Experiencing Gender: International Approaches 1443880345, 9781443880343

This book provides comprehensive insights into the concept of gender in an international context. By focusing on diverse

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Experiencing Gender: International Approaches
 1443880345, 9781443880343

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Experiencing Gender

Experiencing Gender: International Approaches Edited by

Rocio Carrasco-Carrasco, Beatriz Dominguez-Garcia and Auxiliadora Perez-Vides

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Experiencing Gender: International Approaches Edited by Rocio Carrasco-Carrasco, Beatriz Dominguez-Garcia and Auxiliadora Perez-Vides This book first published 2015 Cambridge Scholars Publishing Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright© 2015 by Rocio Carrasco-Carrasco, Beatriz Dominguez-Garcia andAuxiliadora Perez-Vides and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-8034-5 ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-8034-3

To Pilar, always


Acknowledgements .................................................................................... xi General Introduction .................................................................................. xii Special Contribution ................................................................................. xvi Her Happy Unhappy Ending: A Feminist Antiracist Queer Writer Reaches her Forties in the Twenty-first Century and Takes a Deep Breath Hiromi Goto, Canada Part One: Gendering Performance Introduction to this Part ............................................................................... 2 Chapter One ................................................................................................. 4 Gender and Discourse on Stage Ma Dolores Gomez Penas and Ma Amelia Fraga Fuentes (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain) Chapter Two .............................................................................................. 17 Delany's Perversion of Gender: The A-sexuality of Desire in 'Aye, and Gomorrah' Jose Liste Noya (Universidade da Corufia, Spain) Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 29 Gender in Show Business Drama: From Cinderella to Carmen in The Barefoot Contessa Carmen Rodriguez-Ramirez (Universidad de Sevilla, Spain) Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 43 Women in Rap Music: A Feminist Approach Jeannette Bello Mota (Universidade de Vigo, Spain)


Table of Contents

Part Two: Experiencing Gender in Society Introduction to this Part ............................................................................. 60 Chapter Five .............................................................................................. 62 A Postmodern Understanding of Family and a Modernist Notion of Motherhood Darja Zorc-Maver (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) Chapter Six ................................................................................................ 75 Kasena Women's Critique of Gender Roles and Gender Justice through Proverbial Jesting Helen Yitah (University of Ghana, Ghana) Chapter Seven ............................................................................................ 89 Women Writer's Networks and Connections in the Eighteenth-century British Literary Market Begofia Lasa Alvarez (Universidade da Corufia, Spain) Chapter Eight. .......................................................................................... 103 Overcoming the 'Crushing Hand of Power:' Mary Wollstonecraft's Sense of the Collective Identity and Cooperation in The Wrongs o f Woman Elena Gonzalez-Herrero Rodriguez (Universidade da Corufia, Spain) Chapter Nine ............................................................................................ 115 Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts: The Construction of Gender and Sexual Identity Maria Isabel Romero Ruiz (Universidad de Malaga, Spain) Chapter Ten ............................................................................................. 128 Inscribing the Body: Life-Writing Practices of Nineteenth-Century American Women Claire Sorin (Universite Aix-Marseille I, France) Chapter Eleven ........................................................................................ 143 A London for Them: Virginia Woolfs The London Scene as a Tourist Guide for Women Ana Maldonado Acevedo (Universidad de Huelva, Spain)

Experiencing Gender: International Approaches


Part Three: Gendering Ethnicities Introduction to this Part .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 6 Chapter Twelve ....................................................................................... 159 Writing the Unspeakable: Violence against Women in Rozena Maart's The Writing Circle Ana Bringas Lopez (Universidade de Vigo, Spain) Chapter Thirteen ...................................................................................... 173 The Construction of Female Identity in the Protagonists of Woman Hollering Creek, Never Marry a Mexican and Bien Pretty by Sandra Cisneros Carmen Sales Delgado (Universidad de Sevilla, Spain) Chapter Fourteen ..................................................................................... 186 The Arab Mother: Friend or Foe? The Mother-Daughter Relationship in the Contemporary Greater Syrian and Egyptian Feminist Novel Suzanne Elayan (Loughborough University, UK) Chapter Fifteen ........................................................................................ 201 Paradise Regained: From Black Madonna to New Eve. Religion and Marital Abuse in Zora Neale Hurston's 'Sweat' Gerardo Rodriguez Salas (Universidad de Granada, Spain) Chapter Sixteen ....................................................................................... 211 Cultural Roots, Wholeness and the African Diaspora Silvia Pilar Castro (Universidad de Malaga, Spain) Part Four: Experiencing Gender in the Novel Introduction to this Part ........................................................................... 220 Chapter Seventeen ................................................................................... 222 Border Transgressions and Bodily Mutations in Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl: A Feminist Dystopia Alba de Bejar Muifios (Universidade de Vigo, Spain)


Table of Contents

Chapter Eighteen ..................................................................................... 234 Science Fiction as a New Discursive Space for Multiple Gender Constructions lfakat Banu Akcesme (Middle East Technical University, Turkey) Chapter Nineteen ..................................................................................... 253 Kept: A Victorian Mystery and In the Red Kitchen: Wrongful Confinement Revisited in Neo-Victorian Fiction Salma Benyaich (Universidad de Malaga, Spain) Chapter Twenty ....................................................................................... 268 The Poetic Ordeal: Figuring Experience in Angela Carter's The Passion o f New Eve (1977) Emilie Severino (University of Sydney, Australia) Chapter Twenty-One ............................................................................... 284 The Female Warrior: Rejecting Utopia Andrea Ruthven (Universidade de Vigo, Spain) Chapter Twenty-Two ............................................................................... 296 A 'Mixt Figure' or a Hermaphrodite: Truth, Fiction and the Experience of Writing in Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World (1666) Sonia Villegas Lopez (Universidad de Huelva, Spain)


The editors wish to acknowledge the funding provided by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Research (Research Project "Sexualities and New Gender Identities in Anglophone Cultures", ref. FEM2010-18142), the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Research Project "Bodies in Transit", ref. FFI2013-47789-C2-l-P), and the European Regional Development Fund for the editing of this volume.


Gender is a disputed concept widely used in many different contexts, which encompasses a great range of human experiences or expressions of self and identity. If we understand gender as the socially constructed definition of female and male identity, it is necessary to uncover how it affects our lives, especially since gender has been understood as a key dimension of our personal experiences, of our social relations and of our cultures. Especially worrying, however, is the fact that gender as a construct is bound up with power relations that still have an impact on the experience of each one as individuals. Indeed, Western patriarchal cultures have tended to "normalise" or neutralise culturally constructed gender roles by generating a binary logic by which men and women are described as opposites. This model of binary opposites polarises categories in order to make sense of the world and one's identity. Women have traditionally been secluded in a secondary position within this system imposed by patriarchy, and have been defined as the "other," the term that is considered as marginal or alien. Hence, within the polarities white/black, masculine/feminine, hetero/homosexual, there is one term which is dominant and another one which is subsidiary, as French feminism made clear. One of the most frequently quoted sources for French feminists' critique of gender binarism is Helene Cixous's The Newly Born Woman (1975). She reviews the hierarchical system of binary oppositions that organises the Westem world and explores the sources of oppression of female consciousness, focusing on female sexuality and the unconscious. Taking into account the binary model, many theories have condemned the subordination of women in different discourses. The importance of gender division for structuring or ordering social life and human experiences has been dealt with by the discipline called "Gender Studies," which reached the status of independent discipline in the 1980s, meaning a shift away from the study of women in isolation to the study of men and women within the context of the social construction of gender. Social constructivists propose that there is no inherent truth to gender and that gender as sexual difference constrains feminist practices within a frame of sex opposition. The notion of sexual difference seems to ignore the fact that a subject is constituted in gender not only by this sexual difference but also by other factors such as class, race, ethnicity, relations,

Experiencing Gender: International Approaches


etc. Concerned with these issues, Teresa de Lauretis, in her influential essay "The Technologies of Gender" (1987), defines the term "gender" as "the product of various social technologies, such as cinema, and of institutionalised discourses, epistemologies, and critical practices, as well as practices of daily life" (2). She is hereby affirming that the term "gender" describes accurately those behaviours and traits that are not inherent within the human being but that are socially constructed. In a similar vein, many contemporary gender scholars have privileged the concept of gender over sex when they analyse social relationships and life experiences. Significantly, men have started questioning their natural-and superiorstatus in different social and domestic spheres. At the end of the twentieth century numerous debates around the issue of masculinity were taking place all over the world. They basically discuss the increasing need for men to understand their transforming world and urge them to think about gender issues. The discipline called Men's Studies was developed as a consequence of earlier critical perspectives such as feminism and Gay Studies, which questioned for the first time the patriarchal notions of femininity and masculinity. Some male liberation movements especially showed this need to revise the traditional concept of masculinity. Thus, feminism contributed to the creation of this new discipline as it made men aware of their involvement in the issue of gender inequalities and of their position in contemporary society. Specially, second-wave feminists of the late 1960s and 1970s (Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Elaine Showalter, Bella Abzug) opened up a new critique in the study of men since they "began to challenge the 'cultural arrangements', male power and maleist assumptions increasingly recognised as sustaining gender injustice. " 1 This influence has been admitted by many scholars who, like Harry Brod, Michael Kimmel or David Morgan, among others, argue that Men's Studies developed "out of earlier critical perspectives, concepts, and methods developed by Women's Studies and Gay Studies, in conjunction with the women's movement, and the gay liberation movement" which, they argued, was based on dominance and not on complementariness. 2 At the same time, the very idea of experiencing gender becomes notoriously contested in our contemporary "post-gender" context, where gender is no longer considered as a category from where to articulate and/ or understand human experiences. Precisely, the idea that gender is 1

Whitehead, Men and Masculinities (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002), 31. Brod, "Masculinity as Masquerade," in The Masculine Masquerade. Masculinity and Representation, ed. Andrew Perchuck, et al. (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1995), 18-9. 2


General Introduction

culturally articulated has led many authors to talk about "genders" and to rethink assumptions upon which identities have been constructed. Indeed, postmodern feminism proposes the replacement of unitary notions of women and gender identity with plural conceptions of social identity. 3 Ashley Tauchert, for instance, offers a model which she calls "fuzzy gender," that is, "a conception that moves beyond the binary either/or, without collapsing into the chaos of free floating subjectivity in difference." 4 Gender is not totally essential, but somewhere in between. 5 The term "gender" itself becomes troublesome and unstable ifwe take into account its artificiality and concern with deconstruction. Feminists like Judith Butler have sought to deconstruct binary systems by reconceptualising gender as unstable and performative. Gender theorising relies increasingly on a discourse that is sceptical about essences and the stability of meaning. Given the great amount of research about gender identity, which accounts for the importance of these issues not only within academic circles but also in the public arena, the papers included in this volume outline the major modem debates about gender, setting them in a range of theoretical and political contexts. Taking into account the complexities surrounding the study of gender, the present volume gives a comprehensive understanding of gender in an international context. By focusing on diverse and varied critical approaches, it explores how gender identities are shaped by socio-cultural factors, bringing together different analytical tools in order to provide a map of how gender experiences are understood and/or represented in the arts and society. This way, gender becomes a useful tool from where to approach the social sciences, arts and humanities.

Works Cited Brod, Harry. "Masculinity as Masquerade." In The Masculine Masquerade. Masculinity and Representation, eds. Andrew Perchuck, and Helaine Posner, 13-19. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press,1995. 3 Fraser and Nicholson, "Social Criticism without Philosophy: An Encounter between Feminism and Postrnodemism," in Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J. Nicholson (London: Routledge, 1990), 35. 4 Tauchert, "Beyond the Binary: Fuzzy Gender and the Radical Center," in Unseen Genders. B e y ond the Binaries, ed. Felicity Haynes et al. (New York: Peter Lang, 2001), 183. 5 Ibid., 185.

Experiencing Gender: International Approaches


Cixous, Helene. The Newly Born Woman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. De Lauretis, Teresa. Technologies o f Gender. Essays on Theory, Film and Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. Fraser, Nancy and Linda J. Nicholson. "Social Criticism without Philosophy: An Encounter between Feminism and Postmodemism." In Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda Nicholson, 19-38. London: Routledge, 1990. Tauchert, Ashley. "Beyond the Binary: Fuzzy Gender and the Radical Center." In Unseen Genders. Beyond the Binaries, eds. Felicity Haynes and Tarquam McKenna, 180-91. New York: Peter Lang, 2001. Whitehead, Stephen M. Men and Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002.


The trouble was, her body was read before she was even born .... Everyone already knew the script before she knew it existed, and th e y applied the script to her and on her and/or her. By the time she understood that such a script existed her body, her gender, her race, her sexuality, her social paradigm had been prescribed She could not flee this narrative, not even in the reaches o f her deepest most private thoughts because the preexisting script had tainted her always already. The twisty workings o f this illogical a priori identity construction haunted every social interaction, every family meal, every chance encounter with the courier delivery man standing by the checkout clerk returning her change room at the local gym bag slung over her shoulder remarks flung back, bitch, cunt, pussy, dyke, fag, chink. She was a writer. Her tools were words. Let me use this power for good, she thought, having been fond o f super heroes as a child (male super heroes, o f course -the female heroes' powers were not as powerful), and knowing that words were powe,ful things. Let me write a world that is not but could be. Let my writing be an unwriting o f the master narrative, the one that wrote me without my consent.

Writing, for me, has always been the best combination of artistic and political practice. I cannot separate the one from the other. To my mind every creative project that is written as a form to be shared with a public, or an audience, cannot help but be a politicised site because we cannot absent our political selves in the moment that is social interaction. Every social interaction is political. There is no neutrality.

Her Happy Unhappy Ending


We can't afford to affect neutrality. This is serious business. Violence against women continues in all strata of society, throughout the world. Women are still murdered in droves, forced into marriage, raped in times of war and plenty. From large scale acts of violence to the seemingly mundane, sexism is very much present in our lives. Every time boys are told to be "a man" and ridiculed for "acting like a girl," it is a moment that reveals the underlying sexist assumptions of that society which devalues and diminishes its women and girls, while simultaneously illustrating an ideology that behaviours are and/or should be "gender appropriate." We see evidence of this everywhere, in the news, at work, in all levels of schooling, at church, in the mosque, and in our own home .... When I attended an English faculty feel-good, morale-boosting tea, a young white male professor stated quite naturally, whilst telling an amusing story about his lacklustre squash game, that he "screamed like a girl." I watched two female faculty members' lips tighten. A third woman was close to grimacing. I don't know what kind of expression I had on my face- I was observing how the moment would play out. (Really, it might be said, why must you take everything so seriously? The man was joking. But listen ... at whose expense?) I was curious, because I was startled, yet again, that entrenched sexism had leaked out in a space I had considered more sensitive, if not conscious. I parsed what I understood of the male professor's attempt at bonding with female colleagues: 1) he thinks a man ought to behave in a certain way, 2) he thinks there's a common understanding and appreciation of what "like a girl" signifies, and 3) he thinks there is something inherently amusing about the perceived difference of gendered behaviour being interchanged. You are a man, I thought. Therefore, you screamed like a man. Of course I understand that he was trying to entertain us (four women) by sharing a story about how un-macho he was, thereby, a kind of enlightened male ally, but the framework he chose through which to execute this story was sexism .... This is truly fucked up. We are so very far from being anywhere near a social state that no longer needs to consider the negative effects and impact of gender stereotypes. Sexism remains deeply entrenched as a destructive and violent control mechanism as well as a manifestation of the worst kind of unthinking biological instinct (I can think of very few mammalian species that live in social groups that do so without some form o f male physical violence and/or male physical domination toward its often physically smaller and weaker female and/or juvenile members, although this does


Special Contribution

not preclude that female-to-female violence occurs as well). I am frightened that we have gained so little ground in deconstructing sexist, homophobic and racist structures in our societies. We've not come a long way, baby .... Yet the general mood today, in privileged circles of North America, is that we have somehow dealt with our long history of violence toward women and children (men are victims of this as well, but in different ways), minority groups and "identifiable others," and that we need not invest in this unneeded dialogue, especially since the environment is at risk through global warming, ecological destruction, and environmental degradation. This is the narrative that is now, and is the tremulous future. How can we invest in a "dated" discourse around sexism, and "special interest groups" when the entire population is at risk? Doing feminist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic work reminds me of my experience of being a child at the beach, digging a hole in the sand. My goal was to dig a big and deep hole, but the longer I dug, the deeper I went, the more the edges came crumbling down, to fill in what I'd scooped out even as the water began to seep from below. It can drive a woman to drink. It can lead a writer to despair. Drowning in the dirty water of a racist, sexist heteronormativity is not the ending I want for me, my lover, my sisters, my mother, my daughter, my son, my friends, my community -this is not an ending I wish for anyone. Not even George Bush. My mother has often been troubled about what she sees as the depressing nature of my stories. (Luckily) she cannot read my work because she does not have facility with written English so I provide her with general summaries ofmy projects. "That sounds very unhappy," she sighs. "You know me ... I like happy endings. Why do you write such troubling things?" I think ofmy mother's responses to my concepts as representational, in broad sweeping terms, of non-feminist women of her generation (born in the late 1930s) from a particular socio-economic background (In saying "non-feminist" it is important to clarify that I'm speaking from a North American perspective of feminism.). I understand that the "endings" my mother could consider "happy" involve a heterosexual marriage (with promise of children in the future), resolution (all narrative threads neatly tied up), and nothing unsettling to disturb the existing sexist, heteronormative, social fabric. That I would write against this grain and that she would read these narratives as "unhappy" when I write them out

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of a strong desire to create my own "happy ending" strikes me as tragic, deeply ironic, sad and rather funny. To locate the humorous within the troubled has been an act of hope and survival. And without it I would not be able to go on. To write against the master narrative is an act that is simultaneously critical, political and creative. The problem with writing against the master narrative is that the master narrative is always present as the normative force -it remains large unthinking and completely entitled. In writing in resistance to a force enormous and so encompassing, the gains that we make are at every moment at risk of crumbling inward -the water is always rising. Instead of writing from inside the hole at the beach as the inexorable tide comes in I would like to step out of the crumbling pit, toss my shovel aside, brush the sand from my knees and walk away. I can only say this because I come from a privileged place where walking away is an option. I can continue living uncomfortably and unhealthily in a deeply sexist world without daily and immediate worry about my survival. This is a privilege that numbs and dulls, and I see this state of political disconnect reflected in the attitude of the masses. Of course I think Disney has a lot to answer for .... I'm being facetious as well as completely serious. Feature-length animated films from Disney encapsulate for me, the workings of the heteronormative, sexist master narrative. Observe, in a great many of their feature-length animated films, the absence of an active empowered maternal figure (the protagonists are mostly orphans), and that all of the "happy endings" for the "girl-films" figure a wedding or coupling of a heterosexual pair (Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, ad nauseam). In the "mixed audience" category (Aladdin, Lion King, Tarzan), almost all of them also revert to a heterosexual coupled ending. The social message that is being endorsed, disseminated, massproduced and marketed (with a full line ofmerchandizing) is an extremely pervasive and powerful mechanism. And I have not even touched upon aspects of race, racism, and homophobia entwined in these master narratives, spirits help us all! Disney often leaves me frothing, twitching in a distemper, and, needless to say, no one in my family wants to watch television programs and films with me .... This can be a lonely yet self-righteous place. Can't you see, I bellow into the night. Let the scales fall from your eyes! Oh, ye who are trapped in this oppressive regime! Don't you want to see a better world???


Special Contribution

My teenaged children are very much involved with anime culture. Japanese animation and graphic novels, manga, are a growing global phenomenon and a certain kind of collapsed racialised identity of this medium intrigues and troubles me. For those who are unfamiliar with the trend, anime and manga are produced for diverse demographics. The range in material is similar to that of published fiction: there is something for everyone. From the loins of anime otaku/geek culture have sprung "maid cafes." Maid cafes are establishments where an uber cute young woman dresses in a "French-maid-like" costume and serves her "master" upon his return (to the cafe). The usual fare offered is either tea or coffee and a modest selection of food items. The draw is not the food. The otaku goes to experience a role-playing scenario in which he is the "master of the house/mansion" (as opposed to a slave-owner) and can be served by an attractive girl who is his maid. Both my son and daughter are intrigued and drawn to this concept. "Well, I said, "you realize that this is a form of fetish." And proceeded to explain what I meant. "Ugh!" the children exclaimed, at their mother who ruins everything. "Don't you find it rather sexist?" I asked them. "Ugh, Hiromi!" my fourteen-year-old daughter exclaimed. "There are butler cafes too!" I laughed. My work as a sabotaguer of mainstream "happy endings" is obviously unfinished. Nothing has made this more clear to me than the grossly popular series of vampire novels written by Stephanie Meyers. My feminist senses were tingling when I first heard the premise of the novel and my skies darkened. Okay -let me be honest: I hated it before I read it. But, I'm a firm believer in knowing the enemy in order to defeat them (yes, a combative model) so I read my daughter's copy of the novel (I don't believe in censoring her interests, not even in maid cafe). "Ohmygod," I groaned with dismay. "Oh, no," I hissed. "You're fucking killing me!" I shouted, as I read another absent-mother narrative about a girl who is so in love with Edward (Note: he's a 90-year-old virgin vampire who goes to high school, so he's not only a paedophile, but also extremely emotionally dela y ed.), who would love to suck her blood just as much as he would "love to love her, baby." Throughout the novel, in which there is very little plot or character development, he saves her from a fatal car accident, helps her when she faints, saves her from other vampires including his own adopted family members, etc. She is always in harm's way-he saves her even as he's potentially the greatest threat to her mortality. They are consumed by love for each other. They are nothing

Her Happy Unhappy Ending


without each other. Bella's desire for this all-consuming love reminds me of something, but I'm not sure what it is. Bella has no ties to family and community. She is a singleton who is made complete by a relationship to a male figure who is, at once, her saviour and her annihilator. Classic abuse narrative. And the girls are eating it up. "Who do you think this novel was written for?" I asked my daughter. "For girls who don't have boyfriends?" she guessed. I see grown women everywhere reading this rubbish and I want to walk up to them and slap them. (Clearly, I am implicated, here, with my own violent thoughts. There is a profound difference, of course, between identifying a violent thought, and acting upon it.) I went on date with someone I met on a lesbian networking website. "I love the Twilight series," she gushed. My heart sank. "Ummm, didn't you find it rather heteronormative and rather sexist?" I asked in a neutral tone of voice. "No, not at all!" she chirped. There wasn't a second date. I tried to cast a deconstructive non-heteronormative reading of the text. In one scene, Bella and Edward lie together in a field of flowers as they talk endlessly about their feelings for each other. They were processing for so many pages, before any intimate contact, that I thought, perhaps, Meyers was actually exploring a Mormon-displaced display of the forbidden love oflesbians! I wish. I know that this is not what most school-girls and women in airports are decoding from the text. I had the ambiguous privilege of sitting at a book table at Chapters (a mega-bookstore in Canada). My daughter was going to spend time at the mall that day. "You could come by with your friends," I wheedled. "You could pretend you don't know me, and pick up the book and say, Wow! This sounds great. And way more intelligent than Twilight!" I coached. "Don't you get it, Mummy?" my daughter asked (she only calls me Mummy when she is feeling superior). "People want stupid!" I've published two books for children, and three for adults. All of my novels have a female Japanese Canadian protagonist. In my collection of short stories, almost all of the stories orbit Japanese Canadian subjectivities. I am writing a literary landscape that depicts diverse representations that reflects something of my lived reality (i.e. multiracial, complex, socially queer, critical).


Special Contribution

My earlier work was very much located from a place of identity politics. This was in the early nineties and writers of colour were just beginning to take up space in the established Canadian literary canon. Now, in the twenty-first century, I'm somewhat bemused to find that my work has found its own niche in the academic arena. Good, I think, the work has application. It is generating discussion, especially among young students. My first novel, Chorus o f Mushrooms, was overtly speaking back to the master narrative, and in doing so claiming diverse representations of women of Japanese background in a predominantly white mainstream culture. Narrated mostly through the experiences of a granddaughter and her grandmother, not only was I seeking to dismantle the accumulated damage of misrepresentations of Asian and Asian Canadian women, I was also dismantling the colonizing structure of the closed narrative form of the novel, in which many of the damaging representations are housed. Murasaki Local Elderly Woman Disappears Search Continues Late Tuesday night, the immigrant mother-in-law of local mushroom farmer, Sam Tonkatsu, went missing during blizzard-like snow conditions. "We're very worried," says Sam's wife. "We just want her to come home." Local RCMP and neighbouring ranchers are combing the countryside, but weather conditions hinder their search. "Cases like this are difficult," says Constable Norton. "An elderly woman isn't likely to survive a single night during weather like we've been experiencing." What is surprising is that most town folk were unaware that the old woman was even living with the Tonkatsus. Foul play has been ruled out. "What happened to your grandma?" "She went back to Japan. She got sick of all this snow and dust and up and left. I don't blame her." "What happened to your grandma?" "She went ape-shit and was raving, frothing at the mouth, and she ran naked from the house screaming like the pagan she is."

Her Happy Unhappy Ending


"What happened to your grandma?" "She started to grow fur all over her body and at first we thought it was a symptom of illness or something like she wasn't eating enough so her body was compensating with fur to keep her warm but we found out she was actually a tanuki who had assumed the form of a woman so she could marry my grandfather because he had set her free from a trap and she wanted to thank him by becoming his wife, but now, she wanted to return to the wilds whence she crune." I found out then, that everybody, including me, was always looking for a story. That the story could be anything. They would eat it. ... Mind you, the story can be anything, but there have to be details. People love details. The stranger, the more exotic, the better. "Oooooh," they say. "Aaaaaaah." Nothing like a freak show to make you feel normal, safe by comparison. "Tell us about the feet," they say. "Did your grandmother have to bind her feet when she was little?" Actually, feet were never bound in Japan, but someone keeps on perpetuating this myth. It always goes back to that. The binding of the feet. Deformities. Ritual Hari Kari. Actually, it's harakiri but go on saying Hairy Carrie for all I care. It's not about being bitter. You're invited somewhere to be a guest speaker. To give a keynote address. Whatever that is. Everybody in suits and ties and designer dresses. You're the only coloured person there who is not serving food. It's not about being bitter. You just notice. People talk race this ethnic that. It's easy to be theoretical if the words are coming from a face that has little or no pigmentation. If your nrune is Hank and you have three blond kids, no one will come up to you in the Safeway produce section and point at a vegetable and ask, "What is that?" I was standing in the ethnicChinesericenoodleTofupattiesexotic vegetable section of Safeway. Fingering, squeezing stroking Japanese eggplants for firmness, taut shiny purple skin and no rust spots. I love shopping. The touching of vegetables. Lingering of fruits and tap tapping my fingers on watermelon husks. Just minding my business and choosing eggplants. "What is that, exactly? I've always wondered." I looked up from my reverie and a face peered down on me. A kindly face. An interested face. "It's an eggplant."


