which new characters and creators are likely to be the icons of the future? How about women's ways of doing fiction? I love the collaborative formations of women's culture springing up in fan fiction communities and in the rewritings of Austen and her contemporaries that are presently so popular. And I keep thinking about why women's cultures, women's genres, are castigated as not properly literary.

Before we start in earnest, I want you to get thinking about feminist icons. Why are they important to you? How does fiction help us to process feminist issues going on in the real world? Are you experiencing the same problems I did in coming up with a list actually representative of those whom feminism claims to represent? By the time we finish up here, I hope I'll have sparked some thinking about how these icons function in your lives and in feminism generally speaking.

At this stage, you're probably wanting to know who I am. I'm Chally. My home blog is Zero at the Bone, and I also write for Feministe and FWD/Forward. I'm @challyzatb on Twitter. I live in beautiful Sydney in Australia; I am looking out on the sparkling Pacific Ocean as I type this! This means that I am in a different time zone to most of you and therefore may take a few hours to respond to comments. When I'm not typing feverishly about gender, race and disability, I'm an Arts student: a double English and history major, as may be obvious from the topic of this series! As a girl, my mother—a teacher, mind you—used to beg me to go and play instead of having my nose in a book. I may often blink in sunlight, but at least I've cultivated a lifelong love of books.

I'm looking forward to spending some time going over my favorite literary classics and some I've not read before. Get comfortable, grab a stack of books and join me!

*That one was for the Doctor Who fans out there.

by Chally Kacelnik
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34 Comments Have Been Posted


Hi and welcome! I'm a big fan of both your work and literature. I also grew up buried in books, despite the adults' occasional intervention, and love feminist sci-fi. (Do you read Russ? <i>We Who Are About To...</i> and <i>The Two of Them</i> are devastating!) Can't wait to see how this series unfolds!

It is indeed I!

Thank you! I have read some Russ, <em>The Female Man</em> and "Whileaway," but not those. I can't wait, either :).

Oh, yay! Very much looking

Oh, yay! Very much looking forward to this series.


Have you read "How to Suppress Women's Writing" by Joanna Russ? It focuses on UK and US, female literature writers and neatly details how female authors' work is denigrated and not literature.

Though my question is always what exactly is literature?


I own a copy, but I loaned it out to a friend before I read it!

What do you think literature is?

I own a copy, but I loaned it

<i>I own a copy, but I loaned it out to a friend before I read it!</i>

*whistles innocently*


You have me very excited for this series.


Love LeGuin and Butler. I hope you discuss Pat Cadigan too. ,<i>Synners</i> is one of my favorite books, but she hardly has a Wikipedia page. Cyberpunk may not be in anymore, but Gibson and Stephenson are still fawned over.


I'm afraid I've not read any Pat Cadigan and I've got so many icons planned already that I won't have the space or time to investigate her! I hear she's great, though.

Hooray! I'm definitely

Hooray! I'm definitely looking forward to this series. :D

<em>we’re going to explore icons from sixteenth century China to one Sookie Stackhouse</em>

*happy sigh*


I'm so glad, Beppie! I've got a few of your faves picked out.

Literature and feminism - so happy

Should be interesting Chally

I must say as a fellow Sydney-based, recently minted English major with an interest in the feminist slant on things, I'm totally on board.

Personally, I just picked up (at the Bronte museum in Haworth *ahem* - I'm a lit nerd) Elaine Showalter's "A literature of their own - British women writers from Charlotte Bronte to Doris Lessing" which is a very informative read.

Also my personal intersection of interests means that one of my *favourite* books of all time is Anne Bronte's "Tenant of Wildfell Hall" which is anomalous for its time in its depiction of domestic violence... segueing neatly into Lisa Surridge's awesome text on marital violence in Victorian Fiction "Bleak Houses".

I hope the nineteenth century

I hope the nineteenth century stuff I write will be of interest to you, then! :)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

That book just blew me away when I read it for the first time several years ago - so atypical for the time period. I'm glad to see it trotted out on Bitch!

I'm looking forward to this series as well. Thanks for doing it!

(I was recently at *ahem* the Jane Austen House in Chawton (lit nerds unite!) where I quite happily picked up Sally Smith O'Rourke's <i>The Man Who Loved Jane Austen</i>, not quite on the same level, but I already had the fine Richard Jenkyns critique on offer :)

Welcome Chally!

What an awesome post to start of the series with!

I am a lover of books but often puzzled by classics and lit in general so I will be really looking forward to expanding my knowledge and appreciation of this whole bucket of awesome!



Yeah, I get frustrated with some of the canon, too, so hopefully we'll get to tease some of the issues out together. :)

Oh no!

Oh no! A series on literature!?

My "to read" list is already unmanageably long, and this lovely series is going to bury me! Although, I really can't imagine a better way to go. :o)

Out to ruin your life!

I'll try to make your end as easy as possible. :)


That is pretty much all I have to add at the moment. :D

Oooh I am so excited for

Oooh I am so excited for this! Welcome Chally!

Thanks, I feel very welcome!

Thanks, I feel very welcome!


OH, HOORAY! [Chanting:] Tip-TREE! Tip-TREE! Tip-TREE!

And, of course, the delight that is the annual Tiptree award winners aka the best way to find the most awesome sci-fi fantasy literature every year!

I can't wait to gather new authors & titles to carry to the library! :-)

--M. Kitka


Another Tiptree fanatic, I see! We will get along very well indeed.

This series looks amazing,

This series looks amazing, feminist icons in literature is something that's always interested me.

Looking forward to it!

Doctor Who! Books! I'm so

Doctor Who! Books! I'm so excited.

No Doctor Who, I'm afraid,

No Doctor Who, I'm afraid, that was just my fangirlishness emerging.

Yay!!!!!!!!!!! <3

I am soo excited about this blog you are doing as I am venturing into an MA Book Publishing Program and have a degree in English and Women's Studies (i.e. I really love literature).

I love everything from Bronte to Charlaine Harris.

I hope we see some about J.K. Rowling, Margie Pierce and Toni Morrison...

So exicted!

This sounds awesome! I was an

This sounds awesome! I was an English major in college and would love to read more about feminism and literature. I'm particularly fascinated with the cult of Jane Austen.

Absolutely excited

"my mother—a teacher, mind you—used to beg me to go and play instead of having my nose in a book."

I just smiled so much at this sentence. Sounds like my life precisely.

I wanted to also let you know that I am THRILLED for this series!!

sorry didn't hear of your

sorry didn't hear of your books but will definitely put it on my to-do list!!

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