Gender criticism, Alan Williamson argues, has for too long been shaped and limited by the same dualisms that have defined male versus female literary voices in Western culture. Certain emotions expressed in literature are considered feminine, certain emotions are typed as masculine, and there is little room in critical studies for the male writer who shares in feminine experience or who finds himself on the wrong ideological side of those firmly gendered dichotomies. Confined by such strict codes, male writers - homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual - possessing the sensibilities typecast as feminine often face a crisis of gender identity. They struggle to overcome early childhood experience and adult cultural expectations as men with feminine creative emotions that are often repressed in more conventionally masculine lives. Almost a Girl challenges both feminist orthodoxy and men's movement thinking to show how several important male writers have drawn creative strength from their identification with, even envy of, a positive image of the feminine. Williamson opposes the feminist argument that men cant really empathize with female experience, as well as the men's movement's insistence that female identification is common but psychically dangerous. As he explores the psychic confusion, even torment, and ambivalence toward women that accompanied their mixed gender identification, Williamson hors the works and imaginative courage of such diverse writers as Rainer Maria Rilke, Randall Jarrell, D. H. Lawrence, and Cesare Pavese.
ALAN WILLIAMSON is Professor of English at the University of California, Davis, and the author of Introspection and Contemporary Poetry; Eloquence and Mere Life; Pity the Monsters; The Political Vision of Robert Lowell; and four books of poetry.