Special Contribution

"Oh really!" Surprisewonderjoy. "How wonderful! This is what our eggplants look like. They're so different!" She held up a round almost-black solid eggplant. Bitter skin and all. She looked up at the handmade signs above the vegetables with the prices marked in dollars per pound. SUEYCHOY LOO BOK they read BOK CHOY $.69/lb $.89/lb $.49/lb "What are they called in your language?" I looked up at the signs. "I don't speak Chinese," I said. "Oh. I'm sorry." Sorry for what? I wondered. And there, right above the eggplants where all the other handwritten signs were: JAPANESE EGGPLANTS $2.09/lb I took the long and graceful eggplant I still held in my hand and smacked it smartly against the sign. "Here. Here it is," I said. And turned my back to examine hakusai leaves. Suey Choy in Chinese according to the Safeway produce staff. Leave me in peace. Let a woman choose her vegetables in peace. Vegetable politics. (Chorus o f Mushrooms, 88-91) I do not think that we are done with identity politics, but the term itself needs to be adapted to the times. Words/concepts we create to bring fresh discourse into the old language of an established oppressive culture can be easily co-opted by the status quo that always seeks to undo the work of activists, feminists, community workers, radical thinkers. Consider the term, "politically correct." How quickly it has lost activist agency and has become a word that is used sneeringly against any kind of expressed social consciousness. Proactive terms become terms of derision. In the same way, "identity politics" has lost its currency even as the necessity to speak to the issues which brought the term into existence continues to infect all our lives. I can envision no future where discriminatory practices are not used to subjugate and control groups of people based on certain "identifiable" markers, no matter how inaccurate or arbitrary they are. There will always be a need to consistently and rigorously dismantle the thought products of regimes (be they governmental, religious, institutional,

Her Happy Unhappy Ending


etc) whose legacy is based on racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism. There is the double-bind of identity politics: on the one hand, not to name yourself could result in erasure or mis-naming, on the other hand, we can easily become framed and contained within the limitations of a vocabulary. On top of that, terms developed to speak back to master narratives are persistently re-framed to be wielded against the very people who created them in order to resist systems of oppression. When I am invited to conferences I wonder what I am meant to represent. Do they see the sum of my parts? Which part of me do they want? I am, at once, cynical as well as pragmatic. Sure, I think some of my books are pretty good, and I'm trying to write narratives that are critical, distinct, empowering and political as well as artistically pleasing ... but I'm acutely aware of how my body performs and how the performance is a particular event for each member of the audience. I am, at once, grateful and suspicious, around what I am representing for whom, and what I am participating with/in. It is an honour to have my work discussed and to share my writing with a wide audience. It is an honour to be able to participate in a wider discourse even as we share our similarities and talk through differences. I am fortunate to have claimed or carved out a kind of postcolonial feminist space in Canadian literature, and sometimes I marvel that this is so. Yet. ... How am I meant to perform a post-colonial feminist queer representation when I step outside the borders of my body, my identity, my nation? What do I represent for you? Sometimes I am worried that I am meant to represent too much at once, and I cannot carry this load. It is, simultaneously, too much and completely inadequate. The title of my talk has many qualifiers. To name oneself is also to frame oneself. If I am silent, then I am a blank sheet upon which others would inscribe me. If I speak some of my names, I am at risk of inscribing an identity that would contain me. The words, "queer," "feminist," "antiracist" mark me and my representational body in particular ways. What must I embody? Would I choose these limitations i f l had a choice? There is no choice involved in the daily interactions with other people. As soon as a body enters a public, the body is read and decoded. Race, sex, gender, sexuality, "ability," size, class, etc.; even before we open our mouths to utter our words, to be heard, so much has been subjectively seen, and subjectively assessed. When I move in and among strangers at any moment I can be estranged from my own sense of self. That others have power to take me from myself enrages me.


Special Contribution

An enormous gap exists between what one experiences of the world and what others have assumed of your experiences based upon what they think you represent. I am passionately, politically and artistically interested in writing the missing stories. I'm not talking about trying to be ''unique" or "original" (although as a creative and critical thinker I abhor the idea of recreating cliche); I am looking to fill the gaps between narratives that have colonised mainstream culture, the multitude of stories that exist between Disney's Snow White and Meyer's Twilight. A significant missing element in Western literature has been consistent and integrated representations of the body. I find it peculiar that an art form that is often framed as "realistic" has so much realism missing. What could be more "real" than the workings and depictions of the body? Yet, time and again, unless the conceptual nexus of the narrative is tied to a body thematic (i.e. a narrative centred on illness, for instance), then, more often than not, the body is entirely missing. Most of the characters are thoughts disconnected from their body, a personality housed in a thought bubble of ideas and experiences separate from their sensorial world. I have read reams and reams of novels through childhood, undergraduate university literature courses, contemporary fiction for my own interest and pleasure, and again and again I find myself asking, "Where is the body?" I find this absence to be extremely illogical and bewildering. Our sensorial world and our perceptions of this world is the primary interface of our lives. Why, then, is the body vacated from so much of Western literature? As if our bodies do not matter? I persistently strive to bring to my narratives diverse realistic bodily depictions in all of its glorious and ignoble details. In my short story, "Tales from the Breast," a young mother negotiates the fraught and the uneasy spaces between social expectations of motherhood, and her lived experience: "I'm quitting. I hate this." "You've only been at it for two weeks. This is the worst part and it'll only get better from here on," he encourages. Smiles gently and tries to kiss me on the nose. "I quit, I tell you. I f l keep on doing this, I'll start hating the baby." "You're only thinking about yourself," he accuses, pointing a finger at my chest. "Breastfeeding is the best for her and you're giving up, just like that. I thought you were tougher." "Don't you guilt me! It's my goddamn body and I make my own decisions on what I will and will not do with it!"

Her Happy Unhappy Ending


"You always have to do what's best for yourselfl What about my input? Don't I have a say on how we raise our baby?" he shouts, Mr Sensible and let's-talk-about-it-like-two-adults. "Is everything alright?" his mother whispers from outside the closed bedroom door. "Is anybody hun-" "We're fine! Just go to bed!" he yells. The baby snorts, hiccups into an incredible wail. Nasal and distressed. "Listen, it's me who has to breastfeed her, me who's getting up every two hours to have my nipples lacerated and sucked on till they bleed while you just snore away. You haven't even got up once in the middle of the night to change her goddamn diaper even as a token fucking gesture of support, so don't you tell me what I should do with my breasts. There's nothing wrong with formula. I was raised on formula. You were raised on formula. Our whole generation was raised on formula and we're fine. So just shut up about it. Just shut up. Because this isn't about you. This is about me!" "If I could breastfeed, I would do it gladly!" he hisses. Flings the blankets back and stomps to the crib. And I laugh. I laugh because the sucker said the words out loud. 3:27 AM. The baby has woken up. Your breasts are heavy with milk but you supplement her with formula. 5:15. You supplement her again and your breasts are so full, so tight, that they lie like marble on your chest. They are ready. You change the baby's diapers and put her into the crib. In the low glow of the baby light, you can see her lips pursed around an imaginary nipple. She even sucks in her sleep. You sit on the bed, beside your partner, and unsnap the catches of the nursing bra. The pads are soaked and once the nipples are exposed, they spurt with sweet milk. The skin around your breasts stretches tighter than a drum, so tight that all you need is one little slice for the skin to part. Like a pressured zipper, it tears, spreading across the surface of your chest, directed by your fingers, tears in a complete circle around the entire breast. There is no blood. You lean slightly forward and the breast falls gently into your cupped hands. The flesh is a deep red and you wonder at its beauty, how flesh becomes food without you asking or even wanting it. You set the breast on your lap and slice your other breast. Two pulsing orbs


Special Contribution

still spurting breast milk. You gently tug the blankets down from the softly clenched fingers of your partner's sleep, unbutton his pyjamas, and fold them back so his chest is exposed. You stroke the hairless skin, then lift one breast, then the other, to lie on top of his flat penny nipples. The flesh of your breasts seeps into his skin, soft whisper of cells joining cells, your skin into his, tissue to tissue, the intimate melding before your eyes, your mouth an "o" of wonder and delight. "Tales from the Breast" in Hopejid Monsters, 62-64. Recently I visited a first year English class at Simon Fraser University that had included my short story collection as part of their curriculum. During the Q & A, a young woman spoke, not to ask a question, but to make a statement. "At first I didn't like your writing," she said matter-of-factly. "But then I looked up your other books and read them, and I want to thank you for writing what you do." "Thank you for sharing that with me," I responded. "But let me ask you a question. Why didn't you like the stories?" "They made me feel uncomfortable. They were so gross." I was pleased. I understood her comments to mean that the aspects and details of the body that I foreground and integrate in my narratives were pushing at the boundaries of her comfort level. This is a purposeful kind of unsettling, that demands a response. From this moment of uneasiness or destabilisation the normative is ruptured and in that break there exists a space for a new relationship with that which had been perceived as constant and unchanging. The past several years much of my writing time has been directed toward fiction for youth. Younger, my intuition tells me. We have to reach them when they're younger .... So much of critical learning at the university level is about deconstruction, the undoing of the damage that's been done. Instead of breaking down, I would like to build up .... (My children's interest in maid cafes notwithstanding .... ) Of course stories and novels require some kind of"ending." My happy unhappy endings will never satisfy or reassure my dear mother, who still wishes a happy ending for me, but only within the construction of her own learned grammar. In Japan there is a saying: "The nail that stands out is hammered down." I don't think this kind of thinking is exclusive to Japan, but can be found in most every culture. To be a feminist, queer, an activist, an agitator, a sabatoguer ofheteronormative culture, is to draw attention to

Her Happy Unhappy Ending


yourself in ways you might not long for. But to live in silence is not an option for me. Indeed, I do not see how it can be an option for anyone. When I am vocal with my critiques, my deconstruction of oppression and sexist tyranny, my mother likes to state, with a measure of affection and resignation, "You're so ill-tempered. But you've always been illtempered, even as a baby." I think my mother imagines me, slipping out of her body, as a fully formed feminist, (that I am queer is clearly the fault of my ex-husband!) a case of a kind of temperament-inflected social determinism. "Look," I try to be gentle. "I'm just making my own happy ending. Don't you want me to be happy?" I ask her. "I want you to be happy," my mother says sadly. But I know what remains unspoken, " ... like everyone else .... " Then it comes to me .... Mother. The mother. Mother! Those loss-ofself "romantic love" narratives, of the ilk of Snow White and Twilight .... Bella's consuming desire to be completely protected and loved by Edward, and to almost merge with him in terms of identity, was not only weird because of its irrational self-annihilative extremes, but because it reminded me of something that comes from a different realm of relationship. Bella• s behaviour and emotional need was reminiscent of what my children wanted from me when they were developmentally beginning to learn that they were separate from me - between the ages of two and three years old. As they began to understand that I was not a part of their being, their desire to be protected and loved absolutely by me, their mother, grew intensely strong. And as their understanding of my limitations as loving and all-protective mother grew their desire for me to be that figure grew even greater. (See Japanese psychoanalyst Doi's groundbreaking book, The Anatomy o f Dependence.) Can a great many of those heterosexual romantic love narratives be a form of transference of the longing for Mother? Is that a happy ending? My ending is not my mother's, is not my daughter's, is not actually mine, because "ending" for me, in fiction and in my lived racialised, queer, feminist life, is actually not possible. Let us speak of "endings," all possible streams, multitudinous tributaries entwined, to separate and flow through cracks and topsoil, through bedrock and underground channels to all converge in the sea. I will be the one at the beach, digging, going deeper and deeper until suddenly, the clumps of wet sand will cease being pitched onto the pile. A worn shovel will fly up over the crumbling edge.


Special Contribution

I'll hop to the surface, sweaty and cross, and swipe the sand from my knees. "Look," I'll say, after catching my breath. "I've been digging for so long I forgot .... There's a sea." We'll both look out across the water, where the water meets the sky. I'll take your hand and we'll start running, the sting of cold and salt, the spray and glints of light. We'll plunge into the froth, cool, cool as winter kisses, under the brilliant sky. In the rocking tide, in the buoyancy of salt. Beneath the glorious sky. Laughing.

Works Cited Goto, Hiromi. Chorus o f Mushrooms. Edmonton, Canada: Ne West Press, 1994. - . Hopejid Monsters. Vancouver, Canada: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004.



The first section of this volume is devoted to the idea of gender as performance. In the opening essay, "Gender and Discourse on Stage," Gomez Penas and Fraga Fuentes examine how gender and discourse work in Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) by the Irish playwright Brian Friel. Taking as starting point the idea that "gender is a set of discourses or ideological symbolic constructs," the authors focus on the lives of the Mundy sisters and analyse the different discourses of Kate, one of sisters that performs in the play. The authors interpret the meaning of her words and the context in which they are used, together with non-verbal actions, to illustrate the way Kate is gendered through her discourse. Notes and stage directions, the authors claim, construct Kate's gender identity, presenting her as a character that uses two discourses. She is authoritarian and affectionate at once, but has a special role in the family. Yet, the authors conclude, in spite of her efforts to take control of the family, she remains fragile at the end of the play, undermining her efforts and principles. The second essay, "Delany's Perversion of Gender: The A-sexuality of Desire in 'Aye, and Gomorrah," by Liste Noya, moves to Delany's 1966 short story to explore the dialectics of sexual perversion. As Liste illustrates, this science-fictional tale portrays the complexity and performative nature of perversion by creating a space where genderless and sexless subjects, "the spacers," virtually encounter the sexed, desireladen figures called "frelks" in an ambivalent sado-masochistic, non relating relationship. The perverse absence of bodily sex and its signs becomes a scenario for the performance of desire, but this desire is defined as lack. With this, Liste takes Butler's theories on the performative nature of sexual and gender identity to illustrate how Delany's tale combats the traditional rigidity of gender, sex and desire categories by means of perversion. In the following essay, "Gender in Show Business Drama: From Cinderella to Carmen in The Barefoot Contessa," Carmen Rodriguez turns to the filmic subgenre show business drama. The author reads Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa (1950) as a condemnation of the economic ambition of film industry that, nevertheless, does not subvert old notions of gender and female sexuality. For that purpose, Rodriguez uses

Experiencing Gender: International Approaches


the novella Carmen, a literary referent in the movie, to compare the female protagonists of film and novella-Maria and Carmen respectively. In her analysis of the representation of women in both texts, the author makes use of the literary myth of Cinderella, arguing that, while the plot of the film subverts certain of the fairy-tale motives that categorise women as passive, dependent, naive and fragile, the novella seems to go a step further and oppose the typical fairy tale heroine in the sense that Carmen is depicted as "unreliable, disobedient, unfaithful, impolite and exuberant," what echoes, on the other hand, the features traditionally ascribed to the figure of the femme fatale. Nevertheless, both texts essentialise women as sexual objects and, in the case of Maria in The Barefoot Contessa, there is a reaffirmation of the Hollywood code that establishes the supremacy of a male gaze in cinema. In order to support her argument, Rodriguez uses film theorists like Mulvey, Kaplan and Creed in an attempt to justify the film's underrating of the relevance of Maria's psychological complexity. After all, she remains conservative. The last essay in this section, "Women in Rap Music: A Feminist Approach" by Jeannette Bello, uses hip-hop culture, specifically rap music, to denounce the sexist approach of mainstream rap discourses and to highlight the need to find new voices from where to subvert women's subordination within the music industry. Considered as a masculinist art form, rap music has consistently ignored women as creators, consumers and participants of rap culture, and their inscription in rap discourses has been reduced to objects of men's desire whose only role is supporting or complementing men, being their bodies mere accessories. In an attempt to contribute to her denounce, the author analyses three examples of underground female artists' texts that thematically, conceptually or formally, contest the hip-hop canon, contributing hence to open new spaces from where to offer non-sexist instances of rap music. MC Sirah, Motion and Woyza's texts offer fresh instances of gender subversion and criticise the generalised perception of women within hip-hop, especially the industry's emphasis on proposing certain standards of female beauty and behaviour.


Introduction The aim of this paper is to explore gender and discourse in Dancing at Lughnasa 2 by Brian Friel, one of Ireland's leading contemporary playwrights. The adaptability of dramatic texts to this kind of approach has been emphasised by different scholars such as Jose Santaemilia, who considers that "dramatic literature is a privileged field of study for discursive spaces that could be called feminine and masculine [ ... ] Drama is a splendid laboratory to show gender and sexual differences and also to underline its contradictions" 3 (original emphasis, our translation). 4 As regards the discourse structure of drama, it has been pointed out that there are at least two levels of discourse, the character-to-character dialogue, and the communication that exists between the playwright and the 1 This research has been financed by the Ministerio Espanol de Ciencia y Tecnologia HUM 2007-62220/FILO group: "Estudio comparativo de la Interfaz Gramatica-Discurso en Lengua Inglesa, su especial referencia a la coherencia y a la subjetividad." It has also been financed by the Xunta de Galicia (Rede de Lingua e Literatura Inglesa e Identidade XUGA 2007/145 and FEDER). 2 Brian Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa (London: Faber and Faber, 1990). Dancing at Lughnasa was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on 24 April 1990. 3 Weatherall, Gender, Language and Discourse, 97. The importance of the study of texts and exchanges in analysing gender has also been mentioned by Ann Weatherall: "Language does not merely mirror social beliefs about gender and reflect the nature of gender identity. Rather, it is through language (and discourse) that gender is produced and gains its significance as a social category. Thus, the study of texts and talk in interaction become prime sites for examining gender". 4 Santaemilia, Genera como conflict constructivo, 44-45.

Gender and Discourse on Stage


audience or reader. In the case of plays that have a narrator-as the one that is the object of our study-a third discourse level could be taken into account. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the character-to-character level of interaction could not be analysed following similar methods as those used for naturally occurring conversation. 5 The structure of the dialogues in a play is quite similar to that of ordinary conversation; the main differences between drama dialogue and everyday conversation have been studied in detail. However, we can point out that both of them can perform similar functions. Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet notice the importance of everyday conversation in the construction of gender, an idea that could be also applied to dramatic dialogue: Everyday conversational exchanges are crucial in constructing gender identities as well as gender ideologies and relations. It is in conversation that people put their ideas on the table, and it is in conversation that these ideas get taken up or not -that they move on to be part of a wider discourse or just die on the spot. And it is in conversation that we work out who we are in relation to others, and who others will allow us to be. 6 Thus, we shall study different exchanges in the play which contribute to establish the relationships that help us to analyse the way characters are gendered, taking their discourses into consideration. However, it is important to signal that gender is connected with other variables and categories such as age, place where one lives, community, institutions and so on. 7 The stage-directions supplied by the playwright-which in the case of Friel are particularly significant and detailed-become a great help for the analysis of the different discourses that are found in the dramatic work. Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that a play text only comes into being on stage, that is, when performed by actors for an audience, and that each performance is different from another. 8 Dancing at Lughnasa is set near the fictitious village of Ballybeg, County Donegal, in the north of Short, Exploring the Language o f Poems, Plays and Prose (London and New York: Longman, 1996), 169-172; Simpson, Language Through Literature (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 164. 6 Eckert and McConnell-Ginet, Language and Gender: A Reader, 59. 7 Eckert and McConnell-Ginet, Language and Gender, 30. As Eckert and McConnell-Ginet noted, "Gender is not an individual matter at all, but a collaborative affair that connects the individual to the social order," on the whole, a common idea in gender studies." 8 Lennard and Luckhurst, The Drama Handbook: A Guide to Reading Plays, 9. 5

Chapter One


Ireland. Act One takes place on a warm day in early August 1936 and Act Two three weeks later. Although it focuses on the lives of five w o m e n the Mundy sisters: Kate, Maggie, Agnes, Rose and Chris-, the play dramatises the memories of Michael, the narrator, then a seven-year-old boy. He is the son of Chris, an unmarried mother, and of a young Welsh pipsqueak, Gerry Evans, who visits the Mundy family twice that summer. The sisters also welcome home Father Jack, Michael's uncle, a missionary priest who has been absent for twenty five years and returns from Africa that summer as well. His presence there, among his sisters, together with other apparently unimportant events, as the acquisition of a wireless radio, will provoke a series of changes in the dull and monotonous life of the Mundy family. Our main concern here is the study of both the construction of gender in this play and the different discourses of Kate as opposed to those of her sisters, taking into account the observations of Ann Weatherall: "Gender is not a stable and enduring feature of the individual which is reliably and transparently reflected in language use. Rather, gender can be viewed as a set of discourses or ideological symbolic constructs." 9 Thus, we mainly concentrate here on the way the Mundy sisters, and Kate in particular, are gendered through their discourses, which are obviously context-bound in the play. The definition of discourse given by Eckert and McConnell-Ginet reflects our use of the term in this paper. In their words: "Discourse is the socially meaningful activity-most typically talk, but non-verbal actions as w e l l - i n which ideas are constructed over time." 10 Accordingly, in our analysis we shall consider not only the meaning of the words and the context in which they are used, but also those non-verbal actions which have an influence on the way a character performs gender on stage.

The Construction of Gender in the Notes and in the Stage Directions Friel divides his notes into three parts: characters, set and dress. As regards the characters, he specifies the exact age of each one of the Mundy sisters and that of Jack, Gerry and Michael, and also the jobs of all of them. These factors are important because they would make the reader or the audience expect that Jack, being the eldest of the Mundys and also a missionary priest, be the patriarch of the family in rural, 1936, Catholic 9

Weatherall, Gender, Language and Discourse, 95. Eckert and McConnell-Ginet, Language and Gender, 42.


Gender and Discourse on Stage


Ireland. Even so, as it will be shown, this is not exactly the case. In our opinion, this family, who lives two miles away the village of Ballybeg, forms a small community of practice, 11 a concept defined by Eckert and McConnell-Ginet as follows: [... ] an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in some common endeavour. Ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, values, power relations-in short, practices----emerge in the course of their joint activity around that endeavour. 12 Gender is reflected in Friel's note dealing with the set. Most of the area of the stage is devoted to the kitchen and the rest of it to what the playwright describes as a "neat but not cultivated garden." The description of the set ends with a passage where a feminine world is clearly marked: "[ ... ] this is the home of five women the austerity of the furnishings is relieved by some gracious touches-flowers, pretty curtains, and attractive dresser arrangement, etc." From the very beginning the feminine and masculine worlds are presented in opposition. 13 Terms like "austerity," "lean," "drab" are used by Friel exclusively for the female characters as opposed to terms like "splendid," "spotless," "resplendent," "magnificent," "dazzling white", that are used for the male characters. Thus, in the opening tableau Father Jack is presented in a "magnificent and immaculate uniform of dazzling white" and Gerry is wearing a "spotless white tricom hat with splendid white plumage." There is a marked contrast between their appearance and that of the feminine characters in the play, because the clothes of all the sisters reflect their "lean circumstances"; besides, they are dressed in the "drab and wrap-around overalls/aprons of the time." As regards footwear, they are wearing Wellingtons or large boots with long untied laces. It must be acknowledged that these marked differences apply only to the initial tableau where all characters in the play are introduced. Once the action starts and Father Jack appears on stage after his return journey from Africa, he is described in the stage directions as frail, uneasy and confused, looking older than his fifty-three years and wearing old woollen clothes even though the scene takes place on a warm 11

Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Pheripheral Participation. "Community of practice" had already been defined by J. Lave and E. Wenger. 12 Eckert and McConnell-Ginet, "Communities of Practice," 490. The authors add that "A community of practice is different as a social construct from the traditional notion of community, primarily because it is defined simultaneously by its membership and by the practice in which that membership engages." 13 Lojek, "Dancing at Lughnasa and the Unfinished Revolution,"81. This contrast has already been pointed out by Helen Lojek.


Chapter One

summer day. 14 An example of the creation of gender by means of stage directions and props is found in the middle of Act One when Gerry arrives for the first time. The way the sisters react to his unexpected appearance creates an almost chaotic situation in their reduced world: The news throws the sisters into chaos. Only CHRIS stands absolutely still, too shocked to move. AGNES picks up her knitting and works with excessive concentration. ROSE and MAGGIE change their footwear. Everybody dashes about in confusion - peering into the tiny mirror, bumping into one another, peeping out the window, combing hair. During all this hectic activity th e y talk over each other and weave around the immobile CHRIS [... ]. 15

Kate's character is built by different kinds of discourses that can be opposed to those of her sisters and to that of her brother as well. Kate's behaviour varies depending on the different situations that are presented in the play. As Vimala Herman states: Gender identity is constructed from the inferences derived from a character's linguistic, situational, pragmatic, paralinguistic and other cues which function as cultural cues as well as within the constraints of face-toface interaction. Behaviours can vary as situations unfold through the course o f a r,Iay. Situations project, but are also produced by behaviours within them. 6

Although the Mundy family conforms a microcosm, it is evident that Kate has a special role in it. Therefore, we shall focus on certain features that are significant in the portrayal of this character, as shown in the narrator's words, the stage directions and a series of situations and exchanges in the play. Already on page one, she is described by Michael, the narrator, as "a national schoolteacher and a very proper woman." 17 Besides, as the stage directions indicate, just after the initial tableau and before the action begins, Michael, Kate, Gerry and Father Jack leave the stage, while the others "busy themselves with their tasks." 18 This gives the audience a first glimpse of the other four sisters working hard at home, a scene that will be usual all along the play. The audience perceives in their first exchanges of 14

Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, 17. Ibid., 24. 16 Herman, Dramatic Discourse: Dialogue as Interaction in Pla y s, 279-280. 17 Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, I. 18 Ibid., 1. 15

Gender and Discourse on Stage


dialogue that, although she is not present, Kate is mentioned as someone who would disapprove of certain habits, such as the use of lipstick, and also as someone who never forgets anything, particularly, when she goes to the small shops in Ballybeg. It is evident that, for her sisters, Kate, the eldest, represents authority in the Mundy family. In fact, Anna McMullan identifies Kate with repressive religious authority. 19 This is exemplified by a series of dialogues in the play: JACK: In Ryanga women are eager to have love-children. The more lovechildren you have, the more fortunate your household is thought to be. Have you other love-children? KATE: [ ... ] you are home in Donegal now and much as we cherish lovechildren here they are not exactly the norm [... ] It may be efficient and you may be in favour ofit, Jack, but I don't think it's what Pope Pius XI considers to be the holy sacrament of matrimony. And it might be better for you if you paid just a bit more attention to our Holy Father and a bit less to the Great Goddess ... Iggie. (Music o f "Anything Goes" very softly on the radio). 20

Both exchanges reflect clearly Jack's new ideas and religious beliefs. After his prolonged stay in Africa, he does not always seem to be well aware that he is back in Ireland; besides, his beliefs have changed radically and are no longer orthodox. 2 1 On the other hand, Kate has adopted the convictions and discourse that the audience would expect in Father Jack, as has been mentioned. Note also the marked contrast between Kate's words and the lyrics of the music of"Anything Goes" heard on the radio. 22 As the play progresses, the wireless set and the music it broadcasts become a source of disagreement among the sisters. Once, when Chris suddenly turns the radio off, Kate says: "Peace, thanks be to God! D'you know what that thing has done? Killed all Christian conversation in this country." 23 Up to a point, Marconi, 24 the radio set the Mundys have bought that 19

McMullan, "'In Touch With Some Otherness:' Gender, Authority and the Body in Dancing at Lughnasa," 97. 2 °Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, 41-63. 21 Fraga Fuentes and Gomez Penas, "Una Aproximacion a Dancing at Lughnasa." For a more extensive analysis of the male characters in the play, see Fraga Fuentes and Gomez Penas. 22 Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, 64-65. In Act II, while Gerry dances with Agnes around the kitchen and out in the garden, he keeps singing the provocative words of Cole Porter's song. 23 Ibid., 66. 24 Notice that the Mundys use a masculine name for an object that becomes so

