There are two distinct types of equality, I realize now, and women of my generation had achieved only the first. We had gained admission to the world of men. (This was literally true at Columbia University, where I went to college, which had gone co-ed less than ten years before I enrolled.) But there is another type of equality, the type that Rich alludes to in her great poem “Diving Into the Wreck,” in which she imagines plumbing the depths of the ocean as both mermaid and merman, exploring a past that hasn’t bothered to record her presence, “a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear.” That type of equality involves remaking the landscape itself, redefining the terms on which value is assessed, rewriting the book of myths. At this type of equality we have yet to make significant progress, which is why Rich’s poem, nearly 40 years later, retains its immediacy and its longing.
The place of women in the literary world is still as urgent an issue as it has ever been. I worry that other women of my generation, having taken their admission to this world as a natural right, have grown as complacent as I have been. But admission is not the same thing as acceptance. And what the reception of literature by women over the last few decades—longer, of course, but let’s keep to a manageable scope—shows us is that acceptance is a long way off.
Full piece at The New Republic