Chapter One

summer, could be considered another character in the play, partly due to the special relationship each of the sisters has with it and also because it is placed in the cottage kitchen where they spend most of their time. The important role the wireless set has in the Mundys' home is highlighted by the fact that it is already mentioned by Michael, the narrator, when he introduces the main characters at the beginning of the play. Marconi is frequently mentioned in both acts due to its erratic way of operating. In the following example Maggie treats it as if it was a human being: "Marconi, my friend, you're not still asleep, are you?" 25 Kate's authority extends to many other aspects in the life of the Mundy family. As noted earlier, Kate is a national schoolteacher. The authoritarian relationship that may be expected in a classroom in the first quarter of the twentieth century pervades also in her behaviour at home. Hence, when Chris, Agnes and Rose are talking about different subjects, such as the traditional harvest dance, the dresses they are going to wear, or how much they are going to dance, Kate keeps a commanding attitude, and at the end of the following exchange of dialogue her words clearly reflect a discourse of authority. This is shown primarily in her frequent interruptions and in a series of negative statements: "No, no, we're going to no harvest dance ... And there'll be no more discussion about it. The matter's over. I don't want it mentioned again. "2 6 Needless to say, this type of discourse provokes negative reactions on the part of her sisters and, above all, on Agnes, who reminds her that she is at home and not at school talking to her pupils: "This isn't your classroom, Kate. "2 7 Just as shown above, Kate manages at times to reduce her sisters to silence on certain matters. But silence could be also an individual option as it is often the case of Agnes. Kate also exerts some kind of authoritarian relationship on her brother. At the end of Act One, she organises every aspect of his life, giving him various orders that according to her must be fulfilled by him: "And don't you forget to take your medicine again [ ... ] I'm going to walk you down to the main road and up again three times and then you'll get your tea and then you'll read the paper from front to back and then you'll take your medicine and then you'll go to bed[ ... ]." 2 8 The use of strong directives indicates that she has a hierarchical power over him, 29 and the contracted future form 'll has the force of a severe important for them that summer. Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, 38. Ibid., 13-14. Ibid., 23. Ibid., 39-41. Coates, Women, Men and Language, 107. A directive is defined by J. Coates as

25 26 27 28 29

Gender and Discourse on Stage


command. 30 As Weatherall states: "Men more often than women are in a position to issue imperatives[ ... ] The use of imperatives forms part of the pool of linguistic resources for constructing oneself as masculine and/or powerful." 3 1 Authority is also marked by Kate's use of proper names when she addresses her sisters. On the one hand, as opposed to those who use common short forms of the names, she uses "Christina," "Maggie," "Rose" and "Agnes" all the time. Thus, when addressing Christina, the forms "Chrissie," "Chris" are used exclusively by her sisters, 32 these short forms of their Christian names have a "highly informal tone and a mode of referring that indicates close community with (together with familiar, and often affectionate, knowledge of) what is referred to." 33 On the other hand, the short form "Kate" is used by all the characters in the play, with the only exception of Maggie, who calls her elder sister "Kitty" just on two occasions. On one of them, Maggie is being ironic, offering Kate a cigarette after she has rebuked her for smoking, and, on the other, Maggie is trying to comfort Kate. 34 Kate's patriarchal role is not necessarily always presented seriously, on the contrary, quite frequently it is mingled with irony, as seen in a conversation that takes place near the end of the play and that involves the whole Mundy family. It shows Jack's beliefs after his prolonged stay in Africa. Although Jack speaks quite in earnest here about those new beliefs, this is an exchange of dialogue full of humour for the audience, particularly due to Maggie's comments. She keeps teasing Kate but, at the same time, her words reveal once more the important place the elder sister has in the family. Maggie chooses Kate among all the sisters as the principal wife of that ideal African husband or as the woman who would have all the children: "a speech act which tries to get someone to do something." 3 °Carter and McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar o f English, 646; Leech and Jan, A Communicative Grammar o f English, 146. Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy say that: "A rarer use of will is in declarative clauses which command someone to do something or insist that they do something". Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik mention also this use of will: "will in its future sense can sometimes be used [... ] with the force of a severe command." 31 Weatherall, Gender, Language and Discourse, 87. 32 Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, 6. Only, on one occasion, Rose, who is very angry because Chris has reprimanded her, says: "And who are you to talk Christina Mundy! Don't you dare lecture me!" The use of the proper name followed by the surname emphasises Rose's words and shows that she is really upset. 33 Quirk and Others, A Comprehensive Grammar o f the English Language, 1584. 34 Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, 23, 49.


Chapter One MAGGIE: Could you guarantee a man for each ofus? JACK: I couldn't promise four men but I should be able to get one husband for all of you. MAGGIE: Would we settle for that? CHRIS: One between the four ofus? JACK: That's our system and it works very well. One of you would be his principal wife and live with him in his largest hutMAGGIE: That'd be you, Kate. KATE: Stop that, Maggie! JACK: And the other three of you he'd keep in his enclosure. It would be like living on the same small farm. MAGGIE: Snug enough, girls, isn't it? (to Jack) And what would be? what sort of duties would we have? JACK: Cooking, sewing, helping with the crops, washing -the usual housekeeping tasks. MAGGIE: Sure that's what we do anyway. JACK: And looking after his children. MAGGIE: That he'd have by Kate. KATE: Maggie! 35

Although not very frequently, a different discourse for Kate emerges in a few scenes o f the play, an affectionate one which displays another important aspect o f this character. Thus, when she observes her sisters and listens to their reactions at Gerry's arrival, Kate gets annoyed and, once more, she starts giving orders about what they have got to do and what they ought to say; but suddenly, when Chris is about to cry, she adopts a different attitude, showing care for her sister. She behaves fondly towards Chris; her change o f feeling is indicated not only by her words but by her gesture as well. Both discourses, the authoritative and the affectionate one, are present in the following exchange o f dialogue, and they are also indicated in the stage directions: KATE:[ ... ] and what are you going to do is this. You'll meet him outside. You'll tell him that his son is healthy and happy. And then you'll send him packing [ ... ] (Chris does not move. She is about to cry. Kate now takes her in her arms). Of course ask him in. And give the creature his tea. And stay the night if he wants to. (Firm again) But in the outside loft. And alone [... ]. 3 6 At that point, the playwright once more creates gender by means o f the stage directions: "(Chris now rushes to the mirror a n d adroitly adjusts her 35 36

Ibid., 62-63. Ibid., 25-26.

Gender and Discourse on Stage


hair and her clothes.)." 37 Thus, although full of authority, Kate is, by no means, unemotional. In fact, emotion is part of her discourse as well. Kate, like her sisters, may also burst into tears at certain moments, as when she has the terrible feeling that everything is going to change and that serious problems will inevitably affect her family in the near future. Strong emotion is felt in one of the most remarkable and well-remembered scenes of the play, 38 in the middle of Act One. It is the moment when all the sisters participate in a private dance that takes place in their own kitchen. But, once more, they do so in a different way. Chris, Maggie, Rose and Agnes dance together; it is a kind of ritual that, for a few moments, allows them to express themselves and their passions by means of a wordless ceremony, 39 as Michael puts it in his final monologue. 40 When, after observing them Kate finally seems to join her sisters, she dances with great spirit but alone. As Friel indicates in the stage directions, Kate's deepest emotions are also revealed through her dance: KATE dances alone, totally concentrated, totally private; a movement that is simultaneously controlled and frantic; a weave o f complex steps that takes her quickly round the kitchen, past her sisters, out to the garden, round the summer seat, back to the kitchen; a pattern o f action that is out o f character and at the same time ominous o f some deep and true emotion. Throughout the dance ROSE, AGNES, MAGGIE and CHRIS shout-cal/sing to each other. KATE makes no sound. 41

The interpersonal relations among the Mundy sisters clearly show their main differences, they have all grown up in the same environment, they live together in a community closely linked by cultural ties and beliefs, but they react in different ways when a new situation emerges in their small world. In connection with this, N. Jones states: "Each woman is given a precise and memorable individuality and yet together they form a cohesive group which embraces, protects and nurtures, and also reflects both the

37 Ibid., 26. 38 Lojek, "Dancing at Lughnasa and the Unfinished Revolution", 82-88. H. Lojek rightly considers that moment "The play's best-known episode" and she adds: "The Mundy sisters' suppressed sexual and political energies break out in frenzied dance that engages audiences." 39 Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, 71. 40 Ibid., 42. To be precise, Michael's words apply here only to Kate, the only one who dances making no sound at all. Probably the true "wordless ceremony" takes later in the play when his parents-Chris and Gerry-dance in silence. flace 1Ibid., 22.


Chapter One

loyalties and the tensions of sisterhood." 42 Maggie's frequent use of the vocative general noun "girls" reinforces this idea of a close bond among them. 43 In the following quotation, when she plans to make a meal for all the family, both her use of "girls" and the fact that they are all going to have tea together emphasise such bond: KATE: Maggie, are we never going to eat? MAGGIE: Indeed we are --outside in the garden! Eggs Ballybeg al fresco. Lughnasa's almost over, girls. There aren't going to be many warm evenings left.44

In this play, gossip is another factor that contributes to strengthen the relations among the members of a group, among the Mundy sisters. As it has been often pointed out, gossip was traditionally linked to the feminine world and commonly had a negative connotation. However, in this case, it may be associated with a positive feeling; the women in the play talk about domestic and private events in the community where they live. Therefore, gossip has a social function, it maintains the group together and joins it to a bigger and external community, that of Ballybeg. A clear example is seen in Act One, when Kate returns from the shops and starts telling her sisters about all the news she has heard there. 45 Each one of them participates in this long conversation which makes the audience think about the sisters as a cohesive group, at least at this point. It must be said that when this conversation takes place Maggie is momentarily absent, feeding the hens in the area behind the house. Stereotypical construction of gender is also present in some exchanges in Dancing at Lughnasa. One of them concerns the use of colours, blue or even better black, for boys, and pink for a baby girl. 46 Therefore, when Gerry tells Chris about the bicycle he is going to get for Michael, both the differences in colour for boys and girls together with the use of the adverb "manly" help to create gender at this point in the text: "[ ... ] As a matter of interest I was looking at a bicycle in Kilkenny last Monday. But they only had it in blue and I thought black might be more-you know, manly[ ... ].',4 7 Gerry's words are repeated by Chris later on, when she tells her son about 42

Ibid., 168. Lojek, "Dancing at Lughnasa and the Unfinished Revolution," 79. As H. Lojek states, "The relationship among the sisters-and even their disagreements-reveal a powerful mutual bond." 44 Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa, 66. 45 Ibid., 10-11. 46 Ibid., 38. 47 Ibid., 29.


Gender and Discourse on Stage


that present: "[ ... ] And he has bought a bicycle for y o u - a black b i k e - a man's bike and he's going to bring it with him the next time he comes." 48 Another example of gender construction occurs when Kate expresses to Chris her strong disapproval of the use of taboo words, a type of language that, according to her, is only proper of louts. Probably to annoy Kate, Rose repeats her sister's words, using the same coarse expression as well: CHRIS: Bloody useless set, that. KATE: No need for corner-boy language, Christina. CHRIS: Because it's goddam, bloody useless set-that is why. ROSE: Goddam bloody useless. 49

Conclusions In conclusion, Kate's discourses have been analysed from a gender perspective in certain detail here, notwithstanding the fact that each one of the Mundy sisters has her own voice and characteristics in the play. Even so, in their small community of practice they could be considered as a group confronting the anxieties of their elder sister, whose efforts, 50 principles and fears are clearly shown in the following comments: KATE: You work hard at your job. You try to keep the home together. You perform your duties as best as you can -because you believe in responsibilities and obligations and good order. And then suddenly, suddenly you realize that hair cracks are appearing everywhere; that control is slipping away; that the whole thing is so fragile it can't be held together much longer. It's all about to collapse, Maggie. 5 1

In fact, the ending of the play in no way rewards Kate for upholding morality and control in the Mundy family.


Ibid., 36. Ibid., 22. 50 Ibid., 170. As usual in the play, Kate turns to Maggie here. As N. Jones puts it: "It is to Maggie that Kate, the supposed strong one, turns to for support; and in the panic that ensues at the news of Rose's 'disappearance', it is Maggie who takes charge." 51 Ibid., 35. 49


Chapter One

Works Cited Carter, Ronald and Michael McCarthy. Cambridge Grammar o f English. A Comprehensive Guide. Spoken and Written English Grammar Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. Coates, Jennifer. Women, Men and Language. London and New York: Longman, 1991. - . Women Talk. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996. Eckert, Penelope and Sally McConnell-Ginet. "Communities of Practice: Where Language, Gender, and Power All Live." In Language and Gender: A Reader, ed. by Jennifer Coates, 484-494. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. - . Language and Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Fraga Fuentes, Ma Amelia and Ma Dolores Gomez Penas. "Una Aproximaci6n a Dancing at Lughnasa." Garoza 8 (2008): 79-100. Friel, Brian. Dancing at Lughnasa. London: Faber and Faber, 1990. Herman, Vimala. Dramatic Discourse: Dialogue as Interaction in Plays. London and New York: Routledge, 1995. Lave, Jean and Etienne Wenger. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. Leech, Geoffrey and Jan Svartvik. A Communicative Grammar o f English. London: Longman, 1975. Lennard, John and Mary Luckhurst. The Drama Handbook: A Guide to Reading Plays. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Lojek, Helen. "Dancing at Lughnasa and the Unfinished Revolution." In The Cambridge Companion to Brian Friel, ed. by Anthony Roche, 7890. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. Jones, Nesta. Brian Friel. London: Faber and Faber, 2000. McMullan, Anna. '"In touch with some otherness:' Gender, Authority and the Body in Dancing at Lughnasa." Irish University Review 29.l (1999): 90-100. Quirk, Randolph et al. A Comprehensive Grammar o f the English Language. London and New York: Longman, 1985. Santaemilia, Jose. Genero como Conjlicto Discursivo: La Sexualizaci6n de/ Lenguaje de los Personajes C6micos. Valencia: Universitat de Valencia (SELL Monographs. Vol. 4), 2000. Short, Mick. Exploring the Language o f Poems Pla y s and Prose. London and New York: Longman, 1996. Simpson, Paul. Language through Literature: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. Weatherall, Ann. Gender, Language and Discourse. New York: Routledge, 2002.



Samuel R. Delany's short story "Aye, and Gomorrah," originally written in 1966, is a science-fictional exploration of sexual perversion. In other words, it is a realistic story about desire. Its realism lies precisely in its fantasy and, in the case of science fiction, manifests itself in its extrapolative efforts to "imagine ourselves and others otherwise."' Judith Butler, from whom I borrow these words though she is not referring to science fiction in her book Undoing Gender, goes on to stress the cognitive and political function of fantasy as an inseparable part of the negotiation with and rearticulation of the real: "Fantasy is what establishes the possible in excess of the real; it points, it points elsewhere, and when it is embodied, it brings the elsewhere home. "2 The embodiment of that "elsewhere" in fiction, in a genderic as well as a spatial elsewhere, is what makes of Delany's SF story a means of "investigating habits of thought, including conceptions of gender" by imagining a specifically political space in which what he has called the rhetoric of sex and the discourse of desire explicitly reveal their reality-constituting articulations. 3 Delany's science-fictional extrapolation of desire's scrambling of gender boundaries and Butler's exploration of the performative fantasies that make up the reality of those gender boundaries echo each other in this tale's own engendering of desire.


Butler, Undoing Gender, 216. Ibid., 216-217. 3 Attebery, Decoding Gender in Science Fiction, 1.



Chapter Two

Delany's story, as the biblical allusion in its title insinuates, is a sort of submerged urban tale, essentially a story of life in the polis with its encounters between selves and others where desire is given its space and its shape. These are encounters which could only take place in urban environments, though they are facilitated here through the science-fiction convention of instant displacement. In short, paragraph-length sketches we are transported to Paris and its pissoirs, a favoured homosexual haunt; Houston, site of the American space program and, in this tale, the origin of the psycho-surgical alteration of sexual desire upon which the story is premised; the string of cities along the route from there to Mexico with their frontier indeterminacies, political, cultural and sexual; and, more centrally as the story's chosen narrative space, the equally liminal urban space of Istanbul, astraddle two continents and, it would appear, also bridging several indeterminate sexual boundaries. The story-what there is of story-takes place predominantly in Istanbul, site of encounter between worlds, an interstice between distinct but also overlapping, selfmirroring but also incommensurable cultural, political and sexual realities. What we read is, indeed, a story of lack in which story itself, considered as effective and transformative action, is also symptomatically lacking. To put it somewhat abstractly at first, what we read is a story of sexual encounter, where the alien other is a specifically human sexual other whose alienness is his/her/its desire. Lack both fuels the encounter or the desire for encounter and lack also constitutes that encounter. The encounter is lacking, is absent, never takes place and yet what is encountered is precisely lack itself, the perverse absence of bodily sex and its signs, even its genital mark. What we do find is a scenario for the performance of desire. That performance, furthermore, pits the desire for desire-as (dis)embodied in the "spacers" -against its mirror inversion, the desire for desirelessness-as projected by the "frelks"-in an encounter which seals the story's displacement of gender, sex, desire and the identity-markers that intertwine them in conventional modes. The "spacers," unsexed but desire-ridden subjects involved in extraterrestrial work, on leave on Earth, encounter their near-complementary others in the sexed, sexually-inert yet desire-laden figures of the "frelks," non-descript embodiments of the paradoxes of human longing given that they long for the lack oflonging. The SF convention of near-instantaneous spatial displacement formally initiates a tale of embodied sexual nonidentity. This is literally true in the case of the "spacers" with their apparently absolute lack of sexual and gender markers. But we also find this slippage in the disembodied sexual identity of the "frelks" and their desire for the non-corporeal body, a body disembodied of its corporeal

Delany's Perversion of Gender


signs of sex and desire. Both are in search of an object defined by lack and thus only apprehensible through the signs of that lack. My very language here tries to capture the dizzying mutual contamination of what appear at first as antithetical mirror inversions of each other. These disembodied bodies and embodiments of the desire for disembodiment become, in parallel to the lightspeed displacements of the spacers around the globe, a sort of instantaneous sexual displacement or travelling through unlocatable sexual identities. This displacement, of course, is basically linguistic, a flaunting and reading of gender signs or their unsettling lack. Thus, the appropriately unnamed spacer-narrator's sexually indeterminate or sexually non-existent traits, unmoored to any specific gender, find their correlate in the linguistic plurality (French, Spanish and English) and indeterminate grammatical gender (feminine, masculine, neuter) with which he/she/it is addressed: A very blond man put his hand on my arm and smiled, "Don't you think, Spacer, that you ... people should leave?" I looked at his hand on my blue uniform. "Est-ce que tu es unfrelk?" His eyebrows rose, then he shook his head. "Vnefrelk," he corrected. "No. I am not. Sadly for me. You look as though you may once have been a man. But now ... " (91) "You are very sweet." Her rough hair fell forward. "But the men, they are standing around and watching you. And that is taking up time. Sadly, their time is our money. Spacer, do you not think you ... people should leave?" I grabbed her wrist. "iUstedf' I whispered.";, Usted es unafrelka?" "Frelko en espanol." She smiled and patted the sunburst that hung from my belt buckle. "Sorry. But you have nothing that... would be useful to me. It is too bad, for you look like you were once a woman, no? And I like women, too ... "4 The signifier itself as a marker of sexual identity, the signifier as sexual identity, is rendered unstable, even useless as such, through the avoidance of pronominal markers of sexual-grammatical gender as well as by the ambivalent gender-connotations of the actual names of the "spacers:" "Bo," "Lou," "Kelly," "Muse." In this light, the fictional signifier "spacer," for all its pulp-fiction flashiness, functions also in a sort of self-debunking way, a signifier itself for the desire-laden realism informing Delany's SF "fantasisation". While the term obviously connotes in ironically subgeneric explicitness the power and transcendence of space travel, it also suggests in its very literalness the empty space of absence and lack, the gap occupied but never filled by that genderless subject 4

Delany, Aye, And Gomorrah, 92.


Chapter Two

called the "spacer." The space of a lack is both nothing and infinite, always excessive. (In a further ironic twist, the constraints of language and narrative, the wiliness of the pronominal shifter, force u s - t h e readers-to inhabit linguistically and imaginatively that empty space in order to process the tale. Whether we like it or not, we must experience the displacement of our own readerly desires through the displaced desire of the "spacer." In such ways the rhetorical space of fiction makes space for desire, that of the characters and that of the readers.) This space, like all spaces in SF, is a necessary perversion of conventional, consensual space. It is a turning out of, away from, the proper space or space proper. But it is a turning that serves to turn over the space of the proper, the space of the real. In this sense, the generic perversions of SF become the fictional site for the perversion of gender in the hope of, perhaps, effecting a re-turn to a real now (always already) open to perverted spaces. Of what perversions we are speaking and how one speaks of perversion are important concerns of Delany, in both his fiction and his critical writings. At the time of writing this story, Delany himself was negotiating fictionally and personally his own up till then publicly silenced but never privately suppressed homosexuality and it is not hard to see in this tale an exploration in wider terms of his own predicament in trying to speak of his own socially marginalised perversion in terms that he himself would go on to delineate in greater theoretical clarity and complexity. "Perversion" is one of these key terms but he would employ it precisely to combat the rigidity with which the categorisations of gender, sex and desire have traditionally been deployed. In exploring perversion fictionally and theoretically, for example, in parallel with the perverse employment of the denigrated genre of SF, Delany resituates perversion within rather than beyond its conventional other, the conventional itself. 5 Thus, in defining the unspeakable, that domain to which the perverse is banished, he makes clear its existence as a discursive convention within our hegemonic discourses of the real: The unspeakable is, o f course, not a boundary dividing a positive area o f allowability from a complete and totalized negativity, a boundary located at least one step beyond the forbidden (and the forbidden, by definitionno?-must be speakable i f its proscriptive power is to function). If we pursue the boundary as such, it will recede before us as a limit of mists and vapours. Certainly it is not a line drawn in any absolute way across speech


Cf. Delany's critical and autobiographical meditation on the institutionalisation of perversion in "Aversion/ Perversion/ Diversion."

Delany's Perversion of Gender


or writing. [... ]. Rather it is a set of positive conventions governing what can be spoken of (or written about) in general [... ]. 6 To inhabit the perverse is, unavoidably, to pervert gender boundaries from within the very discourse of gender, perhaps even to pervert the very notion of gender as Delany's tale of gender-suspension and genderdeflection might seem to imply. Delany's tale, however, does not displace gender into non-existence. As his reflections on the unspeakable show, perversion is part of discourse, it is a discourse itself and, therefore, it is socially articulated and, unavoidably, socially policed. It is part of the discourse of desire that constitutes and imposes predominant articulations of human sexuality and gender identity. The counter-impulse to this instituted imposition is provided by what Delany calls the rhetoric of sex, the endless individual articulations of that discourse that ever so slightly inflect and deflect it and which reveal themselves rhetorically and gesturally in what we do and what we say (as opposed to what we are supposed to be doing and saying). Delany's tales of cross-gender displacements are not just a fantasised romance of fulfilled desire; in fact, his tales stress the impasses and enforced deviations of desire in the real world. More accurately, they offer us a realistic depiction of what is going on all the time. They are also a reminder of the politics that ensures the silencing of certain rhetorical realities through discursive constraint. The differential, performative or rhetorical construction of identity, he asserts, only takes place within a social and political domain where identity is traditionally an external demand and, therefore, an imposition: "Any position 1----or you-cannot move from at will, be it my race, my sex, my aesthetic position, or my ideological allegiances or my economic status, is the mark of a political im-position" 7 • The tale itself and its depictions of perversion articulate fictionally this situation. Both "spacer" and "frelk" are perverts in this science-fictional world, as they would be in ours and for exactly the same reasons. The spacer has, in a sense, been surgically perverted, physically and psychologically altered since birth to prepare the spacer for work in the extreme conditions of outer space. This implies the erasure of sexual identity and its physical markers given outer space's destructive impact on the human sex organs and their genetic material. Space literally empties the human of its sexual apparatus; space is strangely sexless in this particular story's inversion of the stereotypically sexualised spaces of pulp SF. The void of space implodes as the spacer's own defining genital void, 6 7

Delany, Shorter Views, 61. Delany, Silent Interviews, 73.


Chapter Two

the present absence of one's sex(-lessness). But the erasure of sex and gender signs has not erased desire. This will be the story's sciencefictional take on the theoretically-debated distinctions between sex, gender and desire. SF allows Delany to imagine a world in which such a distinction empowers its (non-)events. It allows him to dramatise a certain strain of gender theory. What this leaves him with is the lack which is desire itself, a lack which is now a perceptible absence in the fictional world. 8 In effect, it becomes a presence in its very emptiness: the missing signs of its sexual-genital embodiment only makes desire itself more visible as that which visibility itself, as conventionally defined, cannot bring into view and, therefore, must not be confused with. The signs of sex do not exhaust its own rhetoric. Desire may be trapped in a regulatory discourse-one that demands certain forms of visualisation-but the very terms of its entrapment lead to the perversion that enables awareness of desire's absent presence. The perversion represented by the spacers is drawn out by Delany into a self-reflexive fictionalisation of the originally Hegelian notion of desire as lack. For if desire is lack, desire arising metonymically from and through lack, then the spacer ostensibly lacks the lack which is desire. The constitutive lack which is desire that enables the process of subject-formation is what these subjects supposedly without desire lack. But the story reveals that they are not, cannot be, subjects without desire. As subjects without sex, without gender traits, they are apparently subjects without an object of desire. What this reveals, though, furthers the Lacanian agenda: there remains desire without an object, desire in its pure form, that is, desire of desire. The spacers are ironically desire-laden precisely through the supposed lack of the lack which is 8 My take on desire, like Delany's, is obviously Lacanian. The lack o f desire is not merely the question of the missing object that one needs to fulfill one's desire considered as necessity or demand. Rather it is the experience o f the essential unfulfilability o f that desire, unassuaged by any object. The object itself is not only lacking; in a sense, it is lack itself, for it only exists as fantasy. One desires desire; that is, one desires lack itself, for one's desire is a lack or comes into being as a response to lack. One does not merely desire what one lacks; that desire itself is lacking and, hence, one desires desire, the desire o f (the lack in/of) the other as Lacan puts it. Bruce Fink summarises well this subject-constituting but also subject-splitting dynamic: "Lack and desire are coextensive for Lacan. [... ]. For man [sic] not only desires what the Other desires, but he desires it in the same way; in other words, his desire is structured exactly like the Other's. Man learns to desire as an other, as i f he were some other person." This dynamic seems to fit well the interaction of Delany's "spacer" and "frelk." (quoted in Fink, The Lacanian Subject, 54)

Delany's Perversion of Gender


desire: the stories they tell themselves of the spacers' disdain for frelks "only allay. They cure nothing," "yelling and helling won't fill the lack" 9• If absence, an unlocatable libidinal void, is what is projected physically onto the spacer in the shape of missing sex organs-or perhaps we should say they have been abjected, thrown away, cast off-absence also defines the particular perversion that defines the "frelk" ("Une frelk" in French; "Frelko en espanol"). For the "frelk" is attracted to the apparent absence of (the signs of) desire in the "spacer." The "frelk" desires in the "spacer" the absence of that which, in the "frelk," is the source and cause of the frelk's troubles, desire itself: "My love starts with the fear of love." 10 To desire the lack of desire, nevertheless, is still to desire. The sadomasochistic underpinnings of this mirror-relationship are fully exploited by Delany. Perversion here is no longer, never has been, gender-specific; indeed perversion would seem to transgress gender boundaries and, in that very crossing, virtually cross them out. The spacer-narrator's repressed desire for the "frelk," "the old longing" for the now physically impossible sexual experience with what is considered a pervert given the frelk's sexual attraction to the child-like, unsexed (or polymorphously sexual?) body of a "spacer," cannot even be called that, a repressed desire, for ostensibly there is no longer there anything to repress. 11 Yet, that very absence of desire ironically conforms the "old longing," no longer assigned to specific sexual markers, seeking fulfilment even through the very repression of desire. Repression creates desire pace Freud but here we have a subject apparently denied even the possibility of repression. The repression of repression in the spacer, if we can put it that way, has, nevertheless, created the wandering, polymorphously childlike desire exhibited by the spacer through the signs in absentia of desire. The infantile antics and physicality of the spacers, an ironic foil to the serious import of their technical work in space, is looked upon with indulgence by non-spacers, a sort of nostalgic return to childhood's playful, socially untainted perversions. The frelk herself is perfectly aware of this infantilism and its undeniable attractions: "And your childish, violent substitutes for love? I suppose that's one of the things that's attractive. Yes, I know you're a child." 12 The complexity and performative nature of perversion in the play between spacer and frelk, however, foregrounds the upsetting of the tale's own institutionalisation of sexual difference along sexual / non-sexual 9 Delany, Aye, And Gomorrah, 94. IO Ibid,. 98. 11 Ibid., 93. 12 Ibid,. 97.


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rather than masculine/ feminine lines. The tale's fictional undermining of conventional differences questions the reality of sexual difference at large in a gesture that seems to anticipate Slavoj Zizek's late-Lacanian description of sexual difference as a "zero-institution." For Zizek, the "zero-institution" of sexual difference is the ideological response to the very impossibility of totalising sexual difference. The ideological imposition of sexual-social difference in hegemonic, hierarchical terms is a cover for the antagonism of irresolvable differentiation: Sexual difference is not a firm set of 'static' symbolic oppositions and inclusions/exclusions (heterosexual normativity that relegates homosexuality and other 'perversions' to some secondary role) but the name of a deadlock, a trauma, an open question-something that resists every attempt at its symbolisation. Every translation of sexual difference into a set of symbolic opposition(s) is doomed to fail, and it is this very 'impossibility' that opens up the terrain of the hegemonic struggle for what 'sexual difference' will mean. 13 The always flawed symbolic opposition of sexual difference itself initiates the conflict over the articulation of sexual difference. As Delany's tale dramatises, perversion is in effect the scrambling of conventional sexual difference and its gender assignations. The scrambling of signs of difference and signs of desire in the story leads to such paroxysms at the performance by non-spacers of the spacers' apparent a-sexuality as a sexual lure for those attracted to the supposedly non-sexual: "a man and a woman dressed up like spacers, trying to pick up frelks! Imagine, queer for frelks!" 14 The queering of sex and gender in Delany obviously extends the notion in ways which have only recently begun to be explored. This performative nature of sexual and gender identity, a notion favoured of course by Judith Butler, explains the importance of visualisation in the story. Visualisation-seeing and the gaze constituting desire-becomes the perceptual correlative of the visibility/ invisibility of the lack and the desire it spawns. The encounter between frelk and spacer begins and ends in seeing: "She saw me see and looked away." 15 There is here a further intentional displacement in the feminisation of the subject / object of perversion: for the spacer's apparently unsexed passivity is itself a paradoxical form of sexual agency, the desire to fill in the very lack of sex that defines the spacer, while the female frelk's accosting of the spacer is a melange of active-passive gestures that undoes gender stereotypes. Zizek, "The Real of Sexual Difference," 335. Delany, Aye, And Gomo"ah, 93. 15 Ibid., 95. 13


Delany's Perversion of Gender


Visibility and its ambiguities are heightened in the case of the spacer through intentionally self-deceptive allusion to racial markers: he/she/it appears Greek, Turkish, and finally American red Indian. 16 But it is the play of looks between spacer and frelk that conveys the crisscrossing complexity of their encounter far beyond its (non-existent because impossible) physical parameters: "So now she knew I knew she knew I knew." 17 This epistemological muddle echoes the sexual scrambling implicit in the encounter of their mutually-mirroring inversions or perversions. Delany's tale, however, also stresses the social institutionalisation of even these (apparently) (non-)sexual identities and desires: perversion itself is a product of institutionalisation rather than merely its transgression, an alternate but imbricated institutionality ("If spacers had never been, then we could not be" 18) . This explains, for example, the spacer's symptomatic tum to the (non-existent) economic motive of this illicit sexual encounter, 19 a non-subjective demand that interpellates the spacer-narrator but also provides a material motive for the encounter by displacing desire into purely economic terms. The symbolic shifter which is money provides a momentary localisation for the spacer's unfixable desire: "I was asking myself, What do you want the damned money for anyway?" 20 Yet its very symbolism shows how the economic itself is a paradoxical mixture of the bodily material and the abstractly symbolic that defines the nature of the sexual encounter itself. Sex and money are inextricably real and fantastic at the same time. Perversion itself can be seen to function like the fetish which is money. Its exchangeability, not least its blurring of the symbolic and the material in its actions or non-actions as in this case, is another reason why perversion can be seen to scramble sexual identity in response to its enforced categorisations. Perversion is the performative creation of outlets for desires that are forcibly channelled into fixed social roles and physical enactments. As the frelk says, "We're still fighting our way up from the neo-puritan reaction to the sexual freedom of the twentieth century." 21 Hence, the pervert, though (self-)classified as a failed or distorted sexual agent, ironically comes to embody the very (un)freedom of


Ibid., Ibid,. 18 Ibid,. 19 Ibid., 20 Ibid,. 21 Ibid,. 17

95. 95. 96. 96. 96. 97.


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embodied desire: "You don't choose your perversions" 22 says the frelk in answer to the spacer's suggestion that she "be something else," precisely the sort of limitless but unmaterialisable choice that renders freedom from any sexual identity so problematic for the spacer. 23 The spacer's apparent freedom from the bind of sexual identity and its inevitable perversions ("You have no perversions at all. You 're free of the whole business" 24) is actually the source of perversion physically embodied in the spacer's absent sexual identity: the spacer is paradoxically attracted to the other's, the frelk's, attraction to the spacer's lack of (the signs of) desire. This play of seduction/ perversion is subtly inverted by the tale's end given this mirror-like reflection between frelk and spacer, twin halves of a subject riven by lack. As the frelk says, "I want you because you can't want me," whereas the spacer experiences by projection onto the frelk the desire that the spacer lacks through the desire she, the frelk, has for the spacer's lack of desire. 25 Hence, the spacer's ironic need for "something" that the frelk cannot give, love itself as both spur and obstacle. This fictional conceit of the figures of frelk / spacer figures their scene of perversion as a sort of universal containing potentially all the perversions possible (paedophilia, necrophilia, homosexuality, fetishism, sadomasochism, etc.), a sort of meta-perversion that becomes also a figure for the (un)freedom of (sexual) desire in general and of the entrapment in insufficiently flexible, perhaps always defective gender and sex identities. So, do their perversions eventually meet? Do they merely displace established modes of sexual encounter or do they invent new ones? I think perhaps we should say that their encounter rehearses the essential core of all sexual encounters, a radical non-encounter that is the frustration and fulfilment of desire at the same time, a frustration and fulfilment also of the gender categories that desire calls into being. For, quite appropriately and, I would say, quite realistically, this illicit sexual encounter ends in non-encounter or, rather, non-encounter is the encounter, the paradoxical dramatisation of the non-relationality of the sexual relation given the endless repetition which is desire and the endless articulations it enacts. 26 22

Ibid,. 98. Ibid., 98. 24 Ibid., 98. 25 Ibid., 98. 26 Zizek, How To Read Lacan, 48-49. Zizek explains this Lacanian vision of the non-relationality o f the sexual encounter thus: "there is no universal guarantee o f a harmonious sexual relationship with one's partner. Every subject has to invent a fantasy of his or her own, a 'private' formula for the sexual relationship." Furthermore, "the desire staged in fantasy is not the subject's own, but the other's 23

Delany's Perversion o f Gender


In the case of the spacer, one finds the impossibility of the fulfilment of a desire for the unnameable: the desire for non-desire, we have stressed, is itself a paradoxical desire that presents the unattainability of desire's unknowable object. This is even physically projected in the spacer's childish action of scratching his/her/its crotch, site of the missing phallus perhaps, signifier of the desire that is lacking, the absent cause of desire for the frelk, an objet a, as Lacan would say, which is also the spacer's (literally absent) desire or lack, a disembodiment given the formless form o f a void. Such a desire is ambivalent, both pleasurable and painful, as the virtually sado-masochistic non-relating relationship between spacer and frelk suggests. This is particularly highlighted in the fact that one desires the desire of the other but when that desire is precisely what is lacking, the desiring process is infinitely prolonged. The frelk's obstruction of desire ("Oh, what do you want?" 27) is contradictorily the only means of furthering desire. Thus, enjoyment only comes through fantasy, talking about the unfulfilled desire: "When you leave, I am going to visit my friends and talk about ... ah, yes, the beautiful one that got away." 2 8 In inverse symmetry, the spacer's frustration is the enactment of a lack of desire that initiates paradoxically the spacer's ostensibly non-desiring desire: "I said anything would do!" 29 The Other's (the frelk's) desire is the grounding mystery for the spacer's own unacknowledged, inarticulable desire, the desire for desire. Fulfilment can only be frustrated; frustration is the only form of fulfilment. Resolution can only be had in a return to the contingent sexual (non-)identities imposed upon these desiring subjects, like all subjects, from the outside. This is a refuge in social categorisation upset by the perverse identities which that very categorisation breeds through exclusion in order to function as a normative model. One finds refuge, in the case of the spacer, in the constraining identity-politics of the "spacer hangout," a safe domain for the perverse that is institutionally safeguarded. 30 Identity and its perversion are both products of social institutionalisation and also the only apparent means of questioning it. In desire, the desire o f those around me with whom I interact: fantasy, the phantasmatic scene or scenario, is an answer to: 'You're saying this, but what is it that you actually want by saying it?' The original question of desire is not directly 'What do I want?', but 'What do others want from me? What do they see in me? What am I for those others? " ' 27 Delany, Aye, And Gomo"ah, 100. 28 Ibid., 101. 29 Ibid., 101. 30 Ibid., 101.


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the end, both frelk and spacer respond to this institutionalisation in the same way for, of course, they really have no choice. Both options seem modes of negotiating otherness, the otherness of sexual encounter, nonrelationally; one relates by not relating and then relating, narrating, that apparently failed encounter. Gender and genre, sexuality and science fiction, desire's perversions enable and enact Delany's paraliterary experiments, narrations of the everyday now and here within fictions of the apparently elsewhere and elsewhen.

Works Cited Attebery, Brian. Decoding Gender in Science Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2002. Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004. Delany, Samuel R. Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1994. - . "Aversion / Perversion / Diversion." In Longer Views: Extended Essays, 119-143. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1996. Print. - . Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and The Politics o f the Paraliterary. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1999. - . Aye, and Gomorrah and Other Stories. New York: Vintage, 2003. Fink, Bruce. The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1995. Zizek, Slavoj. "The Real of Sexual Difference." In Interrogating the Real, ed. by Rex Butler and Scott Stephens, 330-355. London: Continuum, 2005. - . How to Read Lacan. New York: Norton, 2007.


The film The Barefoot Contessa (1954), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, has been traditionally analysed as a show business drama. The main feature of this film sub genre is its subversion in the sense that it aims to condemn the economic ambition of film industry. In these films, Hollywood is not the dream factory but a manipulative organisation. Furthermore, The Barefoot Contessa could function as a disenchanted version of Cinderella in the sense that it tells the story of an overnight star who feels happier living in poverty and is finally murdered by Prince Charming. But even so, in this paper I defend that in terms of gender and female sexuality this film is not subversive at all. In order to identify and analyse the expectations produced by this subgenre regarding gender and sexuality, there is a literary referent in The Barefoot Contessa that adds a new dimension to the film discourse: the novella Carmen. Despite solid parallelisms, this novella, written in 1847 by Prosper Merimee, turns out to be more advanced than The Barefoot Contessa despite its misogyny because, in this case, woman is triumphant. Consequently, Carmen becomes an active agent in a society where women are destined to be passive. She takes advantage of the sexual dimension she is reduced to and uses it against men. On the contrary, Maria V a r g a s the protagonist of The Barefoot Contessa-will only feel guilty about it. The subgenre of show business drama portrays the other side of the silver screen, that is, the behind-the-scenes world of film industry. It usually adopts a critical tone on celebrities and executives. Classics such as Sunset Boulevard (1950) or All about Eve (1950) are usually categorised as show business dramas. Incidentally, the award-winning


Chapter Three

screenwriter and director of All about Eve was Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who also wrote and directed The Barefoot Contessa. 1 This film is certainly transgressive in the sense that it demystifies the rise of a star and the tone selected is cynical, but both the representation of the female protagonist and her sexuality are as conservative as in any other mainstream Hollywood studio film. 2 In order to uncover the phallocentric ideology implicit in this film, my theoretical approach will be based on Feminist Film Criticism and Gender Studies. The Barefoot Contessa tells of a Spanish gipsy woman called Maria Vargas, who naturally dances flamenco in the dirt. She turns into a movie star overnight, which involves becoming the object of desire of many men. Unexpectedly, she falls in love with an Italian count, but he turns out to be impotent. She cannot satisfy her sexual drive with her husband, but when the count learns that she is unfaithful to him, he kills both Maria and her lover. The plot of the film introduces and subverts certain fairy-tale motives, in particular the ones developed in Cinderella. Indeed, the ash girl, shoes or Prince Charming are present in Mankiewicz's screenplay. In connection with this, most popular fairy tales, especially those from the oral tradition, present submissive female roles for the audience. Broadly speaking, honourable virtues are related to passivity, whereas power and independence are condemned. For instance, in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the devoted servant is rewarded with the perfect man, whereas her stepmother is punished for her arrogance. The influence of fairy tales in our lives is tremendously significant since in our childhood we learn about ourselves and how we relate to others by means of these stories. In other words, we learn social conventions through fairy tales. For instance, the idea that women must be subordinate to men is recurrent. Hence, heroines are silent, beautiful, naive, virginal, fragile, infatuated, and perfect housekeepers. Female villains are the opposite, that is, outspoken, powerful, ambitious, and probably single. The literary myth of Cinderella, whose Disney version was released in 1949, that is, five years before The Barefoot Contessa came out, is so immersed in the conception of female gender that there is a term called 1 Both films are subtly connected, not only thematically but also textually: Lloyd Richards, the name of Margo Channing's playwright friend in All about Eve, appears on the marquee o f Maria's first film in The Barefoot Contessa. 2 In fact, the protagonist is said to be based on Rita Hayworth, who was offered the part in the first place. A natural dancer in musicals, her career was reduced to sex symbol after starring in Gilda (1946).

Gender in Show Business Drama


"the Cinderella complex." This term deals with the repression that stops women from using full advantage of their ideas and projects in favour of an external factor that will change their lives for the better. This attitude implies that a woman needs to wait for a man to form her identity. In this sense, Cinderella fulfils every feature that a traditional fairy-tale heroine must have. According to Rob Baum, "a sense of female agency will always by definition be absent. In this folk tale, which is also a fairy-tale, the female character is positioned in terms of what it is not: not dominant, not powerful, not male." 3 Therefore, Cinderella represents invisibility, the absence of an independent identity. Like fairy tales, mainstream cinema exposes social power structures in which women need to transcend the role traditionally assigned to their bodies in order to achieve universal acceptance. In other words, women's bodies are initially marked. In opposition to Cinderella and many other heroines, Carmen constitutes the best example of the female protagonist whose features are those of a villain: unreliable, disobedient, unfaithful, impolite, sexual, and exuberant. Actually, Carmen could be considered the precedent for femme fatales, whose most popular samples can be found in film noir. At the same time, Lady Macbeth appears as the first reference for this stereotype, but in this case the audience does not feel as attracted and mesmerised as by Carmen. Incidentally, Carmen has constructed her own definition of gender by defying the rules prevalent in patriarchal societies. She transforms the negative connotations related to her body into positive ones since they imply freedom. After all, they are the effect of cultural associations in which men would represent the mind and women the flesh. 4 This myth has classical roots because it can be interpreted as a new Pandora, a beauty with no moral virtues. Originally, Pandora opens the box offered by Epithemeus-who has been seduced by h e r - a n d spreads evil throughout the world. Carmen can be also linked to the Furies, who rule the destiny of humankind. Needless to say, she could represent a modem Venus, a goddess oflove that is married to and confronts Mars (as Don Jose), the god of war. Finally, Carmen can be also associated with the vengeful spirit of Diana. 5 Both Pandora and a femme fatale like Kitty Collins were played by Ava Gardner in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) and The Killers (1946). Indeed, Carmen was the perfect part for

3 Baum, "After the Ball is Over," 69. 4 Butler, "Sujetos de Sexo/Genero/Deseo," 43. 5

Lopez and Lopez, "Introduction," 25-26.


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such an actress taking into account that Ava Gardner assumed this scandalous identity during her stay in Spain. 6 Maria Vargas, the protagonist of The Barefoot Contessa, can be understood as an intermediate figure between the passivity of fairy-tale heroines and the savageness of Carmen, in other words, she could play the part of a tamed Carmen. Maria has a strong personality and will not let anybody control her. 7 She despises the wealthy men who try to buy her with contracts and presents, but paradoxically keeps waiting for Prince Charming. However, once she becomes successful and finally finds her dream-man, Maria turns out to be happier dancing barefoot in the dirt. As the ash girl, Maria has no responsibilities whatsoever and she can follow her own rules. Obviously, she has a profound effect on men, but does not take advantage of it. On the contrary, Maria longs for a man because she is afraid "of being exposed and unprotected." 8 Somehow, Maria wants to please society by finding a partner that will enable her to retire. This is a key factor that differentiates Maria from Carmen because the former does feel different and detached from society just like Carmen, but at the same time Maria suffers due to this rebellious condition. In the end, she is willing to please patriarchal conventions once she meets a count, that is to say, Prince Charming for her. The defiant attitude of Carmen is recurrent throughout the novella, whereas in the case of the film Maria longs for an authentic man to make her complete. Once again, mainstream cinema produces images that are "not simply mirrors of real life but ideological signifiers." 9 As we can see, Maria follows the role of a melodramatic heroine imposed by classical Hollywood narrative after all, not that of a daring masquerade inside star system. In the 1970s Marjorie Rosen and Molly Haskell depicted female classic Hollywood roles as strictly coded stereotypes, not verisimilar women. Subsequently, critics like Claire Johnston insisted on uncovering the ideology behind the images presented. 10 The Barefoot Contessa was released in the 1950s, a decade in which women received messages about the most appropriate behaviour in the private and public spheres. Many of 6 Her romances with bullfighters and night life while still married to Frank Sinatra were widely reported. 7 Mankiewicz, The Barefoot Comtessa, n.p. As the owner of the nightclub in which she dances says: "No rules for Senorita Vargas. Maria. Vargas!" 8 Ibid., n.p. 9 Humm, Feminism and Film, 13. 10 Ibid., 12-13.

Gender in Show Business Drama


these messages came from cinema and TV in commercials, sitcoms and films starring Doris Day, Donna Reed or Lucille Ball. But this portrait of the angel in the house did not fully correspond to real experiences disconnected from the careless suburban housewife. On the contrary, some of them played a significant part in the rise of consumer culture or the civil rights movement. Maria could represent the suffering caused by the repressive expectations imposed on women at the time. Her desire to have a voice of her own is suppressed once and again due to the atmosphere of conformity. This position alludes to Simone de Beauvoir's concept of the Other, that is, the category linked to women as opposed to Self, the category linked to man's harmonious identity: "The concept of Self[ ... ] can be produced only in opposition to that of not-self, so that the category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself'. " 11 In this case, the subtext could indicate that her challenge to this dichotomy would only lead to tragedy. The challenge to social conventions is a leitmotiv both in Carmen and The Barefoot Contessa, and in both cases Carmen and Maria are punished for their rebellions, an attitude which is described as bohemian by literary critics such as Evyln Gould. 12 In fact, none of them has a stable homeland. Carmen is a thief and a prostitute, and she is time and again associated with the devil. As a result, at the end of the novella Carmen is stabbed by Don Jose because she does not let him dominate her and h e - a s the representative of authority-cannot accept that. In the case of the film, the screenplay is definitely ambiguous as the count always remains a gentleman with no psychological problems. In short, Count Vincenzo is even more innocent than Don Jose because Maria's problems seem to be relegated to the sexual dimension, which is not socially approved. In other words, the tragedy of Maria Vargas is never due to patriarchal pressures but to her own nature. The producer and his assistant are certainly caricatured as in most show business dramas. However, Maria's dignity and social independence imply that she is out of reach for them. Therefore, according to the discourse of the film they are incapable of doing any harm. The same applies to playboy Alberto Bravano. Even so, the ideological approach of the film suggests that Maria was the victim of her own transgression since she defied the codes established by Westem civilisation. According to Helene Cixous, reality is culturally organised in binary oppositions that can be reduced to 11 Thomham, "Postmodemism and Feminism," 25. 12 Gould, The Fate o f Carmen, 1.


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masculine/feminine in the end. The first term tends to be privileged, whereas the second one tends to be defined in terms of the first one. 13 In short, there is a hierarchical relationship in which gender is classified, not negotiated. Maria will fight but will not overcome this barrier. Maria is punished for defying authority because she despises society. As in the case of Carmen, her concept of love is not understood by the patriarchal society where she lives. Maria was about to become a mother-as her name suggests, the role every woman must aspire to in the Christian World as a reflection of the Virgin Mary-but perhaps she was not worthy of it according to patriarchal civilisation just because she is a rebel. The jet-setter Alberto Bravano tells her: "You are not a woman." 14 In other words, she does not fit in the patriarchal standards of society. In "Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire," Judith Butler denaturalises the concept of gender by showing its political pretensions. Thus, instead of a stable signifier attached to a stable signified, the idea of woman is interpreted as a fictitious definition in which sex delimits freedom of choice. Furthermore, gender can be considered a cultural construction. In connection with this, Butler makes reference to Luce Irigaray when she claims that the essence of women is exclusion, in other words, undecidedness. Actually, the sexual dichotomy man/woman is so restrictive that it only presents reproductive objectives. 15 Any other possibility is deleted or, at least, silenced. For Butler, gender impersonates a copy whose origin cannot be traced back. In fact, Diana Fuss states that our actions do not depend on the heterosexual binarism, but on performance. Consequently, heterosexuality is just a fantasy continually transforming itself: "Gender, like other categories of knowledge, is the product not of Truth but of power expressed through discourse." 16 According to this theory, Maria is controlled and finally rejected by society as a woman simply because she destabilises the only roles offered in the binarism man/woman. Like Carmen, the contessa is a bohemian rebel. The scene at the cemetery employs a high angle shot highlighting a splendid statue of Maria standing alone and surrounded by other mausolea with statues of couples. This scenography could be a way to underline Maria's independent personality beyond death, but it is also a way to look at her eternally as the splendid object of the male gaze. This term was coined by Laura Mulvey in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" in order to 13 14 15 16

Ebert, "Feminismo y postmodernismo de la Resistencia," 217. Mankiewicz, The Barefoot Comtessa, n.p. Butler, "Subjects ofSex/Gender/Desire,"52-3. Thornham, "Postmodernism and Feminism," 28.

Gender in Show Business Drama


define the identification between the spectator and the perspective of a heterosexual man. For Mulvey, this subjective male construction of the feminine identity is so influential that it relegates women to objects of desire. Paradoxically, this would imply that the female spectator would experience the very same objectification beholding female characters on the big screen. This is a destabilised power relationship since only the male gaze is possible. As a result, in the case of Maria, death does not provide peace as in the case of Carmen. On the contrary, it shows everlasting "scopophilia," that is, sexual pleasure from looking at erotic objects. As a sculpture with its own full shot, Maria will not bother the established social system either in fiction or reality. Once she passes away, all the characters can go back to their daily lives. Subsequently, several critics disagreed with Mulvey. For instance, Ruby Rich claims that women may filter the sexist messages they receive and deactivate the male gaze. 17 All they have to do is deconstruct the fake transparency displayed and consider images as an accumulation of discourse. For Carol J. Clover this male identification is discontinuous across genders. 18 The relation between Carmen and Maria is established in the sense that Maria does not fit in society while Carmen is not a pure gipsy. Carmen and The Barefoot Contessa are stories about people on the frontier, women with alternative points of view who dared defy patriarchy and died for not being absorbed by the system. Nonetheless, Carmen has a defined personality whereas Maria is a victim of her inner conflicts. Both texts are inside masculine universes full of phallic symbols. Both female protagonists are essentially characterised as sexual objects based on fetishistic details: the cigars, the knife, and the shotgun in the case of Carmen; close-ups of the shoes that Maria will not wear or the cigarettes she will not smoke in the case of The Barefoot Contessa. Carmen dresses in black and red, has jet-black hair, soft skin, and tasty lips. This description coincides with Ava Gardner's presentation in Spain in a medium shot followed by a full shot: red lips, big eyes, red and black combination, the shawl, or the flower in the hair. 19

17 18

Quoted in de Lauretis, Alice Doesn't, 29. Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine, 125-26. 19 In fact, this portrait is just one of the many recurrent Spanish cliches present in Hollywood films: rural areas recreated in Cinecitta (Rome), inauthentic Spanish accent, flamenco, tragedy, passion, and exuberance. The origin of all of these elements can be found in the aesthetics of Carmen, both the novella by Prosper Merimee and the opera by Georges Bizet.


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The recreation ofCannen's physical description could be a symptom of "scopophilia" in the sense that it may provoke an unconscious process of association to sexual pleasure in the reader. At the same time, it intensifies the erotic objectification of the character. Nonetheless, while Cannen uses her sexuality, Maria regrets her magnetism. Whenever the demands of her life represent too much for her, she takes off her shoes in an extreme closeup and demeans herself having sex with any man available. This could be interpreted as submission to social conventions because she assumes that female sexuality must be invisible. No wonder, she hides her lovers. Maria is one of the few characters taken seriously by Mankiewicz's screenplay together with the director and script girl in several three-shots. Unfortunately, it is very likely that this is the reason why Maria must obey social standards. The serious tone adopted for her affected her free will. Some of these episodes include the scene in which her mother predicts a tragic end for her or the one in which she justifies her father in murdering her mother. In the first case, there is a medium shot emphasising the delicate facial features of Maria in contrast with her mother's, who actually looks like the witch in the Disney production Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). In the second case, there is an entire silent sequence where flash-editing predominates in order to show Maria's interventions in the trial. She moves all over the room like a silent film star in full and medium shots while the narrator makes comments on her courage. In general, she is usually right at the centre while her father looks miserable on the comer. As a matter of fact, these scenes could allude to the Electra complex. On the one hand, Maria's mother clearly plays the part of the cruel stepmother from fairy tales. On the other hand, Maria's father symbolises a role model that she will never find in any lover. Only Harry turns out to be a father figure once she becomes a celebrity, so presumably that could be the reason why their love remains platonic. For instance, there are several medium-shots of him smoking while staring at her, so no desire to be the centre of attention is ever reflected. In all these cases, he looks worried or at least pensive. Somehow, it is Maria's anger against her mother what makes her leave Madrid as Maria Vargas and start her professional career as Maria D'Amata. According to this theory, the mother functions as a castrating figure in the family, that is why Maria shows devotion for her father: his phallic role has been negated and suppressed by his wife. He is a victim just like her. In other words, Maria believes in patriarchal conventions after all. Carmen is presented from the point of view of two male, misogynistic narrators: the fascinated traveller and Don Jose. Both of them establish a

Gender in Show Business Drama


kind of homoerotic relationship that goes further than mercy. An example of this is the fact that Don Jose is described by the traveller as the typical Petrarchan beloved. 20 Somehow, Don Jose's violent and aggressive actions tend to be justified by Carmen's cruelty. He keeps reminding the audience that she had to be his and no one else's. As regards Carmen, we will never read her own words but the traveller's and Don Jose's interpretations of them. That explains why Carmen can look sensual and despotic on the very same page. In this novella, Merimee creates a profound sense of male comradeship in which women are objects of the male gaze. Men stare at women as a hobby and create fantasies that the latter are supposed to fulfil, while the former follow a kind of macho code based on violence. Even so, at least Merimee is honest when he presents the relationship between men and women as the battle of the sexes. Carmen is the only portrait of a woman that the narrators offer, except for the fragment in which another bandit's woman is described as a humble silent girl who continually suffered dishonour and physical abuse from her man (164). In addition, in The Barefoot Contessa there is at some point a comparison between the protagonist and another woman. Maria is opposed to Myrna, not only physically (bleach blonde without curves), but also in terms of attitude: Myrna is always shown smoking and drinking and looks existentially disappointed. She reluctantly obeys Edward's commands as his high-maintenance escort. Maria has a high sense of dignity that Myrna must have lost in the past, that is why she is shown submissive despite her complaints. Even the mise-en scene shows this. On the one hand, Myrna is usually sitting down in eye-level shots surrounded by men who ignore her most of the times. Incidentally, she is never placed at the centre. On the other hand, Maria appears alone walking around rooms in loose framings where her spectacular dresses are always at the centre. In these scenes, there is often an eye-level shot showing men sitting down, chatting and somehow expecting to admire Maria at some point. Right after that, there are also reaction shots showing Maria standing up in full detail. Myrna considers herself "a tramp." 2 1 Indeed, this is a potential future for Maria as well, that is why this character becomes so pathetic. Maria looks sophisticated and distant in high-society parties but that does not stop jet setters from sexualising her. Despite the fact that she is alone in travelling shots, the spectator not only perceives her strength, but also her haute couture clothing. Indeed, the gowns are so luxurious that they cause a tremendous impact. In fact, it is the dress that is placed right 20 21

Merimee, Carmen, 111. Mankiewicz, The Barefoot Comtessa, n.p.


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at the centre. E. Ann Kaplan follows Laura Mulvey when she states that the male gaze defines woman as a body full of sexual possibilities. 22 This reduction has social, political, and economic consequences as there is no significant room for women in these areas. The only dimension which they inhabit is that of object of male desire. According to Kaplan, "Assigned the place of object (lack), she [Woman] is the recipient of male desire, passively appearing rather than acting." 23 Woman is a fictional construct by male ideology, not a reality. In extreme close-ups we first see Maria's hands and later her feet, which introduce her not as a complex human being but as pieces of a fetishised body. In other words, a text decomposed. The tagline of the film is illustrating: "The world's most beautiful animal." But this animal lacks the strength to follow her own views on existence in contrast to Carmen's marginal lifestyle. In short, The Barefoot Contessa follows the representation of woman as spectacle. Teresa de Lauretis states: "body to be looked at, place of sexuality, and object of desire." 24 In spite of Mankiewicz's efforts to show the circus around Maria, this is not enough. The strength of this show business drama has to do with pushing barriers, but this approach should be complete including gender. As in Carmen, The Barefoot Contessa is narrated from the point of view of several men whose lives were affected by Maria's presence. In order to expose the different perspectives visually, the very same scene at the cemetery shot from a bird's eye view is repeated three times. Only the final moment changes, that is, the one in which the next narrator is focused by means of a crane shot. In other words, the audience will never receive her own interpretations and reasoning. As in the case of Carmen, her attitudes seem to be contradictory, as they are not explained. She looks desirable but at the same time untouchable since most of the times she is standing up all by herself in full and medium shots as part of reaction shots. As usual, the previous content consists of a group of men staring at her in medium shots. As a sample of this desire, there is a key scene in which several men from different countries are discussing Maria's future after a screen test, and all their conversation revolves around power. Maria is not present, even her friend Harry attempts to control her acting as a mentor. The editing of this scene is similar to previous ones, but in this case they are amplified. There is a group of men sitting down in a series of eye-level shots. This mise-en-scene presents them as a dehumanised crowd where 22

Kaplan, Women and Film, 1-2. Ibid., 26. 24 De Lauretis, Alice Doesn't, 4. 23

Gender in Show Business Drama


only Harry is sometimes shown apart in a medium shot. Even so, he also appears as part of the crowd and, therefore, as part of the male gaze. However, in this case there is no reaction shot precisely because Maria has just been beheld on the screen in the dark. This is the climax of her objectification, the fact that she is not even present in person. Kaplan uses Laura Mulvey's theory of the three male gazes in cinema to explain the effect of "scopophilia:" the gaze of the camera while it shoots-most of the time, there is a cameraman, not a camerawoman-the male protagonists, who objectify women, and the male spectator. 25 Consequently, Maria as an entity is reduced to one dimension. Laura Mulvey claims that the gaze, the way that the image is perceived, is a sign of control. Particularly, the looks have sexual connotations, ''which in turn shape editing and narrative, and, further, that these looks are completely and eternally those of men looking at women." 26 In other words, in film men are unavoidably active watchers, whereas women are passive recipients. Not only characters, but also filmmakers and spectators. Truth be told, at the time there were predominantly cameramen. Regarding female spectators, they experienced the male gaze too, so they projected the voyeur attitude just like any other man. 27 This theory was a landmark in second-wave feminism. Even though some of its postulates may sound questionable, the historical context after 1968 demanded such a radical response. Mulvey reviewed her theory in "Afterthoughts," concluding that the female spectator had the chance to go from the masculine perspective to the feminine one. This implied an inclusive perspective, though she was attacked anyway. Questions of race and sexual preference were never mentioned, but all in all, this essay was ground-breaking at the time. 28 The same could be applied to Maria, a strong character who fought social conventions, though in the end she did not succeed. Obviously, the historical and social context behind the production could not allow such a thing. Another key scene is the one in which Alberto Bravano and Kirk Edwards have an argument and Maria is the prize in the competition. As Oscar remarks: "When he watched Maria, he watched Bravano watch Maria." 29 She becomes an exchange commodity for rich men in search of social prestige. In this film the sexual exploitation of the image of woman is more brutal than in the case of Merimee because it is disguised as 25

Kaplan, Women and Film, 30. Humm, Feminism and Film, 17. 27 Creed, The Monstrous Feminine, 109. 28 Humm, Feminism and Film, 24-5. 29 Mankiewicz, The Barefoot Contessa, n.p. 26


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protection by gentlemen. In other words, women are treated as weaker human beings whose function is that of luxurious objects of decoration. In short, the discourse of gender in the film follows morality codes. Mank:iewicz's films tend to offer several points of view revolving around the same incident: A Letter to Three Wives (1949) is composed of flashbacks about the marriage life of three women, whereas All about Eve (1950) reveals the fall of the diva Margo Channing through the perspective of three women. Unlike the aforementioned films, this time Mankiewicz selected male perspectives in some key point-of-view shots so as to intensify the effect of sexual objectification. This way, the perception of annulment and defencelessness becomes evident. The Barefoot Contessa examines idealised male screen heroes such as Errol Flynn by introducing the figure of Count Vincenzo, whose masculinity is questioned by him being wounded in a military action. In the case of the figure of the hero, the discourse of the film is ambiguous. On the one hand, the count does not make Maria complete. On the other hand, he looks dignified and honest. Both Don Jose (a previous soldier) and Vincenzo are related to Mars even though in their cases this bond does not reflect mastery and courage, but chaos and victimisation. Both male characters are aristocrats, but Don Jose leaves everything behind in order to be with Carmen, whereas in the film Maria is the one that abandons her cinematographic career so that she can move to Count Vincenzo's secluded castle. After all, she assumes her duties as a man's property once she becomes his wife. Both Carmen and Maria could be interpreted as phallic women who have the controlling phallus inside their bodies as a symbol of their independence and strength, but in the case of Maria she is victimised since her husband is sexually impotent. They never get to initiate any sexual intercourse, which makes Maria feel guilty and responsible. In other words, she assumes the vagina dentata complex as she feels that she has annihilated or even swallowed her husband's manliness. Fatalism impregnates everything in the novella and the film from the start and the tone never changes. In this sense both texts could be categorised as tragedies. The death of Carmen appears as a consequence of destiny, not of Don Jose's abusive behaviour. She knows from the start that according to her selected destiny she will be murdered by him, that is why she is not scared of Don Jose nor tries to run away when he takes her to a desolate place. We kill what we love so as to possess it unfairly. Furthermore, we kill what we want to possess so that it will not possess us. As related to this view, the narrative of the film is composed of several flashbacks that once and again end up in the choral scene of her burial.

Gender in Show Business Drama


These recurrent flashbacks never let the audience forget the fact that Maria is dead. Nonetheless, we never get to see that she has any intention whatsoever to d i e - a s in the case of Carmen. This increases the tragic tone. There are no rational explanations, just an accumulation of tragic motives. Vincenzo even looks civilised in distant full shots when he calls the police in opposition to Don Jose's desperation when he is about to kill Carmen. Count Vincenzo's rational behaviour is that of a man of honour whose dignity has not been respected by Maria as his property, not that of a man dominated by his passions. Somehow, the ideology implicit in the film justifies Count Vincenzo's homicide despite the fact that Maria was expecting a baby. In the novella, Don Jose is seen as the victim of Carmen's sexual games because she is a superior entity. Definitely, she is the one that pulls the strings despite social marginalisation or even prohibition. The novella by Prosper Merimee is profoundly misogynistic, but the strength of the female protagonist surpasses every possible condemnation. Her most remarkable quality is her invincibility in a social system where women must not be visible. Despite the narrators' comments, the reader can deconstruct their gazes and reconstruct Carmen's brave personality in nineteenth-century Spain. Unfortunately, the interpretation of this myth in the case of the film is a step back in the representation of women. The discourse presented is misleading as it underrates the relevance of Maria's psychological complexity despite its compassionate description. In the end, Maria's existential philosophy provides mental torture, not freedom, that is, the lesson that women have to learn. Obviously, the discourse adopted is not coherent in terms of gender. It maintains a brave viewpoint when it deals with labour and personal exploitation and producers' incompetence for art, but it remains conservative when dealing with the reflection of Maria's gender. After all, she remains unknown.

Works Cited Baum, Rob. "After the Ball is Over: Bringing Cinderella Home." Cultural Analysis l (2000): 69-83. Butler, Judith. "Sujetos de Sexo/Genero/Deseo." In Feminismos literarios, ed. by Neus Carbonell and Meri Torras, 25-76. Madrid: Arco/Libros, 1999. Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous Feminine. Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 2007. De Lauretis, Teresa. Alice Doesn't. Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.


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Ebert, Teresa. "Feminismo y postmodemismo de la resistencia. Diferencia-dentro/Diferencia-entre." In Feminismos literarios, ed. by Neus Carbonell and Meri Torras, 199-232. Madrid: Arco/Libros, 1999. Gould, Evlyn. The Fate o f Carmen. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. Humm, Maggie. Feminism and Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997. Kaplan, E. Ann. Women and Film. Both Sides o f the Camera. New York: Methuen, 1983. Lopez Jimenez, Luis, and Luis-Eduardo Lopez Esteve. "Introduction." In Carmen, by Prosper Merimee, 9-84. Madrid: Catedra, 2003. Merimee, Prosper. Carmen, ed. by Luis Lopez Jimenez and Luis-Eduardo Lopez Esteve. Madrid: Catedra, 2003. The Barefoot Contessa. Dir. Joseph Mankiewicz. Perfs. Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1954. Thomham, Sue. "Postmodemism and Feminism." In The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism, ed. by Stuart Sim, 24-34. New York: Routledge, 2005.


The development of hip hop in its four decades of existence has transformed the movement from an alternative cultural form into a multibillionaire global industry. As a form of cultural expression and social interaction, hip hop originally helped disenfranchised youths, mostly but not exclusively non-white youths, to redefine themselves and to re-inscribe into the broader society the social and political environment they were relegated to in post-industrial United States, more specifically in the city of New York. Once this culture and its different artistic expressions were inserted in the cultural and musical market, the situation changed. The rap industry has neutralised all subversiveness the hip hop culture had and has also demonstrated to be a monolithic entity which fully embraces patriarchal values and discourses. Moreover, the participation and contributions of women to the culture, which have been consistent since its early stages, has been shadowed, if not ignored, as mainstream music industry gradually made rap music the central and most visible element of the culture. Thus hip hop culture now reaches audiences all over the globalised world mostly through mainstream rap music as a masculinist art form which only acknowledges women as support or complement to men. In the vast majority of the most commercially successful rap works-and so the most readily available to larger audiences-the presence of women is reduced to flat characters instrumental to the cause of non-white artists' identity building and/or social upgrading. This fact eradicates women's concerns from the fight for the welfare of black population as represented in some instances of r a p - t h e so called conscious rap sub-genre-and, at


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the same time, adds on female subordination as women are re-inscribed in the popular imagery as objectified sexualised beings. It is my intention in this work to follow the tradition of the feminist criticism that saw the necessity of critically analysing the work produced by men and complement this "feminist critique" with the study of the work produced by women -"gynocritics"-as postulated in the work of Elaine Showalter as early as the 1970s. 1 In order to achieve these two main purposes, I will first expose how such an understanding of hip hop culture and its music is a myopic one that ignores women as creators, consumers and/or participants of this culture in equal terms through a critical approach that identifies such a partial approximation; second, to retrieve the subjective voices of women MCs as creators in their own right through the introduction and subsequent analysis of the selected works of three artists as they offer opposed perspectives that account for their individual experiences. These experiences refer directly to their role within the music industry and within the cultural environment in which rap music is involved. They also affect the productions of women rappers as they are, in many cases, the central topic of the songs. The different origins of the artists will prove that the main discriminatory practices based on gender distinctions within the particularity of rap music industry are not limited to the United States and/or English speaking music market since they appear in the different localised instances of such business activity. Formerly an originally creative and distinctive art form, the perception of hip hop created by mainstream rap can be sectioned into: 1. An urban experience. It is tied to the inner-city areas of the big U.S. metropolis, cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, etc. The fictions described have to do with ghetto's hopeless visions of violence, drug and lack of opportunity. Once this overcome, the rapper is rendered as survivor. The 'hood' becomes the place par excellence for hip hop, which makes different settings appear almost inappropriate for rap. 2. An American experience. It was born within the American territory; it is full of the American capitalist idiosyncrasy and reminds of the American dream myth. This leads many rap artists from different localities to search for or highlight their connections with the big American urban centres such as affiliations with American artists or crews, by addressing some experiences in these cities, including collaborations of popular American artists or recording, producing and/or arranging their albums and videos there. All these are 1 Quoted in Moi, Sexual/ Textual Politics, 74.

Women in Rap Music


pursued in order to be perceived as "authentic" rap or to gain some prestige as such. Such insistence induces to regard any act coming from different places as spurious at least. 3. It is black as it renders African-American and/or Afro-diasporic experiences. Most rap stars signed in major industry labels are African-American or come from African-American or AfroDiaspora descent. Other ethnicities like Hispanic, Caribbean, Chicano or White are placed at the margins of the culture or reincorporated as trends or sub genres within the rap mainstreamLatin rap, Dance Hall, etc. -despite their being part of the formative years of the culture. 4. It is heterosexual. The most popular mainstream artists declare their heterosexuality and most of the thematic concerns are analysed (if so) from a heterosexual point of view. Moreover, some lyrics are explicitly homophobic. Declared homosexual artists have been very few within the commercial rap and again relegated to scarce and fleeting sub-categories of the mainstream canon. 5. It is young. Mainstream music industry orientates rap to a young audience. Many artists are very young as well. That is why longterm artists or older looking artists are scarce. 6. It is male. The main discourse in mainstream rap is male centred and male oriented and is built on a specific conception of masculinity-violent, sexist, money- and sex-driven. In this discourse, women's bodies are rendered as accessories, instrumental for the building of such concept of masculine identity and social and economic success. Women's voices are discredited as subjective voices or silenced. So despite the fact that some alternative voices have been recorded and/or backed up by this corporate industry, which do not fulfil or even contradict the previously mentioned ideas, the vast majority of the signed artist follows a model that is lucrative for the industry and which is complicit with the previously mentioned ideas. The main concern here, however, is not so much the fact that the genre and music sells-after all it was born constrained and therefore influenced by the capitalist logics of American society- but what it is selling specially in terms of gender and racial identities: what identity tag(s) it spreads and which are these tags' connotations within the social and cultural environment in this globalised business. What happened then to the veiled promises of a creative alternative to the oppressive socio-cultural impositions of the status quo? The cultural break hip hop once was has been co-opted by industry interests. Ironically


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enough, the industry has managed to make use of the very formal devices of hip hop culture and adapt them into the market mechanics. Excerpts of the culture that can best sell are taken to make a formula. This formula is reproduced, packed and sold. In 1994 Tricia Rose interviewed Carmen Ashhurst-Watson, then the president of Rush Communications, which was "the second largest blackowned entertainment company in the United States" and this interview perfectly clarifies the dynamics of a big record label: it explains how they exert control over their artists and to what extent they do so.2 Most of the artists or groups "discovered" by a major record company must have had some years of experience and a local following which supported them before their recorded reference (demo) is chosen or some other artist on the label must vouch for the petitioner artist. In any case, the artist/s must be already experienced. Whatever the intentions or ideas the petitioner/s might have about their place in the market or their fictionalised identities as artists, based on the experience gained in their pre-label career, they are discouraged. So they are "advised" on what are the desirable features they must take in order to fit one of the broader market's existing categories.3 In the cases when the artist/s do not fit any of such categories, they are marketed as "different" or "new. "4 Furthermore, the interview reveals how some artists have to adopt new images and change them along time according to market tastes. Thus one artist's persona may vary from one album to another, provided they ever get to record more than one album because, as I said before, longevity is a handicap for any artist under market logic. It is very difficult to maintain a consistent artistic career for any artist within the industry. Escaping the control of the big media conglomerates is very difficult for artists even if they are not directly signed under one of these. Minor labels, artist-owned labels or self-produced artists depend on the former to have access to the main media outlets (T.V, radio, magazines, etc.), to the distribution of recorded material and to venue promotion. What matters for the media conglomerates are the commercial transaction and its profits, even the fact of selling actual records is no longer relevant. But one thing sure is important: that artists sell whatever product that can be associated to the image they project, so the bigger the artist's popularity the more benefits the large company gains. This demonstrates the cross-disciplinary nature of the industry productions in terms of commodity marketing. This aspect is not different from other commercial industries or art forms. Even 2 Rose, "Contracting Rap," 540. 3 Ibid., 543. 4 Ibid., 543.

Women in Rap Music


so, smaller labels allow the artists to have more creative control over their individual work. 5 In the case of women within the industry, this interview mentions two specific obstacles for the female rapper: the lack of a market strategy capable of guaranteeing commercial success, and a lack of deep business understanding and aggressive representation. 6 And for the women within the business structure the hindrances come from the profound sexism that exists at all levels. From the many women executives in the industry, few occupy the highest positions. In any position they may occupy, they experience salary inequality and have difficulties in establishing their authority without patriarchal protection: the support of a male authority. Carmen Ashhurst-Watson reminds that "the record business is not particularly different from other industries," but highlights an aspect which is specific of the music industry: women are given charges where they take care of the emotional needs of the artists. 7 They have positions in which their duties are "keep(ing) the artists happy" and cooperative. 8 This last instance is widely spread and tacitly accepted to the point that Gina Harrell, a professional video producer in the music and entertainment industry, admits having experienced sexual harassment from her male counterparts in order to be allowed to work with them. 9 The operation of the rap music industry explains to a great extent why all the bigger names in mainstream rap have been men, why the thematic has scarcely changed, why there are even fewer women with a message different from that of the men who have succeeded through the major record labels. Just as the interview of the president of Rush Communications reveals, the industry is profoundly sexist and everybody that enters it must adapt to its dynamics in order to succeed. The important qualities are not the content of the songs, or even their form, but the capacity they have to sell and be sold. It is also explained why this business based on hip hop culture is also so much centred in the visual and the consumable-clothes, jewels, expensive cars, etc. The global market strategy of cross marketing is very evident within the rap music market. The music industry as it is does not have new spaces to offer women; much less safe spaces where women can perform a subjective role free of more traditional and sexist parts. These have to be searched and found outside. 5 Forman, '"Represent': Race, Space and Place in Rap Music," 234-5. 6 Rose, "Contracting Rap," 556. 7 Rose and Rose, Microphone Friends, 141. 8 Ibid., 554. 9 Rose, Black Noise, 16.


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Thus the creativity and innovation hip hop meant in its pre-commercial stages have disappeared. In search for the essence of the culture the look and ears must be taken out of the heights of its commercial power to be led into the underground: Underground artists are those not defined by the co-opting force of mass production, but who see as their primary frame o f reference the hip hop community. Primarily, this group consists o f artists not signed by major record labels or not receiving mainstream radio play. A number o f artists who have achieved mainstream success still have underground sensibilities about love for the art form and commitment to the hip hop community; they desire material success only while respecting those two principles. [... ] The underground maintains the compositional space as hip hop becomes increasingly popular with global communities. [It] remains firmly rooted within a cultural context that includes interaction, live performance, the art o f deejaying, clothing, language, and one that rejects (in practice) the preference o f capital over community .10

Imani Perry's definition of underground hip hop explains two of the main differences from mainstream hip hop artists: love for the art, and commitment to the hip hop community. Firstly, the underground form and the artists that make it also have material interests but they are not the leading force. They remain loyal to the creative principles of hip hop as an art form, the "collective, local creation" that uses deconstruction and appropriation of musical and cultural material meaningful to the specificity of the artist(s) and their community to generate new personal creations in the fashion of the early period." Secondly, they also maintain the interactive qualities of the movement and keep all its manifestations alive or at least these are acknowledged. Besides, as stated before, underground artists are able to keep control of the creative process: contents, form, performance and rights over their work. The inconvenience of not having the support of a label is the lack of airing and distribution through main channels. Underground rap travels outside the traditional corporate methods. Internet-based labels have facilitated a great deal of the proliferation of underground hip hop, promoting the online circulation of the music in digital format. The advertising methods are also different from regular corporate marketing: creativity instead of high budgets to advertise the artist is used. I will now focus on some of the thematic, conceptual and formal variations of the prescriptive characteristics of the mainstream hip hop 10 Perry, Prophets o f the Hood, 202-3. 11 Ibid., 201.

Women in Rap Music


canon. To do so, I have chosen to comment on three underground female artists' texts. The rest of this section will be devoted to such analysis. MC Sirah is a young New Yorker underground white female artist whose lyrics redefine the concept of MC. In her song "Stop with the Advice," she criticises the common expectations created by mainstream rap and the general perception of women within hip hop. She defends her right to build and define herself, both actual self and fictionalised persona, despite the expectations, reactions and recommendations generated around her. All the "advice" she is given is guidelines to be followed in order to fill a given space. Such space is one made for women which is fashioned from traditional heteronormative concepts of womanhood and femininity and one which also helps support the sexist behaviours that underpin patriarchal society. Of course, she is told to mind her physical aspect, to "lose a few pounds and put on [... ] heels" in order to adapt into the expectations on female artists-and women in general-that regulate body size and appearance. In terms of behaviour, on and off stage, what can be inferred from her lines is symptomatic of an issue that has specifically affected women and that is inextricably tied to the consumerist logic of the capitalist market: women's bodies are sexualised and consumed as commodities. As commoditised objects women's appearance commonly symbolises sex (heteronormative and male oriented sex), therefore she is recommended to wear "lingerie on stage," "make a face, passion" or talk about some "sexy drug" (my emphasis). The mentioned recommendations on appearance and behaviour are straightly intended to make female artists desirable individuals for the targeted audience, in this case the assumed targeted section of the population are young men. The pressures put on her body and behaviour to accommodate into the male dominated music industry are the continuation and worsening of the condition described by Naomi Wolf in 1991, whereby women are subjected to men and constricted by an unachievable standard of beauty: "Beauty" is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern age in the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact. In assigning value to women in a vertical hierarchy according to a culturally imposed physical standard, it is an expression of power relations in which women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves. 12


Wolf, The Beauty Myth 12.


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In this case, she is advised to quit her artistic capacities to adapt into the economy of the music industry by working in line with the established norms of physical appearance. By refusing to accommodate to this "myth" and "doing [her]" instead, she is breaking with the general impositions of beauty standards and with the convention of rap being a musical form made by men and to fit men's desires, re-appropriating, in turn, this artistic form as a space for individual expression. Not only does this song question the beauty myth and its settlement in the industry from the very first verse, female performance and feminine contents as understood via mainstream rap are also questioned. Her words carry as well a critique of the general perception of mainstream hip hop as a co-opted form. Such general understanding, so typical of consumer capitalist societies, seldom questions that money-here referred to as "cheddar"-is tantamount to quality. MC Sirah breaks the convention of the "proper" rapper as an African-American person in pursue of wealth and fame. The core theme of this song is her right to create and express her own image and persona freely, despite racial and gender role constraints implicit in the generally spread idea of this art form and popular music broadly. Hey you know it's P.R., MCs, CDs, I'm not doing y'all I'm doing me Listeners and O.G. I'm not doing y'all I'm doing me CEOs, DJs, Vjs, CA. I'm not doing y'all I'm doing me Critics and cynics those that didn't listen I'm not doing y'all I'm doing me (If you don't know, you better ask somebody) "Sam, you're mad short and a white girl right? That's cute, maybe you should sing ... " Maybe you should let me do my thing Lingerie on stage is no it Sorry to disappointing you with this But I don't enjoy myths less sucking on summin' So how is the beat to break for y'all This molds kids 20 shapes I better be mobile plus provide a more rebel model Deeper voice, less accent, more talent Learn to dance or break or tell a joke Make a face passion too much Get a manager, rap about some sexy drugs Well here's me doing me Stop with the advice.

Women in Rap Music


"Sirah I think you're great I really do Amazing with everything but what we need to work on is you Lose a few pounds and put on these heels Tell the kids and folks that you'll kill them with your steel Don't worry we'll get you a chain saying that you stole it Seal the deal and sleep with a CEO - that's the main component" [... ] So I am what I am And I go where I go Never sellin' out my values For the price o f gold What you recall piece o f pork If you think this is about staying' poor I f l wanna sign, I'll sign Believe me or not I'm no industry whore Make music 'cause I love it You want me to tell round the same ol' forever Never getting better Don't judge my music based on Whether my ink is also makin' cheddar 13

The following excerpt belongs to Canadian artist Wendy Brathwaite known as Motion, titled "City Livin' pt. II." It is a re-elaboration of the life in the inner-city areas. It describes the city from a woman's point of view and through the voice of women-Motion's and collaborator's Mz Mosea's voices-and it highlights the specific obstacles lived by young women and immigrants in the city. As the song starts, listeners are reminded of the celebrated rap song "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Motion and Mosea are appropriating and reconstructing the classic song that channelled rap into the tradition of the protest music. "The Message" meant for rap music a turn in its perception from a party oriented music form that celebrated diversity to the form p a r excellence of social denounce particular to the African American (male) population. Even when some other rap songs which carried similar meanings had been recorded prior to "The Message," the positive reviews and great popularity among the music critics of the time-who praised it as the continuation of the respected African American musical traditionmade this obscure rap song and its "filmic" narrative qualities the model to aspire to. 14 This time the setting is not the local specificity of New York but presumably a Canadian city, and the issues narrated in the song are not 13 14

MC Sirah, "Stop with the Advice." Chang, Can't Stop, Won't Stop, 179; Forman, The 'hood Comes First, 253-277.


Chapter Four

endemic to inner-city African-American male population-lack of job opportunity, defective education, drug addiction, impoverished housing, e t c . - 15but the ones that affect immigrant population in general-racism, violence, drugs-and inner city (black) female population in particularteenage pregnancy, violence in the family setting, etc. in any given impoverished urban space. By choosing to re-construct this keystone of rap music, besides extending such difficult environment outside the local constrictions of the United States rap discourses, Motion and Mosea are compensating for the absence of women and female matters in the narrative of ghetto hardness. Rap music, ever since its popularisation as a protest music genre, has been regarded as a site for potential empowerment of the African-American community against the status quo because of the opportunity to voice the social issues suffered by that population. But it has also disseminated the idea that the women of the African-American communities must "subordinate [their] interests as women to the allegedly greater good of the larger African-American community." 16 The style used also differs. As the song opens with the sound of a car engine turning on, the listener has the impression of being cruising around the block in a car while the lyrics start. The opening section is a rap delivered fluidly over the beat and the main narration develops in a melodic vocal style typical of R&B songs. According to Fatimah N. Muhammad, R&B has been accepted as part of hip hop and incorporated into rap songs. The softer rhythmic qualities of this genre, its melodic focus and the fact that the audience of R&B is formed by women, have made the genre been perceived as feminine. 17 Hence "City Livin' pt. II" disrupts the notions of rap being male-centred and male-oriented firstly, because the lyrics specifically address women problems and secondly because of the perfect blending with a musical genre which is specifically women-oriented. As this song is presumably a narration of the oppressive circumstances in any Canadian inner-city area, it does away with the idea of rap as being exclusively about the American ghetto living experience. Broken glass everywhere When you livin' fo' the city You just don't care (what?) Close my eyes tryna 'void the news 'Nother body is getting' lost In the menacin' blues (in the city blues) 15

"Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five." Collins, Black Feminist Thought, 86. 17 Muhammad, "How to NOT Be 21st Century Venus Hottentots," 124.


Women in Rap Music


Face o f violence cameras at night Surround the block Bustin' in dorms at night So don't push me don't know what'll do I'm bout to set it back in game too it's true. The scum shines in the neighborhood There's yellow tape everywhere (a lot) The scene just ain't no good (another boy died) [... ] 'Cause there's babies with babies (too many) And they pockets low I'm tired oflittle girls lookin' fo' love 'Cause there's nothin' in their homes How we gonna do with this? (city livin') 'Cause it's getting hard (city livin') I can't find no job (city livin') [... ] Promises in the streets o f gold But when you get out the plane A whole new story unfolds (story unfolds) Now they say they were color blind It's the first thing that they see (that they see) They using technology to keep me in captivity How we gonna do with this? [... ] So welcome to the place Become insane In the search' fo' the big life So we out here Tryin' to get a life They shot string dreams o f the bigger life We want big lives At what price? 18

I will next comment on Woyza's "Vendras Detras." She is a young female MC and soul singer from Vigo. In her song she presents an example of how the sexism that plagues the music business and the pressures to fit into the standards of beauty and behaviour-on and off the stage-as explained in the previous pages is extended through the different branches of the globalised music market. She addresses a man who allegedly has experience and wields authority in the music business and who offers her the opportunity to enter the industry and make a 18

Motion feat. Mz Mosea, "City Livin' pt. II."

Chapter Four


"successful career." Just like the case of Sirah, the option given to her as a female artist is the most visible one we can find in popular music in general and hip hop in particular. It constitutes one of the very few niches available for women. It is clearly stated from his words that the main assets in any female artists are mainly her image-as long as her body fits the expected standard of beauty and is profusely shown-and secondly a beautiful voice. Other matters are not relevant to "succeed." This concept of artistic career is not revealed until the end, the song opens as an answer to such an offering. Woyza sings in reply making clear that she is not interested in fulfilling that space. When she sings she claims her agency; her abilities as a lyricist, rapper and singer; she validates her authority and subjectivity by virtue of her own experience and knowledge of the music craft. All of them provide her with the necessary authority as to state her independence thus rejecting the "power" she was offered. This one is a partial power that is subjugated to the sexual desires of potential male listeners who are also considered the main audience. Female listeners are not considered within this group, for them, the beauty of her voice is enough lure which adds to the idea of the music form as being suitable for male audiences and hints at a lack of sophistication of female audiences when they are content with just the beauty of her voice. Ey, (ey) basta ya,(ya) quien te creenis(tu) con esas pintas de nifio pijo Ey, (ey) para ya,(stop) tu que sabras (ja) lo que hago es lo que soy, me explico. No me vendas tus contactos, No interesan tus contratos, Yo no juego en tu mercado Nunca insultes lo que hago No critiques con quien trato No jodas con mi trabajo Voy en serio en este asalto Puro impacto, el que te encajo yo Ves,(ves) que soy una mujer y no quieres ver en mi algo mas que eso Ves,(solo ves) una voz,(una voz) ves en mi el don crees que de ello consta mi talento No pretendas cambiar esto

Women in Rap Music


Yo, pongo mi alma en cada texto No hay negocio sin respeto No lo hago por dinero No mezcles musica y sexo No la chupo a ningun precio No soy nueva en este gremio No me trates como a un memo [Estribillo] (x2) Vendnis detras, no tengo nada que perder Por fin, te enteraras, que no necesito tu poder Poder hacer, y hacerlo bien en que momento crees que pueda de ti depender [Voz de el Terre] "i,Tu quieres triunfar? Pues ya sabes En este mundillo un 10% el talento 90 la apariencia 0 si no, no te vas a hacer camino Asi que un poquito de escote, una piernita por un lado Y te ganas a la mitad del publico Y con tu voz te ganas a las mujeres i, Tu quieres triunfar o no quieres triunfar? Yo te lo ofrezco ... " [Estribillo] (x2) Vendras detras, no tengo nada que perder Por fin, te enteraras, que no necesito tu poder Poder hacer, y hacerlo bien en que momento crees que pueda de ti depender. 19 In this paper I have tried to state the most visible and popularised ideas in terms o f gender and race within mainstream rap discourses to then compare the works made by women which contest those major ideas. In doing so, m y intention has been to explain that the condition o f women in hip hop is not different from their condition within society in general. Hip hop women have to face the same oppressive and controlling practices that hinder women participation by means o f behavioural norms that state which practices are appropriate. Female creativity and participation in equal terms is also shadowed by allowing only to see women as accessory and by presenting assertive women's voices as exceptions whenever they are given the chance to be heard at all in a world where male-centred discourses are privileged. 19

Woyza, "Vendras Detras."


Chapter Four

The texts analysed here can be read as contestations to what became a canon in rap music, and by extension, in hip hop culture. Despite originally being a heterogeneous and flexible art form capable of incorporating many different elements from other disciplines and cultures, hip hop has now become institutionalised as a fixed product from which any distinctive female contribution has been silenced or erased to favour scarce instances in which women appear as stereotypical representations instrumental in reinforcing the standardised form of rap. This mainstream and globally popularised instance of the music spreads (among many others) clearly androcentric, sexist and patriarchal ideas and gives the false impression that these are implicit in the very art form when the tendencies are also found in any other popular cultural form. The reason for this is that those tendencies are still part and parcel of Western society as a whole and thus permeates any cultural activity that develops within this frame. It is among the first tasks of a feminist sensibility to unmask the fallacies of the gender roles assigned by patriarchal structures and to re(dis)cover the work of women where they have been silenced. More alarming is the fact that activities of sexual exploitation are carried out and even accepted within this music monopoly-both in its internal workings and in its products. Such a prolific and flexible art form with the suitable formal characteristics to develop any kind of theme i s by custom-rendered unsuitable for women. Firstly, because the access to the highest ranks of this business depends on sacrificing, in most cases, the moral integrity of a given female candidate. Secondly, because this kind of popular music and entertainment industry only considers women as objectified beings instrumental to the very marketing strategies as visual lure to the detriment of artistic creation capacities just like the protests in Sirah and Woyza's work rendered audible. These are the reasons why a feminist intervention is necessary. The reasons why an approach that highlights the inequalities based on gender difference and unveils the power relations that underpin such discriminations that plague this form of musical art is all the more needed. It is my wish that these pages would be useful, at least, to show a few contributions made by women that reinforce the struggle for more egalitarian and worthy female representations in cultural matters. Because, despite what has been popularised through the media and music industry, all along hip hop history women have created. They have created in distinctive ways. They have created despite the fact that they had to work harder than men to achieve the same respectability. It is outside the regular channels of the industry, unfortunately the less accessible, that rap and hip hop recover their originality in terms of formal characteristics and

Women in Rap Music


content. It is here that new safe spaces are created to give voice to the identities left outside the hip hop canon.

Works Cited Chang, Jeff. Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History o f the Hip Hop Generation. London: Ebury Press, 2007. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics o f Empowerment. New York and London: Routledge, 2000. Forman, Murray. '"Represent:' Race, Space and Place in Rap Music." In That's the Joint! The Hip Hop Studies Reader, ed. by Murray Forman and Anthony Neal, 231-255. New York: Routledge, 2004. - . The 'hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip Hop. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 2002. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. "The Message." In Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Sugar Hill Records, 1982. Moi, Toril. Sexual/ Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. New York and London: Routledge, 1995. Motion. "City Livin' pt. II." In Motion Live Ep. Independent, 2008. Muhammad, Fatimah N. "How to NOT Be 21st Century Venus Hottentots." In Home Girls Make Some Noise! Hip Hop Feminist Anthology, ed. by Gwendolyn D. Pough and Others, 115-140. Miraloma: Parker Publishing, 2007. Perry, Imany. Prophets o f the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2004. Rose, Tricia. "Contracting Rap: An Interview with Carmen AshhurstWatson." In That's the Joint! The Hip Hop Studies Reader, ed. by Murray Forman and Anthony Neal, 541-556. New York: Routledge, 2004. - . Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1994. Rose, Andrew, and Rose, Tricia. Microphone Friends: Youth Music and Youth Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Sirah, MC. "Stop with the Advice." In Clean Windows, Dirty Floors. Broken Complex, 2007. Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images o f Beauty Are Used against Women. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1991. Woyza. "Vendras Detras." In Pisando el suelo que ves. LicorKafe Producciones, 2009.



The intersection of gender and society has created an important body of work in academia. The social changes that societies have been suffering during the past century, together with the conservative impulses some social groups have been requesting, has transformed our perceptions of art, history and domesticity among other topics. A close revision of some gender issues around the globe is analysed in the following chapters. Studying not only textual examples of gender experiences, but also how these texts contribute to modify present assumptions is at the core of the following contributions. Zorc-Maver studies the ongoing identification of women with motherhood and exposes how same-sex families can add a new dimension to this traditional issue. Her analysis of French feminist classic studies strengthens her exposition by diachronically exemplifying past and present struggles with motherhood as women's only possible identity. Throughout Yitah's contribution, one may learn of the necessary strategies employed by women to subvert their secondary status in some traditional societies. Her contribution studies the use of "jesting" as a way in which women of the Kasena culture have been subverting their speech to be able to manifest their disagreement with certain cultural practices. Lasa Alvarez, in her contribution "Women Writers' Networks and Connections in the Eighteenth-Century British Literary Market," analyses eighteenth-century women writers' dedicatories to other female members as a proof of their need to connect and create networks among these females to publish their work. In a similar move, Gonzalez-Herrero Rodriguez reads Wollstonecraft's The Wrongs o f Woman presenting the reader with the possibility of female cooperation under the direst circumstances. As Gonzalez-Herrero Rodriguez concludes, cooperation among women is the necessary tool to self-determination and selfempowerment-as her reading of Wollstonecraft's novel illustrates. Romero Ruiz offers an enlightening picture of Josephine Butler's leading role within the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts in the task they underwent to prevent fallen women to be sent either to the workhouse or the asylum in her contribution, "Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts: the Construction of Gender

Experiencing Gender: International Approaches


and Sexual Identity." At the other end of the Atlantic, reading Sorin's contribution, one may get a picture of how women related to their physical bodies in nineteenth-century America by studying the wordings and silences of their physicality. The last contribution to this part offers a vision of Virginia Woolf's The London Scene as a tourist guide for the women of her times by analysing how the text can be read as such. Maldonado Acevedo understands how Woolf's text can be presented as a project to read the city of London with a gender lens.




This study is an analysis of how social changes influence the understanding of the woman as mother. The starting points are two basic theses. The first one is that the social changes of the past thirty years have led to changes in how we understand and define family and family life, while motherhood remains founded on the modernist concept of motherhood, derived from biologist ideology. The second thesis is that we are faced with different forms of family life, which give the appearance of a free choice, while the fact that they are still based on heteronormativity is being overlooked; this is evident because pluralised family practices face substantial difficulties in achieving systemic and legal recognition.

Changes in the Notions of the Family and Motherhood in Postmodernity The terms postmodern family and postmodemity are used here to label the period of the past thirty years, which have been marked by changes and new developments in the field of family life in comparison with modem family. One can only start talking about the feeling of belonging to a family from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries onwards, which is connected with the development of private life. 1 The separation of the private and public spheres, which for a woman signified a withdrawal into the domestic sphere, is a constitutive element of the family constitution process. This is the result of the expansion and prolongation of schooling that lead to greater intimacy and closeness between parents and children. 1

Aries, Centuries o f Childhood, 395.

A (Post)-Modern Understanding of the Family and Motherhood


The change of a woman into mother was nonetheless necessary in order to construct a modem sense of childhood. 2 The ideology of privacy that developed is based on the constitution of the feeling of family belonging, childhood constitution and the formation of the myth of motherly love. 3 The story about the modem family begins with motherhood. 4 Further development of the institution of motherhood is closely linked with the institution of the modem family. Here we have in mind the nuclear, traditional, universal, kernel family. Family is, from this point of view, a group characterised by the same lodgings, economic collaboration and reproduction. It includes the adults of both sexes among whom at least two of them maintain a socially recognised sexual relationship, and one or more of their own or adopted children that live together. The chronologically linear model is typical of the concept of modem family, one that is marked by stark transitions from one phase into the other (schooling, family formation). This and similar definitions of the family remain blind for the gender-specific institutions of the family. 5 Another problem with modernist family theories is heteronormativity. Heterosexuality is only rarely problematised and thus the heterosexual framework of family law and social policy remains mostly untold and self-understood. The transition into the late modernity brings along big changes in defining what family is. Family can be seen in various ways, differently from the modernist sociological theories. It has come to be seen not only as a social institution but also a combination of relations, for modernist definitions of family can no longer explain the complexity and diversity of family life. 6 Postmodemity, on the other hand, does not mean a radical break with modernity but rather, it represents a plethora of processes that are typical of the modem family and postmodern processes that appear as essentially new. A basic postmodern novelty is family pluralisation which means the pluralisation of family forms, that is, a decrease in the number of marriages, a greater number of divorces and children born in extramarital communities, cohabitations, etc. Some authors claim that the contemporary risk society creates conditions in which securing ontological safety is extremely important, something that Giddens has drawn attention to. 7 That 2

Rener, Drnzine razlicne-enakopravne, 100; Svab, Drnzina: od modernosti k

fostmodernosti, 135. Rener, Drnzine razlicne--enakopravne, 102. 4 Svab, Drnzina: od modernosti k postmodernosti, 102. 5 Aries, Centuries o f Childhood, 404. 6 Svab, Drnzina: od modernosti k postmodernosti, 45. 7 Rener, Drnzine razlicne--enakopravne, 20; Svab, Drnzina: od modernosti k postmodernosti, 175; Giddens, The Transforming o fIntimacy, 175.


Chapter Five

is why family pluralisation represents the response to changes that have made it possible for the family to survive and remain present. A modem family that would not be ready to adapt itself to changes would be very unfunctional, which is why we can say that family life in postmodemity becomes increasingly more modem. Family in principle remains present, for it is increasingly more focused on its essentially modem functions such as the reproductive and therapeutical ones. Motherhood is within these changes the constant, the very "family victim" that enables family pluralisation in postmodernity. 8 The question is why particularly motherhood has remained in postmodernity the most unchanged constant. Due to the changes in postmodemity, there have also emerged changes in modem family and the expansion of the very notions of family and privacy. 9 In the real world many families do not show any similarity with the dominant function of the family, and the nuclear family is a rare experience in comparison with unmarried couples who live together, oneparent families and married couples that live apart. New forms of family ties remind us that family, which we acknowledge as natural because it appears as self-understood, is really a very recent invention and it is perhaps quickly disappearing. Family is a basic place of the social construction of reality. It shows social relations, which are also gender relations, as natural and to equip natural facts such as birth or death with numerous social meanings. 10 With the transition into late modernity, we are encountering great changes taking place in defining and understanding what the family is. In view of the process of individualisation, where every individual becomes the director and creator of his/her own life, we are faced with the plurality of family forms. Individualisation means that a traditional life course and certainty, formerly ensured by external control and general moral laws, is no longer characteristic of the individuals' biographies today. In this way, individualisation presents an ambivalent social phenomenon: on the one hand, it does signify more freedom and choice, but on the other, it also means a higher level of risk and responsibility for the individual. 11 It is a fact that at the beginning of modernisation, individualisation was an exclusively male privilege. Nowadays, it is also a fact that marginalised social groups which do not have sufficient economic, cultural and social capital cannot take advantage of the opportunities individualisation has to offer. These forms of 8

Svab, Druzina: od modernosti k postmodernosti, 84. Giddens, The Transforming o f Intimacy, 165; Svab, Druzina: od modernosti k postmodernosti, 42. 10 Rener, Druzine razlicne-enakopravne, 15. 11 Beck and Beck-Gemsheim, The Normal Chaos o fLove, 55. 9

A (Post)-Modern Understanding o f the Family and Motherhood


pluralisation lead to broadening the definitions of the family. In postmodemity we can no longer form clear-cut concepts such as family, marriage, parenthood, sexuality and love, because they vary in content, norms, morality, with ever present exceptions, when it comes to every individual and every relationship. 12 The pluralisation of the family has the following characteristics: an increase in the number of re-organised families (divorced and remarried); biological parenthood is increasingly substituted by social parenting (friends, relatives, the people who actually take care of the child); the decision for single parenthood is legitimate; and partners can decide not to have children. 13 If we take a closer look at the factors which led to the changed forms o f family units, we can see that women were the ones to quickly respond to social changes and become emancipated, while at the same time shouldering the burden of individualisation and pluralisation. The credit for this goes mostly to liberal feminism, which strove to abolish genderspecific inequality in the fields of education, employment and legislation. In the 1960s, feminism changed the normal female biography and BeckGemsheim describes these changes as a move from "living for others" to "a life of one's own." 14 Among these transformations are those which still remain ambivalent: First, despite increased opportunities for women in the field of education, unequal employment opportunities persist. Second, in Europe, mass education has enabled girls to attain higher levels of education, and consequently cultural capital, while in the underdeveloped regions of the world, this is still an important task. With better educational opportunities, young women also have increased chances of shaping their own lives, problematising patterns of inequality and strengthening their independence. Third, when it comes to employment, the attainability of higher levels of education has meant that women have more of a motive to work. On the one hand, this substantially adds to the economic independence of women, which is a great stride forward. Particularly in socialist countries, there is an established tradition of the majority of women being employed. On the other hand, this is also an area of discrimination: the more a certain type of work is defined as centrally important to society, the less access women have to such positions. The reverse is also true: the more a certain field is marginalised, the higher are the employment opportunities of women. And finally, being in control of one's body and sexuality, as well as being able to plan a woman's natural 12

Ibid., 85. In Slovenia, however, artificial insemination is not legally possible for single women, which represents a particular case o f discrimination. 14 Ibid., 56. 13


Chapter Five

destiny of motherhood. The availability of contraceptives and the legal option of abortion certainly add to women's liberation from the traditional sexual role and provide the opportunities for decision making in this area. Female sexuality is liberated from necessary motherhood, which undoubtedly leads to a wider array of options in women's biographies. We can say that this new situation of risk contains a twofold coin: the economic fact that women themselves earn very little, and the social fact that they are much more likely than before to be thrown back on their own resources. 15 The feminisation of poverty is the flip side of the coin for living a life of one's own. However, all family roles are being pluralised. Motherhood remains typical of a family and its role leads to the pluralisation paradox, which can be described as "family life in postmodernity that remains essentially modem." 16

Motherhood and Feminism The theme of motherhood has always been an important point of discussion in feminism. Authors like Nancy Chodorow, Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous have stressed again and again that motherhood is more a socially defined than a "natural category." Nancy Chodorow in her book The Reproduction o f Mothering (1978) claims that motherhood is socially conditioned, and that the identity of motherhood is for many women the central staple of identity. Motherhood is thus reproduced through the psychological relationship between mothers and daughters: mothers produce daughters that want to become mothers, whereby motherhood is cyclically reproduced. 17 The female role as a mother determines the female elementary situation and limitation to home and family, which creates the possibility of a structural differentiation between the private and public sphere that then appears as something "natural." Despite the fact that Nancy Chodorow clearly showed how the reproduction of gender takes place, she received much criticism regarding the solving of this problem, as she saw the solution in labour division within society and in education, which is certainly, to my mind, a rather naive view. With the help of the psychoanalytical concept Julia Kristeva understands motherhood essentially as a symbolic function, where the symbolic order of the Western culture is based on the exclusion of the woman and her reduction to motherhood. She feels that in the figure of the Ibid., 67. Svab, Drnzina: od modernosti k postmodernosti, 182. 17 Chodorow, The Reproduction o f Mothering, 375. 15


A (Post)-Modern Understanding o f the Family and Motherhood


mother our culture has joined together three things: first, the very conditions of the constitution of the Subject and Culture, the collection of the projected; second, the unconscious and thus unspecified fears of a woman; and third, the culture described the woman as the Other, which was discussed by Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex. Kristeva showed these ambivalences in the relationship towards mothers in her essay "Stabat Mater" (1995). This sucking up the woman into motherhood is shown in Christianity through the purity and virginity of the Holy Mother. Thus, in our Western culture two images of women have been formed: the ideal of the perfect woman or the great mother goddess, versus the woman as untamed wildness, the embodiment of sin and with an animalist nature. Christianity defines the Virgin Mary as a mother, since motherhood had been until then the sole representation of womanhood, which women were reduced to. Only feminism showed other and different possibilities of the representation of womanhood. 18 In the Virgin Mary, Christianity joined both images of women: that of the bearer of the original sin (Eve) and the woman as a virgin. Further, women can only redeem the original sin through the institution of marriage and motherhood. Women are included in the Symbolic through exclusion. They are outside the symbolic but at the same time they are a warrant of its coherence. They represent the unsymbolised basis of the system, its unacknowledged substratum and the keeper of the border. 19 They are the residue, the anchor for the symbolic system by way of being themselves excluded from this very system. In other words, women are included through their exclusion, defined as Others, negativity, difference and border. In her work Speculum o f the Other Woman (1985), Luce Irigaray similarly analyses how Westem culture is based on, as she calls it, "the killing of the mother. "20 She shows how the woman and the mother elements are excluded from the symbolisation process that leads to the subordination of women. Our culture is thus founded on the absence of the symbolisation of women. Because of this, women have problems in the process of separation from their mothers and that is why they look for relationships where they can find a similar "identity." According to Irigaray, women search for relationships, where there is no distance between I and you, where as individuals they can lose themselves, since they do not have a symbolic basis for the separation from the mother. As 18 19

Kristan, Materinski mil: kultura, psihoanaliza, spolna razlika, 201. Ibid., 212. 20 Quoted in Whitford, The lrigaray Reader, 47.


Chapter Five

women (symbolically) do not have access to culture and society, they remain lonely and look for relationships that can enable them to assert themselves through their partner and then through their child. The construction of the symbolic world is adapted to the male gender and therefore every attempt at symbolisation of the woman-mother element represents a threat to culture. 2 1 The mother-woman is the one that makes possible the institution of the male imaginary, while at the same time remaining invisible and mute. This is what Irigaray calls "the killing of the mother." The figure of the mother supports the processes of the male imaginary and yet does not represent herself. 22 Irigaray sees the possibilities for changes in the Symbolic, especially in the symbolisation of the mother-daughter relationship, the differentiation of the daughter from the mother thus stopping to reduce women to the role of mothers. She strives for the distinction between the mother and the woman, for only such differentiation enables the woman an identification with the concept of a woman and not only of the mother. Similarly to Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous contradicts the dualist culture which represses womanhood. All the three authors have in common this critical attitude to women's repression, the traditional views of the female body and the equation of womanhood to motherhood. They show how women are caught in the classic binary system and how each in their own way search for a way out of the schemes that devastate women. Helene Cixous' s ideas on this matter are indebted to the theory of deconstruction developed by Jacques Derrida. A deconstructionist reading dismantles the fixed binary oppositions which lead to the transposition of meanings. Cixous is explicitly critical of all psychoanalytical explanations, but what is most important is her different view of writing and the body. She claims that women at first have to comprehend their body as something that gives life and energy and founds women's writing. This is especially done by means of writing through the body, for, as she goes on in her essay "The Laugh of the Medusa," women must talk about their experiences and pains. Cixous believes that ''writing 21

Kristan, Materinski mil: kultura, psihoanaliza, spolna razlika, 224. lbid., 243, 214. Kristan writes that women are included into the symbolic order as an embodiment of otherness that could endanger the system as such. That is why women as the keepers of otherness ought to be controlled and subordinated, domesticated. Marriage and motherhood have always been the best known forms of such domestication. The woman as mother is acceptable to the extent that she accepts her position which reduces her to pure difference, the embodiment of the manque and what this manque fulfills. The manque is about the phantasm of the wholeness that the culture produced in order to sublimate the division it had produced. 22

A (Post)-Modern Understanding of the Family and Motherhood


is the possibility of change itself," the movement which precedes the transformation of social and cultural structures." 23 She describes this by using the metaphor of ''white ink" and says that women write with white ink (metaphorically representing women's breasts), which means that from our birth onwards women have the potential to write, but this has remained overlooked in history. Through word play she deconstructs the traditional meanings of "woman" and "mother," as she takes these words more as metaphors and looks for new, transferred meanings. Cixous strives for women's writing, and she thinks that a woman's own language would deconstruct patriarchal dual schemes. Also, she criticises psychoanalytical concepts whereby women are conceived on the notion of the lack (le manque) and thus they do not exist. She sees the problem of women in that they develop a kind of "antinarcissism," where they love themselves only to the extent that they are loved in turn. 24 She takes motherhood mostly as a metaphor and according to her women have two possibilities: to stay caught in the defined body whereby they perpetuate and strengthen their passivity, and to use their body as a medium of communication, as a tool through which to speak. In her own words: Just as a change in society is aimed for, similarly and concurrently -and with different rhythms- a reflection must take place upon the liberation of woman, upon the feminine revolution, if you like. But I think this can only be efficiently accomplished through a learning process that is [... ] the woman who does not herself, who has not 'thought herself, who has not reflected upon herself, who remains as she was-ignorant and blind about femininity, because she is alienated-will not be a good militant feminist [... ] I think woman must burst the shackles. 25 With the transition from the modem to the postmodern era, the biologist determinism of women's role is becoming increasingly problematised, as is the symbolic relationship between the natural and the social. The fact that motherhood and reproduction are no longer bound solely to heterosexual relationships and marriage is a significant advancement. Changing the forms of family life also includes intrafamilial differentiation, which leads to the pluralisation of social roles. The question is what this expansion and plurality of roles means for women. Many authors have pointed out the double burdening or double presence of women both in private and public life. 26 For women this means 23

Cixous, White Ink: Interviews on Sex, Text and Politics, 63. Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," 345. 25 Cixous, White Ink: Interviews on Sex, Text and Politics, 63-64. 26 Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, The Normal Chaos o f Love, 64; Svab, Druzina: od 24


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constantly having to decide between one sphere and the other, and consequently evoking feelings of guilt. This double strain on women both in professional and family life leads to the unequal participation of women in the working environment, while at the same time their participation in family life is not socially recognised. In this way, the double burdening of women is in fact their double subordination. It seems that today motherhood is no longer an exclusive identity for women, because of the greater part of women who decide never to have children, while at the same time their age at childbirth is higher. This information has to be seen within the context of changing priorities in the life course of an individual. It is more about the flexibility to decide for motherhood than the non-decision to have children, and this flexibility mostly appears as the prolongation of the decision for motherhood into the more mature years. In deciding for motherhood, women are faced with the illusory choice of being a mother or an employee, which brings the issue o f the ideology of delayed motherhood to the foreground. Thus, the illusion of free choice is still socially functional today. 27 Technological changes, the increased level of education and the entry of women into the public sphere have produced in postmodemity new dimensions of female social participation, while motherhood remains more or less subordinated to the classic division of mother-nature and father-society. Despite the pluralisation of family forms, heteronormativity remains the foundation of family life today. Discussions about whether a woman without a male partner has the right to artificial insemination, the question o f abortion and the marriage of same-sex partners are causing a stir in our society, which manifests how thought and opinion are still trapped by the ideology of modem family and motherhood. Analysis and research have shown that in the postmodern age the biologically-determined concept of motherhood remains deeply rooted in the social imagination. Despite many changes in the forms of family life, the basic organisation and division of society into the private and public spheres remains the same. Moreover, in postmodemity a paradox in the intensification of the biological determination of motherhood appears. Ule and Kuhar's research shows that the significance of the mother has increased. 28 This confirms the thesis that motherhood represents an ontological basis of social organisation, one that reproduces the mother-nature and public-private relationships. The social meaning of motherhood is strengthening in postmodern times, since it has been shown that women and men hang on modernosti k postmodernosti, 88. Svab, Drnzina: od modernosti k postmodernosti, 82. 28 Ule and Kuhar, Mladi, drnzina, starsevstvo, 141.


A (Post)-Modern Understanding of the Family and Motherhood


to the traditional patterns of behaviour and cultural expectations about the figure of the mother, the father and the family structure. Women are only partly or not at all aware of these influences as they appear as selfunderstood and give some meaning and value to their experiences.

Is Motherhood Still an Exclusive Identity for Women? Adrienne Rich's statement that women do not need to be freed from the experience of motherhood, but from the institution of motherhood remains particularly relevant today. 29 Because women's ability to conceive and give birth to children (biological motherhood), the act of mothering is socially accepted as a natural disposition. Therefore, it is a social construction in which women's biology is socially defined. The relationship between motherhood and an individual life is not pre-defined, but is constantly re-defined by society. Modem motherhood is an institution and it determines a particular place for women in society. This kind of conceptualisation of motherhood is based on dualistic thinking: man-woman, spirit-body. The ideology of motherhood, based on the exclusive identification of women with motherhood, is also analysed by Ann Oakley, who has identified the following foundations for these myths: a woman must be a mother; a mother needs a child and a child needs a mother. 30 This modernist conception of motherhood is based on a heterosexual woman. The question is what individualisation and pluralisation mean for defining motherhood in postmodemism. In general terms, we can see that the ideology of motherhood has not significantly changed. At a conference about the future of motherhood in 1987 in Ohio, Adrienne Rich emphasised that motherhood was, even in the case of absence, a forced identity for women. She said that motherhood, "private and personal" is the most fatal myth that has to be destroyed and it first has to be destroyed in "ourselves." 3 1 The institution of motherhood, perpetrated by the law, patriarchal technology and religion, and all forms of education, including pornography, has, and this is the greatest irony, alienated women from their own bodies so that it closed them within themselves, says Rich. 32 She advocates the fact that women have to regain

29 30 31 32

Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, 257. Oakley, Housewife, 95. Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, 255. Ibid., 249.


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their bodies and decide with whom and when, if at all, they will have children. 33 The ideology of motherhood and the myths connected with it, as well as the ways of perceiving the motherly body represent the basis for the reproduction of gender dichotomies and thus, for the subordination of woman. The emancipation of motherhood takes place always on two levels: the level of everyday striving for an autonomous decision-making and practicing of motherhood, and the ideological constructions (medical, social, political) which preserve the established positions of the male dominant culture. 34 The notion of motherhood is still based on the dualistic perception of mother-nature and father-society. In the postmodern era, there have been some changes concerning motherhood, particularly in terms of intensifying its biological determination. The ideology of obligatory motherhood, characteristic of the modernist conception, is in contemporary society changing into a delayed motherhood, which gives an illusion of at least some freedom of choice. However, the decision for motherhood merely appears to be so, as it is often dependent on external factors such as the job market, employment, etc. A significant advancement is that the concepts of motherhood and reproduction are no longer exclusively linked to marriage and heterosexual relationships. Thus, when it comes to defining the family and motherhood, we are faced with many disparities. First of all there is the disparity between the plurality of family forms and the monolithic idea of family, then the stressing of the biological and blood relations before social ones, as well as maintaining the appearance of a heterosexual family and the use of new reproductive technology, and finally the lack of models, which would fortify the normality of diversity, the disparity between everyday practices and legislation, and the like. The myth of motherhood can be changed by new experiences of samesex families, which are not based on blood relations, but on so-called "social parenting." In same-sex partnerships, it is not the gender which predetermines the parental role. The model for family, for parenting and for manners of activity in this kind of community needs to be established anew in such a family. As a consequence, the social expectations for certain roles are less important. However, and despite all the changes and the pluralisation of family practices, we are faced with a discriminatory attitude in the field of legislation.

33 34

Ibid., 249. Kristan, Materinski mil: kultura, psihoanaliza, spolna razlika, 201.

A (Post)-Modern Understanding of the Family and Motherhood


Today we can talk about two kinds of families: those based on blood, and those based on choice. In a family relationships are formed on the basis of intimacy, care, security, support and trust. In this way, the chosen and queer families, that is, social families, offer new opportunities for surpassing the dualistically established notion of motherhood and for changes in the perception of women as mothers. Social parenthood is defined as a relationship not based on a blood link but on an emotional one; it is constant and entails the adult's economic responsibility for the child. Further, same-sex partnerships are discriminated against as despite reproductive technology, same-sex partners and single women are not allowed to utilise artificial insemination. This enforces the concept of biological parenthood, and violates the right to making free decisions about having children. The rights to adoption are miniscule, and different forms of families and parenthood are not protected by legislation. Singleparent, lesbian and gay families are presented as something different, anomalous and imperfect, and far from being normalised, they are pathologised in various types of medical and educational discourse. To conclude, despite the pluralisation of family practices, we are faced with a great cognitive dissonance. In real life, we encounter various family practices and forms of parenthood, which in legislation and education remain overlooked or represented as something different, imperfect or pathological. I feel that a significant stride forward could be made particularly in the field of education, where young people may, in equal terms, be presented with pluralised forms of life. This way they would be able to make freer choices and plan their lives without being stigmatised in any way. These types of practices of social parenthood will bring with them a different view of women as mothers and perhaps liberate them from the biological conception of motherhood and the generalised conception of womanhood.

Works Cited Aries, Philippe. Centuries o f Childhood: A Social History o f Family life. New York: Random House, 1962. Beck, Ulrich. Risk Society. New Delhi: Sage, 1994. Beck, Ulrich and Elizabeth Beck-Gemsheim. The Normal Chaos o f Love. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999. - . Individualisation: Institutionalised Individualism and Its Social and Political Consequences. London: Sage, 2002.


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Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction o f Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology o f Gender. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. Cixous, Helene. White Ink: Interviews on Sex, Text and Politics, ed. by S. Sellers. Stockfield: Acumen, 2008. ---. "The Laugh of the Medusa." In Feminism: An Anthology o f Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. by Robyn R. Warhol, Diane P. Herndl, 334350. London: Routledge, 1991. Giddens, Anthony. The Transforming o f Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Society. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992. Irigaray, Luce. Speculum o f the Other Woman. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. Kristan, Zdenka. Materinski mit: kultura, psihoanaliza, spolna razlika. Ljubljana: Delta, 2005. Kristeva, Julia. "Stabat mater." Delta, 1.1-2 (1995): 9-29. Oakley, Ann. Housewife. London: Allen Lane, 1974. Rich, Adrienne. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978. New York: Norton, 1979. Rener, Tanja. Razmerje med zasebno in javno dimenzijo druiine in spolna struktura zasebnosti. Doktorska disertacija. Ljubljana: Fakulteta za druzbene vede, 1992. Rener, Tanja, Potocnik, Vika, Kozmik, Vera. Druiine razlicneenakopravne. Ljubljana: Vitrum, 1995. Svab, Vesna. Druiina: od modernosti k postmodernosti. Ljubljana: Sodobna Druzba, 2001. Ule, Mirjana and Kuhar Metka. Mladi, druiina, starsevstvo. Ljubljana: Fakulteta za druzbene vede, 2003. Whitford, Margaret. The Irigaray Reader, Women-Mothers, the Silent Substratum o f the Social Order. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.



"The dog says it is only fair play i f one falls and the other falls t o o . " Kasem proverb

This paper focuses on Kasena women's critique of traditional gendered attitudes to justice that serve to define women's roles and rights in the home and in marriage. This critique takes place in the traditional setting of the Kasena community in northern Ghana. Within this context, the women take advantage of a socially sanctioned medium, the joking relationship that pertains between a Kasena woman and her husband's kin, to subvert and contradict existing Kasem proverbs or create new ones. They do so in order to draw attention to gender inequities and to pave the way for the recognition the women think they deserve. During joking, husbands' female kin assume the role of male partners. The joking relationship is characterised by what Radcliffe-Brown terms "permitted disrespect" and by license. 1 It permits joking partners to give their views free reign and therefore allows women to express their own attitudes and values pertaining to justice. Joking also allows boundary crossing and cultural transgression and thus serves as an experimental field for personal expression that permits the individual to traverse existing boundaries, explore other worlds, and try out new identities. In the new world that Kasena women create for themselves, justice is not limited to demanding freedom from traditional dependencies and addressing gender inequities. 1 Radcliffe-Brown, "On Joking Relationships," 196; See also Yitah, "Throwing Stones in Jest," 236.


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It is broadened to include calls for the recognition of their self worth and of their contribution to culture-a conception of justice that has been the subject of recent debates on the definition of justice and which have moved the focus from issues of distribution to questions of recognition. As far as Kasem proverbs and their social functions are concerned, perceptions about gender roles and identity and the structures that engender them are located in the world view of the ancestors (diim tiina, or "yesterday's people") who, through their proverbs, provide contemporary society (zem tiina, or "today's people") with a normative sphere within which appropriate roles and behaviour are defined. The view that proverbs are the wisdom of the ancestors, and that they therefore encapsulate unchallengeable "truths," accounts in large part for their perceived unassailable position and for the important role that they play in the socialisation of women and men. The perceived sacrosanct position of the proverb also ensures that its sexist ideology and discriminatory rhetoric are taken for granted. In the process, the fact that the depiction of women's roles and lives in diim tiina's proverbs is often at variance with zem tiina women's lived experiences is also ignored. Albert Awedoba, one of the few scholars to have published on Kasem proverbs, comments on the position occupied by these wise sayings: The truth o f the proverb is [... ] of an order that cannot be challenged. Kasena seem by their attitudes to accept tacitly that it is unseemly to call into question the proverb and its tenets. To do so would appear to amount to a challenging o f the wise ancestors, an exercise not only in arrogance, but also in itself a sacrilege.2

It is these deeply internalised notions about the proverb and its power to regulate gender-based rights and roles that the women challenge through their proverbs. Thus proverbs, which act like legislative instruments of society, become the very means for deregulating power relations. We may recall here a similar situation that Tania Sona Smith recounts in her discussion on The Lady's Rhetorick, an eighteenth-century treatise on women and rhetoric. On the use of rhetoric for judicial purposes, Smith advises that "in cases where the argument they are refuting is not serious or reasonable, rhetors should speak moralistic proverbs to convict the adversary." 3 Women's proverbs are laws fashioned in the most unexpected circumstance (play/performance) and in the most indirect language (metaphor and symbol). Their legal imagination is a 2 3

Awedoba, An Introduction to Kasena Society, 34. Smith, "The Lady's Rhetorick (1707)," 364.

Gender Roles and Gender Justice through Proverbial Jesting


powerful lens for scrutinising gendered forms of injustice, and their artistic legislation a formidable weapon for asserting women's worth and articulating their rights and freedom of choice in matters ranging from marriage, child birth and motherhood to income generation and household chores. The material used here was recorded between June 2000 and December 2005, although my first encounter with the "proverbial" behaviour examined dates back to 1994. The recording was done mainly in the form of diary notes but on some occasions cassette recorders were also used. Where necessary, the women were interviewed for purposes of clarification. The Kasena women engaged in this "proverbial revolt" are women of varying ages (ranging from the late teens to the mid-50s) and of minimal or no literacy, although this situation is changing now with more girls staying in school. 4 They live in and around Nogsenia village, a largely rural area that surrounds central Navrongo, the small district capital, where they earn livelihoods through subsistence farming and petty trading. However, Alex Nazzar seems to have taken for granted their access to the radio and television, the cinema, concerts, and women's organisations such as the 31"1 December Women's Movement when he claimed that they were effectively isolated from new ideas and institutions. 5 My observation reveals that with the availability of the radio and television these women who previously were stifled by convention are now in tune with changing trends, especially those that affect their individual rights and roles in society. Though it would take some more research to establish the impact of the women's "proverbial" jesting on gender roles in society, women's participation in this activity indicates their level of gender consciousness. This consciousness enables women to merge cultural desire, that is, the individual wish for articulation and recognition, mentioned above, with cultural justice, that is, the claims of a particular social group (in this case, women) for gender equity in particular aspects of conjugal and community life. The activity thus reveals the connection between the cultural dimension of power relations and the political dimension of cultural activity. Kasena society has always been patrilineal, which means that the man's place has always been assumed to be with his father, through whom he will "theoretically trace [his] descent and determine [his] rights to hold traditional office and inheritance." 6 In her review of Awedoba's Mensch, et al., "The Changing Nature of Adolescence," 97. Nazzar, et al., "Developing a Culturally Appropriate Family Planning Program for the Navrongo Experiment," 310. 6 Owusu-Sarpong, "Book Review: A.K. Awedoba, An Introduction to Kasena

4 5


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anthropological work on Kasem proverbs, Christiane Owusu-Sarpong refers to this system as the Kasena "proverbial representation of patrilinealism." 7 The woman's place, unlike the man's, is neither with her father nor with her husband-hence the proverbial image of a Kasena woman as potentially or actually "a dog of two houses." The image refers to her place both as a daughter in her father's house, which she must leave upon marrying, and as a wife in her husband's house where she is expected to live thereafter, but where she is also faced with constant reminders, not always in jest, that her father's house is "where she comes from." In her ambiguous place in traditional Kasena society, the woman has no rights to political office or inheritance, although she is expected to fulfil productive, reproductive, and cultural roles in whichever social unit she finds herself. Within marriage, the woman is regarded as a minor to be kept under male control and to be punished if she acts contrary to male expectations. These cultural systems and practices form the moral and legal foundations of traditional justice in Kasena society. Justice is thus gendered because of the role of structured social regulation and sanctions. Gwedolyn Mikell corroborates this point in her introduction to African Feminism: The Politics o f Survival in Sub-Saharan Africa, where she writes that women in early twentieth-century Ghana rebelled against injustices, "even those within the logic of the traditional system and ideology," including "extreme inequities regarding traditional marriage and property rights. " 8 It is such inequities in their society that Kasena women criticise through their proverbial jesting. The pre-existing cultural models discussed above constitute the law, the instrument of order out of which women's ideas about justice grows. The most obvious aspects of gender justice that can be gleaned from my interaction with the women are fairness and the absence of oppression from men. Pogenyanga Yitah, one of the women interviewed, articulates succinctly their collective drive for movement and freedom: We women are trying to say that we deserve to be treated fairly in society. By fair treatment I mean that like men we women should be treated as adults, free to voice our feelings and do what we think is appropriate or beneficial to us and to our families without any oppression from men. 9

Society and Culture through Their Proverbs," 75-6. 7 Ibid., 75. 8 Mikell, African Feminism, 19. 9 Personal conversation, 27 th December 2008.

Gender Roles and Gender Justice through Proverbial Jesting


Their idea of fairness is also supported by the women's favourite proverb, cited at the beginning of this paper: "The dog says that it is only fair play if one falls and the other falls too." In the Kasena perception of the dog's philosophy of fair play, for one partner to remain standing after the other has fallen constitutes a refusal to play by the rules. Such an act may be construed as condescension on the part of the non-compliant one, or worse, as a threat to the fallen one. This proverb is often deployed to warn a male joking partner against taking undue advantage of his female counterpart. Consider, for instance, the following joking session which took place at a funeral between a woman and a male elder of her husband's clan just as the woman was about to leave for her home: Woman: I am going ahead, and I know you'll follow soon. Man: Tell me you're going ahead to begin cooking my dinner, don't just say you're leaving. Woman: I would have said so if you had given me what I need to be able to cook. Man: Go and cook with the little that you have and stop complaining. "The female ant says that no matter how small her groin is, she will still show it to her husband" Woman: I am sure the female ant said that on the assumption that her husband would reciprocate her gesture. After all, "it is the dog who says it is fair play only when you fall and your partner falls too." If I have to cook, it is only fair that you should provide the food. Man: Well, if I'm trying to be nice and you want to show me how much you know, I will have to compel you to do your duty by me. You must not rub shoulders with me. Woman: "The female ant's groin may be small, but it takes more than a strong hand to expose it." Man: What else does it take? Woman: A kind mouth. The saying, "the dog that says it is fair play only when you fall and your partner falls too," underscores the principle of fairness on which the joking relationship itself operates, but beyond that, the discourse situation articulates women's resistance to the gender injustices that sustain oppressive patriarchal structures. The man in this encounter cites an existing proverb to support his conservative view that a wife must satisfy her husband's needs and desires unconditionally. In doing so, he deliberately ignores the principle of fairness, a "regulative" idea enshrined in Kasem lore, to which his female counterpart draws his attention by


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deploying her first proverb. 10 Through her proverb, the woman demonstrates that part of the problem with gender justice is male disregard for traditional principles of equal treatment in favour of an ideology that supports male privilege-a point that Mikell also makes when she argues that Ghanaian women felt they had to object to men's failure to do what was "traditionally required" of them. 11 The woman's second proverb moves us from fair play to questions of recognition. The proverb is a subversion of the one deployed by her male joking partner. In it she deploys existing cultural signifiers to assert her subjectivity (which is being suffocated by his view of a wife) and to make way for his recognition of her worth. This more nuanced idea of justice is in line with recent views of justice. Political conservatives and radicals alike tend to subscribe to the kind of system that Wai Chee Dimock, in her study Residues o f Justice, refers to as a "radical order" with "a uniform scale of measurement" that can be maintained through acts of ''judicial weighing." 12 In Winified Fluck's summation, conservatives and liberals would argue that justice is achieved by applying political and legal rules and procedures, liberal leftists would argue for ensuring equal access to economic and educational opportunities, and political radicals such as Marxists would argue for a redistribution of wealth and public ownership of the means of production. Cultural radicals, by contrast, would argue that it is not just in the measurable domain of economic equality, but also in the unweighable domain of ingrained cultural ideologies such as sexism, racism and homophobia that human relations are shaped. 13 This argument for a focus on categories such as race and gender also marks a shift in criteria from just distribution to recognition. As Judith Shklar points out in The Faces o f Injustice, such reconceptualisations of what constitutes discrimination or victimisation have the effect of increasing people's sense of injustice, so that they see all barriers to the self as systemic and unjust. 14 In the following proverb exchange the woman draws attention to one barrier to the self: the view that there exists a stable, homogeneous identity for all women and that therefore the words or actions of one can be used to judge all. This perception is clinched in the Kasena saying, "it takes one monkey to ruin the reputation of the whole lot," which one man quotes to justify his friend's statement that all women are useless. Here is the context: 10 Benhabib, "Subjectivity, historiography, and politics," 21. 11 Mikell, African Feminism ... , 19. 12 Dimock, Residues o fJustice, 10. 13 Fluck, "Fiction and Justice," 21. 14 Shklar, The Faces o fInjustice, 4.

Gender Roles and Gender Justice through Proverbial Jesting


Man (to woman): Please, fetch me a stool to sit on. I'm tired. Woman: So today you realize that I can do something for you? Did you not tell me the other day that I was useless and that we women were all useless? 2nd Man (Man's friend): Remember what they say: "It takes only one monkey to ruin the reputation of the whole lot." But that is now in the past. Yesterday's people (i.e., the ancestors) say that "the mouth and the teeth live together, yet they bite each other." Woman: Except that "whenever teeth and mouth bite each other it is the mouth that feel the pain." You might as well tell me that "my body is made of metal." 2nd Man: Oh! You women of today! It could be argued that the first proverb the man uses merely describes the human tendency to categorise and to generalise. Yet in this case it is cited as grounds for stereotyping and victimisation and therefore it instantiates what Edelman terms "the oppressive ideology of similitude." 15 Through this proverb the man lumps together and discards the woman and her kind and implicitly calls on her to concur, thus manipulating the wise saying to perpetrate an injustice on women. Then, in order to make light of his action, he suggests that she should consider his action as "now in the past." Similarly, his deployment of the second proverb is a strategic move that is intended to "silence questions and close discussions" on his warped perception of women and to maintain the kind of stability that reproduces oppressive power structures. 16 It is such ideological and gendered interpretations of justice that women resist in the subtexts of their proverbs. In her introduction to The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction, Judith Fetterley contends that the American canon "perforce[s]" a male identity, that it neither "leaves women alone nor allows them to participate." 17 Although it may seem odd, particularly to Africanists, to invoke a Westem feminist text in support of a traditional African verbal practice, there are parallelisms. In such fiction, Fetterley continues, "the female reader is co-opted into participation in an experience from which she is explicitly excluded." 18 We need only substitute "listener" for "reader" for Fetterley's statement to apply in the case of the Kasena woman. F etterley argues that it is the responsibility of

15 16 17 18

Edelman, Homographesis, 23. Fontaine, "The Proofofthe Pudding," 196. Fetterley, The Resisiting Reader, 991. Ibid., 991


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the reader to resist the circumstances that threaten to co-opt her, to alter the situation "from a closed conversation to an active dialogue." 19 Accordingly, the woman provides a reasoned counter-argument to the man's claim about the long suffering metaphorical mouth that silently endures bites from a tormenting companion, teeth, in the name of peaceful co-existence. There would be less biting, she intimates, if the teeth suffered some of the pain. Her second proverb is a subversion of an existing one: "the other person's body is made of metal." The saying typically refers to a person who is insensitive to the needs or suffering of another, usually the speaker. In the woman's usage, however, the "metal body" is attributed, not to an "other," but to herself. She uses this reflexive image to indict her male partner for assaulting her personality, and to resist his attempt to rationalise and naturalise an oppressive patriarchal power structure. In the next exchange, a similar criticism of male power takes place, with the woman consigning all men to the status of common cow dung collectors. Man (to woman in her yard): Stop what you're doing and bring me some water to drink. Woman: Don't you know where the water pot is? Man: Don't you know that "power does not eat grass?" (Implying: power is fed not with grass, but by it's being exercised over others). Woman: Well, today "power wielders will collect cow dung for a change." Nothing lasts forever, and besides, even grass needs a chance to grow. 20

The man cites a proverb that appears to legitimise male authority and control, thus lending credence to Wolyie Hussein's statement that "African proverbs are obviously discursive habits in the patriarchal system created and recreated to reinforce the myth of male superiority" and "to reinforce the secondary position of women." 2 1 Refusing to participate in this 19

Ibid., 996. In Kasem culture where cows are an important source o f wealth and free-range the method o f rearing them, cow dung is so common that it is taken for granted. Thus, although cow dung serves some useful purposes (it is the preferred means for breeding termites to feed chickens and a fastening agent for plastering houses), collecting it is considered a casual activity that does not deserve much thought or attention. This perception often seeps into everyday speech, so that it is typical for a visitor who feels ignored to say, "I didn't come here to collect cow dung," meaning "I deserve some regard or attention." 21 Hussein, "A Discursive Representation o f Women in Sample Proverbs from 20

Gender Roles and Gender Justice through Proverbial Jesting


patriarchal discourse that seeks to validate her male partner's claim to superiority, the woman instead deploys a counter-proverb that mimics, absorbs and transforms the original proverb to present an alternative way of conceptualising gender relations. She does not dispute the main premise of the original proverb, which is that male power is wielded over females who are often regarded as minors; rather, she imitates and subverts it in order to make the point that male power must confront inevitable change in favour of the subordinated. Power may not eat grass, she counters, but for a change the power wielders will be reduced to ordinary collectors of cow dung, and those trampled like grass underfoot will be free to grow. It is in this capacity of women's proverbs for verbal mimicry, their ability to cite social practice without themselves being that social practice, or at least being some other form of social practice (a subversion in fact), which indicates their potential as critique. Announcing winds of change in gender relations appears to be quite a frequent practice among Kasena women, as can be seen in the following joking conversation which took place in a drinking bar at the Navrongo market. It is common to find both men and women drinking pito, a local alcoholic drink made from sorghum, particularly on market days when most people take a break from farm work to socialise at the marketplace. During pito drinking it is typical for trusted friends and family members to drink from the same calabash, as the first woman invites the second to do. The joking session occurred between two co-wives and their husband's kinsman: 1st Woman (to 2nd Woman, her co-wife): Take this pito and drink some of it. 2nd Woman: No, thanks. I've already had some and I don't want to drink anymore. Man: Take the pito and drink it and stop what you're doing. I st Woman: She says she has had enough. Are you going to force her to drink more? Man: Of course, I can force her to drink. Don't you know that "the powerful person's arrow can overpower the wind?" 2nd Woman: Well, perhaps you're not aware, but "when the wind changes direction, the strong person's arrow must reckon and move along with it." Man: What direction is it going now? Ist Woman: It is moving towards "find out for yourself."

Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya," 98.


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The proverb, "it is the powerful person's arrow that can overpower the wind," is typically quoted to indicate that a person with clout or might can accomplish what an ordinary person would consider an up-hill task. The proverb raises gender issues, because traditionally the bow and arrow is a male weapon, and because when the proverb is cited the powerful person is invariably male while the wind is female. As is typical of such joking conversations, the man cites this existing proverb to support his claim to power over the unwilling woman. As Kwesi Yankah has observed in his work on Akan proverbs in Ghana, such use of existing proverbs is based on assumed shared norms: With shared beliefs, norms and values existing among the discourse interactants, it then becomes possible for the proverb user to rely on the eternal verity o f the proverb and imply as follows: "Well, i f you all accept the point o f this proverb, you may as well sup ort the view I am advocating, for it is predicated on a truth you accept." 2

It is such assumed shared norms that women attempt to over-tum through their proverbs. The woman's counter-proverb indicates that she does not accept the male-centred "truth" on which the original proverb is based, which is that a man can compel a woman to do his bidding. Some ethnographers have observed that women may appear to be passive actors, but through female strategies such as role-bargaining and financial machinations, women exercise indirect power by using the marital role to manipulate situations to their advantage. 23 If we grant this view, then the woman's deliberate creation of ambiguity by neglecting to indicate whether the wind has changed direction or to specify the nature of its new trajectory could be interpreted as an instance of the indirect means that these scholars have suggested. Such an interpretation, however, would ignore the woman's refusal to define herself based on existing categories of power. 24 For it is precisely the idea of a fixed wind direction, and by implication a stable male dominant position, that the woman rejects in her counter-proverb. Nothing lasts forever, she suggests, and in this era of gender awareness men must learn to work with women rather than continue to seek control over them. 22

Y ankah, The Proverb in the Context o fAkan Rhetoric, 43. See also: Pellow, Women in Accra: Options for Autonomy; Louise Lamphere, "Strategies, Cooperation, and Conflict among Women in Domestic Groups;" Van Allen, "Sitting on a Man: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions o f Igbo Women." 24 Yitah, '"Fighting with Proverbs'," 81. 23

Gender Roles and Gender Justice through Proverbial Jesting


The woman's proverbial critique draws attention to the vistas of power that the realm of African verbal art opens up to women for challenging society's own dominant paradigms of power through an engagement with its "speakerly" texts. A greater access to the life experiences of African women would reveal that oral expression, and in particular imaginative play, with its propensity for accommodating irreducible complexities and for reasoning via images, is a readily available rhetorical space of which women avail themselves in their search for a framework that encompasses the incongruities of their lives. More research on African women's verbal art would uncover some of its resources for facilitating critical thinking against the grain of stereotypical representation and controlling images. Another instance of such critical thinking occurs in the next proverb exchange, in which the woman deploys two proverbs to counter the one cited by her male partner: Man: (to woman weeding her backyard vegetable garden): Don't wear out your waist weeding this farm; I'll need it when night falls. Woman: What are you going to do to me at night? Have I not told you that I no longer regard you as a person worthy of my attention? Man: You're just talking this way because you're angry with me, but I know you'll get over it soon so I'll wait. "Hyena says he's only concerned when there is no likelihood of finding prey, but (once assured of food) it does not matter how long he has to travel to find it." Woman: Have you not heard what the alligator said? He said, "once he learns about death, no blood will ever pass through his nose again." From now on I'll keep away from you because you only think of what you can get from me and not what I want for myself. That is why "the dog says it is only fair play if one falls and the other falls too." In this context, as in others, the proverb functions as a genre and a mode of discourse that lends itself to "plurisignification," a process that prevents one identity from being privileged all the time and that therefore makes it possible to negotiate with the authorised or dominant identity. Although both the woman and her male joking partner quote existing proverbs, her deployment of the proverbs ensures that the man's construction of gender does not hold sway in the conversation and thus demonstrates "the way in which dialogically produced consciousness is inevitably and fundamentally ideological" (Slinn 70). The man cites a proverb that closely corresponds to his ideology: the kind of ideology that Gayatri Spivak considers as "keeping the male dominant" (82). His proverb suggests that he is guaranteed to have his way with his woman and that it is just a matter of time before he does. By contrast, the woman reads in his egocentric and misogynist boast a refusal to recognise her individual needs


Chapter Six

and warns him of her intention to distance herself from such lack of fair play, as her second proverb indicates. The creative and critical strategies that Kasena women use in their proverbial jesting indicate that women have gone beyond their cultural conditioning to exercise their freedom of will in gender matters. By so doing they appear to partake of the "internally driven and aggressively democratic politics" which, according to Mikell, characterises contemporary African feminism" (419), and to force their male counterparts and the rest of Kasena society to rethink gender "from the ground up" (Plaskow 216). Mikell observes that "legal notions readjust and change as emerging social relationships require" and that women have "the implicit potential [... ] to sketch the outlines of new relationships" in their own interest (410). The legal notions in question, says Mikell, serve to rectify "inequities in conjugality and domestic relations, particularly in defining women's rights within marriage" (411). While Mikell may be referring to legal instruments, Kasena women state their case without recourse to rights talk. Since discrimination against women occurs in customary norms and social conventions, conceptions of gender justice must evolve out of dialogue with cultural contexts. This makes women's scrutiny of indigenous cultural norms a very effective means for addressing "the unequal status of women relative to men and providing women access to the repertoire of valued roles and statuses within society" (Mikell 420). The corpus of women's proverbs reveals women's tacit awareness that the gender binary is bound up with and partly defined by inequality, and that in order to provide greater rights for women and to mitigate the hierarchical aspects of role stratification there is the need to soften rigid distinctions between women and men. Because women constitute a minority (on account of their lack of power), especially one that has suffered severe discrimination, their justice claims can be authorised much more convincingly and with more moral authority than would be the case for the privileged male majority. Individually, Kasena women seek recognition by challenging the cultural dynamics that are implicated in existing proverbs, thus debunking the argument that mass culture is highly formulaic and standardised, and thus does not seem to provide any opening for a search for individual justice (Fluck 31 ). Women have demonstrated that they can bring some balance to men's ways of thinking by adding uniquely feminine insights, and that freedom from externally imposed regulation of women's roles and rights would allow them to achieve self-realisation. Their proverbs constitute an accumulating wealth

Gender Roles and Gender Justice through Proverbial Jesting


of women's creativity which may not (as yet) have the weight of traditional proverbs, but which at least represents women's own 'truths'.

Works Cited Awedoba, Albert K. An Introduction to Kasena Society and Culture through Their Proverbs. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000. Benhabib, Seyla. "Subjectivity, historiography, and politics: Reflections on the 'feminism/postmodernism exchange'." In Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange, ed. by Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, and Nancy Fraser, 107-127. New York: Routledge, 1995. Dimock, Wai Chee. Residues o f Justice: Literature, Law, Philosophy. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997. Edelman, Lee. Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge, 1994. Fontaine, Carole R. "The Proof of the Pudding: Proverbs and Gender in the Performance Arena." Journal for the Study o f the Old Testament 29.2 (2004): 179-203. Fetterley, Judith. "Introduction to The Resisting Reader." In The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 2nd ed., ed. by David H. Richter, 991-98. Boston: Bedford, 1998. Fluck, Winfried. "Fiction and Justice." New Literary History 34 (2003): 19-42. Hussein, Jelan Wolyie. "A Discursive Representation of Women in Sample Proverbs from Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya." Research in African Literatures 40.3 (2009): 96-108. Lamphere, Louise. "Strategies, Cooperation, and Conflict among Women in Domestic Groups." In Woman, Culture, and Society, ed. by Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, 97-112. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1974. Mensch, Barbara, Daniel Bagah, Wesley H. Clark, and Fred Binka. "The Changing Nature of Adolescence in the Kasena-Nankana District of Northern Ghana." Studies in Family Planning 30.2 (1999): 95-111. Mikell, Gwendolyn, "Introduction." In African Feminism: The Politics o f Survival in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1-50. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania P, 1997. Nazzar, Alex, Philip B. Adongo, Fred N. Binka, James F. Phillips, and Cornelius Debpuur. "Developing a Culturally Appropriate Family


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Planning Program for the Navrongo Experiment." Studies in Family Planning 26.6 (1995): 307-324. Owusu-Sarpong, Christiane. "Book Review: A.K. Awedoba, An Introduction to Kasena Society and Culture through Their Proverbs." Institute o fAfrican Studies Research Review. 16.2 (2000): 67-79. Pellow, Deborah. Women in Accra: Options f o r Autonomy. Algonac, MI: Reference Publications, 1977. Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred Reginald. "On Joking Relationships." Africa: Journal o f the International African Institute, 13.3 (1940): 195-210. Shklar, Judith. The Faces o f Injustice. New Haven: Yale UP, 1990. Slinn, Warwick E. "Poetry and Culture: Performativity and Critique." NewLiteraryHistory30.1 (1999): 57-74. Smith, Tania Sona. "The Lady's Rhetorick (1707): The Tip of the Iceberg of Women's Rhetorical Education in Enlightenment France and Britain." Rhetorica XX:11.4 (2004): 349- 373. Van Allen, Judith. "Sitting on a Man: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions oflgbo Women." Canadian Journal o f African Studies 6.2 (1972): 165-181. Yankah, Kwesi. The Proverb in the Context o fAkan Rhetoric. Bern: Peter Lang, 1989. Yitah, Helen. '"Fighting with Proverbs:' Kasena Women's (Re)Definition of Female Personhood through Proverbial Jesting." Research in African Literatures 40.3 (2009): 74-95. - . "Throwing Stones in Jest: Kasena Women's 'Proverbial' Revolt." Oral Tradition 21.2 (2006): 233-249.



In the eighteenth century numerous women entered into literature as a profession in Britain, most of them as novelists, being this genre the one associated chiefly with women. The majority of them belonged to middle classes and they devoted themselves to writing as a means of earning a living, since it was one of the few possibilities they had to help their household economy. Occasionally some of these women writers were the only ones in charge of their family's financial provision. Renowned women writers such as Charlotte Lennox and Charlotte Smith had to struggle and write tirelessly to maintain their families. Although they were able to do it, we can imagine that it was very hard for them to do so. Moreover, women not only had to demonstrate their talent in their writings, but also to display countless abilities to survive in the literary world. In this regard, they could either tum to a rich and powerful person in search of support, or join any of the groups of writers who gathered around a more influential author. The bluestockings, the gatherings around Samuel Richardson or Samuel Johnson, and later in this century the revolutionary circles around renowned figures such as William Godwin, served women writers to contact other more influential men and women, who could assist them in their literary career and in their dealings with editors and printers. However, in this period, the book industry began to depend more and more on the number of copies sold, and consequently, on the number of readers, and this change made it possible for women writers to sell their copyright directly to an editor or publisher. Thus the evolution of the literary market in Britain will serve to illustrate how women writers' connections and networks changed along


Chapter Seven

the eighteenth century. The traditional patronage system was substituted, although not completely, by reputed writers' support, to end up at the turning of the century with the direct dealings with editors. The patronage system by which a rich and powerful person supported the literary career of a writer started to decline in this century when prejudices against writing for money started to fade way. In earlier times religious people or aristocrats, who did not have to be concerned about their financial circumstances, were the ones who could only enjoy a literary career. Otherwise, the writers had to turn to wealthy people in order to secure their living by means of their financial support or their aid in getting a post in the Court. Throughout the eighteenth century women took the most of the patronage system, since, as Cheryl Turner states, it was an endemic practice and several benevolent individuals were prompted to provide support to female authors. 1 Despite the uncertainty of the results, numerous women writers did not hesitate to dedicate their works to relevant people of that time, since in the case they did not obtain their purpose, dedications, at least, contributed to confer fame and distinction to the text they preceded. 2 In this regard, Paul J. Korshin notes that "much a dedication tended to become merely a graceful and expected introduction to a work, the practice continued, probably because an ornamental address to a member of the royal family or the House of Lords was thought likely to expand the sales of the book. "3 At the end of the seventeenth century, in 1697, the renowned writer Mary Astell dedicated the second part of her Serious Proposal to the Ladies, for the Advancement o f their true and greatest Interest to the Princess of Wales, Ann of Denmark, afterwards Queen of Great Britain, in the hope that she would offer an important amount of money to create a place where women could live without being under the control and ownership of men, a species of monastery that Astell describes in her work. 4 This case is quite outstanding since the writer does not look for money for her, as usually happens. Astell does not wish to improve her own living conditions but women's in general, by raising funds to build a place where they can feel free and safe. Mary Astell addresses the Princess as follows:

1Turner, Living by the Pen, 102-3. 2 Vazquez, "Estrategias paratextuales de la traducci6n," 717. 3 Korshin, "Types o f Eighteenth-Century Patronage," 467-8. 4 Astell, A Serious Proposal..., 117 In.

Eighteenth-Century British Literary Market


And when I consider you Madam as a Princess who is sensible that the Chief Prerogative o f the Great is the Power they have o f doing more Good than those in an Inferior Station can, I see no cause to fear that your Royal Highness will deny Encouragment to that which has no other Design than the Bettering o f the World, especially the most neglected part o f it as to all Real Improvement, the Ladies. 5

As mentioned before, not always did the addresser's desires and objectives meet the addressee's intentions and the initial purpose of the dedication might not be fulfilled. That was what happened with Astell's dedication. The Princess, despite being initially inclined to support Astell's project, was advised not to do it by her counsellor, Bishop Gilbert Burnet, because the language used by Astell might smack too much of a Catholic nunnery, and she abandoned the idea of providing financial support for such singular and exceptional residence for women. 6 Mary Astell was aware that the words she employed might be misunderstood and she mentioned this fact when she described the new place she wanted to establish. Astell's words in part one of A Serious Proposal to the Ladies are the following: Now as the Proposal is to erect a Monastery, or i f you will (to avoid giving offence to the scrupulous and injudicious, by names which tho' innocent in themselves, have been abus'd by superstitious Practices,) we will call it a Religious Retirement, and such as shall have a double aspect, being not only a Retreat from the World for those who desire that advantage, but likewise, an institution and previous discipline, to fit us to do the greatest good in it; such an institution as this (if I do not mightily deceive my self,) would be the most probable method to amend the present and improve the future Age. 7

Years later, in 1719-1720, when Eliza Haywood published her most successful novel, Love in Excess, it was dedicated to a woman too, Mrs Oldfield, a popular actress of this period. Yet the dedication was not written by the author, but by her publisher, M. Cheetwood, who explains that: "The author of the following lines is a young lady, whose greatest pride is in the patroness I have chose her; but she's fearful in not pleasing one who I am well assured is a real critick without their ill nature." 8 In this case, contrary to the previous one, the causes for heading the novel by 5

Ibid., 117. Ibid., 117, nl. 7 Ibid., 73. 8 Haywood, Love in Excess, 35.



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Haywood with a dedication are mainly connected with advertising strategies, designed by the publisher and not by the author. However, in both cases, it is evident that literary works by women tended to be dedicated to other women, obviously more powerful than the writers, and who could provide their literary works mainly with honours and respectability, but also, with pecuniary help, as Mary Astell's case illustrates. The same trend can be observed at the end of the eighteenth century. Women writers were still aware of the important role patrons, particularly women, could play in their literary outcome. A popular writer of this period, Agnes Maria Bennett, dedicated two of her novels to members of the English Royal Family. Notably, she dedicated Anna; or Memoirs o f a Welch Heiress (1785) to the Princess Charlotte Augusta Mathilda, and The Beggar Girl and Her Benefactors (1787) to the Duchess of York. Both dedications include interesting elements, not only on the common features used in dedications, but also on women's circumstances and readers' tastes at that time. Agnes Maria Bennett showed a deep admiration for the Royal family, but the fact that she chose only women as her dedicatees, seems to convey the idea that she considered that her works were primarily read by women and that she would find support with less trouble among them. In the dedication to the Duchess of York in The Beggar Girl and Her Benefactors Bennett wants to elucidate that she does not act selfishly, that is, she does not ask any favour from the Duchess: "either a douceur, or a place in the Royal Library." 9 Thanks to this statement, Bennett lets us know some of the benefits a patron could offer to her/his protege-not only a donation or present, but also an appointment to government posts, although this last case was less common in the eighteenth century that it had been in the Renaissance (Korshin 463). However, it is likely that obtaining one of these posts was particularly difficult for women, who had to restrict their activities to the private sphere. Elizabeth Helme, another popular writer of the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, dedicated her novel, The Pilgrim o f the Cross; Or, The Chronicles o f Christa belle De Mowbray. An Ancient Legend (1805), to the Princess Sophia Mathilda of Gloucester. The result was a favourable review in the Critical Review: "[i]ts inscription, by permission, to the Princess Sophia of Gloucester, is a sufficient indication that the principles which it contains are recommendatory of virtue" (215) 10 • Apart from this, she was also able to obtain the favours of her dedicatees. In her dedication of her novel St. Clair o f the Isles: or, The 9

Bennett, The Beggar Girl, i. See the record for this work in British Fiction, 1800-1829: A Database o f Production, Circulation & Reception, DBF 1805A035. 10

Eighteenth-Century British Literary Market


Outlaws o f Barra, A Scottish Tradition (1803) to the Marchioness of Abercom, Elizabeth Helme expresses gratitude to her because she has decided to "patronise the following sheets." 1 1 The writer, however, also thanks her readers for their warm welcome to her previous novels, since precisely the success obtained among the readership has favoured in tum the publication of several works and the possibility of receiving the support of a patron. Frances Sheridan published her epistolary novel Memoirs o f Miss Sidney Bidulph in 1761 anonymously, yet with a dedication, in this case to a man, Samuel Richardson. Frances Sheridan and Richardson had a personal and literary relationship; she belonged to the group of women writers of Richardson's circle, along with Charlotte Lennox, Sarah Fielding or Laetitia Pilkington, among many others. 12 By means of this dedication Frances Sheridan gave thanks to Richardson because he had tried his best to publish the abovementioned text. 13 Apart from Richardson's circle, she also frequented other literary and theatre circles, and was acquainted with another renowned eighteenth-century writer, Samuel Johnson, who also admired her and her work, despite its pathos: "I know not, Madam, that you have a right, upon moral principles, to make your readers suffer so much." 14 The publication of Pamela in 1740 brought to Richardson an enormous popularity and a great power to influence the literary environment of the period. As a consequence a circle of fans and followers, mainly women, started to gather around him. Richardson enjoyed these gatherings with his admirers and he also promoted a profuse epistolary exchange on his novels with them. 15 Before starting his career as novelist, Richardson was already well-known as one of the most successful printers in London, a job which allowed him to help other writers to publish their works, as happened with Frances Sheridan. Richardson's literary circle encompassed other women writers, such as Sarah Fielding or Charlotte Lennox. Both these writers, as well as Sheridan, had arrived to London from their different provincial hometowns, because the city offered them more possibilities to establish important literary links. Obviously, Sarah Fielding's first connection in the world of letters was her brother, Henry Fielding. He helped her in selling subscriptions to her Familiar Letters (1747) through his acquaintances. 11 Helme, St. Clair o f the Isles, Helme iii. 12 Turner, Living by the Pen, 107. 13 Ibid., 91. 14 Quoted in Cleary, "Introduction," xi. 15 Goring, Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture, 109.


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Yet the assistance was in both directions since she also aided her brother with materials for his texts, Joseph Andrews and Miscellanies. 16 However, as Peter Sabor states, "In the late 1740s, Richardson succeeded Henry Fielding as Sarah's principal literary advisor, and also provided practical assistance in his professional capacity as a printer." 17 Richardson printed various novels by Sarah Fielding, i.e. The Governess (1749), The Lives o f Cleopatra and Octavia (1757), and The History o f the Countess o f Dellwuyn (1759), and he also assisted her in the corrections of a play, The Cry (1754), which Sarah Fielding had written with her friend Jane Collier. As an unmarried woman with hardly any source of financial support, Fielding expressed her gratitude to Richardson with a critical work entitled Remarks on Clarissa (1749). In this brief text, she made Richardson's acclaimed novel Clarissa the object of conversation of a group made up by diverse people, who responded to the criticism and objections raised by the novel among some of the readers and critics. Sarah Fielding mentioned this text in a letter to Richardson showing her great admiration towards him and his novel with these words: "Often have I reflected on my own vanity in daring but to touch the hem of her [Clarissa's] garment; and your excuse for both what I have done, and what I have not done." 18 Similarly, Charlotte Lennox had to undergo financial difficulties, but in her case as a result of an unhappy marriage. She was conscious that important men of letters' support would be of capital importance for her career and Lennox had three of the most powerful and influential writers of the moment aiding her. She belonged to Samuel Johnson's literary circle, who had helped her presenting an ode to the princess of Wales. 19 Furthermore, the second chapter of the seventh book of her most celebrated novel The Female Quixote is attributed to him. 20 But what is more important, Johnson propitiated her acquaintance with Samuel Richardson: "he provided her with a particularly valuable new ally, who helped her in at least three distinct ways: as a novelist, he gave her literary advice; as a printer, he printed the first edition of The Female Quixote; as one of London's most prominent men of letters, he used his influence in the literary world on her behalf." 2 1 Along with these two writers, Henry Fielding did also contribute to enhance Lennox's literary career with a 16 Schellenberg, The Professionalization o f Women Writers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, 105-106; Spencer, "Fielding and Female Authority," 131-132. 17 Sabor, "Richardson," 150. 18 Battestin and Probyn, The Correspondence o f Henry and Sarah Fielding, 123. 19 Lennox, The Female Quixote, 388. 20 Isles, Appendix "Johnson, Richardson, and The Female Quixote," 422. 21 Ibid., 419.

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very favourable review of The Female Quixote. Yet, this review seems not to have been completely sincere, but the result of a kind of scheme devised by Johnson and the bookseller Andrew Millar to get a greater notoriety for Lennox's novel. 22 Charlotte Lennox expressed her gratitude including the name of both her mentors, Johnson and Richardson, in The Female Quixote as follows: ''you may sit in Judgement upon the Production of a Young, a Richardson, or a Johnson." 23 Years later, in the 1770s, Johnson's efforts to help Lennox took a different turn. He tried to publish by subscription "A New and Elegant Edition, Enlarged and Corrected, of the Original Works of Mrs Charlotte Lennox," 24 which, in spite of all the proposals he wrote, did not succeed. 25 Undoubtedly, Charlotte Lennox possessed the talent to take the most of these acquaintances. However, she was aware of her merits and did not adopt a submissive position. According to her contemporaries, Lennox was a sure and proud woman, and she was criticised for that, because such behaviour was not considered the appropriate one for a woman at that time. 26 Precisely, one of those who criticised Charlotte Lennox was Elizabeth Montagu. She was the chief hostess of the bluestocking circle. The term bluestocking has its origin in a joke about one of the visitors to the gatherings in Montagu's home. Benjamin Stillingfleet appeared one day in blue stockings, which were worn by working men, instead of white stockings, the ones more socially accepted in this kind of gatherings. 27 As Elizabeth Eger notes, "the excellence ofStillingfleet's conversation was so greatly missed when he was absent that it used to be said, 'We can do nothing without the blue stockings;' and thus by degrees the title was established." 28 The term was then gradually applied to the rest of Montagu's gests. After 1775, the word became an umbrella which covered only the activities of intellectual women and was also employed to allude to gatherings of women with literary interests. 29 Although the main figures among the bluestockings, Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey and Frances Boscawen, did write themselves they were reluctant to publish their literary works, their social rank and status deterred them from giving 22

Garrig6s, Introducci6n. La mujer Quijote, 33. Lennox, The Female Quixote, (253). 24 Benedict, "Readers, Writers, Reviewers, and the Professionalization of Literature," 9. 25 Brewer, The Pleasures o f the Imagination, 165. 26 Garrig6s, "Introducci6n," 31. 27 Harcstark Myers, The Bluestocking Circle, 6. 28 Eger, "Bluestocking Circle (act. c.1755-c.1795)," n.p. 29 Harcstark Myers, The Bluestocking Circle, 244. 23


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their compositions to the press. However, as wealthy and well-connected women, they used their power and influence to help other women writers, such as Sarah Fielding, or Fanny Burney. 30 Regarding the latter, the bluestocking circle contributed to the subscription list of her novel Camilla. 3 1 Broadly speaking, the influence of these literary circles was so great in making careers for their friends and proteges because of the relevance of subscription publishing in this period. The higher the number of subscribers the better the outcome of a publication was, and powerful people were the only ones capable of obtaining the support of many and high-ranking subscribers. 32 The bluestockings' ideas on women's education and literary career passed on to other women writers at the turn of the century, such as Helen Maria Williams or Mary Wollstonecraft, although these ones had much more radical ideas and beliefs as a consequence of the reigning atmosphere in this period. The French Revolution propitiated the appearance of groups or circles which held revolutionary and republican assumptions. Mary Wollstonecraft joined a circle that gathered in Newington Green, in the North of London, made up by religious Dissenters, who were obviously opposed to the official Church of England. They also shared republican ideas and considered this political system as the remedy to courtly corruption. In this regard, Chris Jones notes that What Wollstonecraft gained from the radical friends was not just a set of doctrines but a way of life in which feeling and intellect gained social expression. Individuals such as Price, Johnson, Thomas Christie, her editor on Johnson's Analytical Review, and William Godwin gave her muchneeded personal support and the close-knit groups o f Dissenters and radicals provided a sort o f extended family. Often collaborating in literary projects, they maintained a fiercely guarded intellectual independence. 33

Similarly, as Gary Kelly states, Helen Maria Williams ''was one of many women writers helped in her career by male mentors." 34 She was also a Dissenter and frequented several circles, where she met some of the most eminent figures of the period, such as Benjamin Franklin, the Bluestockings Elizabeth Montagu and Anna Seward, Robert Burns, Henry Mackenzie, Hester Piozzi, William Godwin, Joshua Reynolds, Sarah 30

Ibid., 248. Ibid., 260. 32 Haslett, Pope to Burney, 1714-1779, 16; ibid., 19-20. 33 Jones, "Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindications and Their Political Tradition," 43-44. 34 Kelly, Women, Writing, and the Revolution, 31. 31

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Siddons, Arthur Murphy, and Edmund Burke. 35 Concerning her literary dealings, at the beginning of her literary career, Williams received the support of Andrew Kippis, leader of the English Dissenting Enlightenment, who helped her to publish her first work, Edwin and Eltruda: A Legendary Tale (1782). These revolutionary circles were quite well-known at that time and caused anxiety among the conservatives in Britain. In order to warn young people against these groups and their ideas, moderate writers such as Elizabeth Hamilton composed novels such as Memoirs o f Modern Philosophers (1800), in which the attitude and beliefs of these revolutionary gatherings are parodied. Hamilton focuses mainly on women, who might end tragically as a consequence of these ideological principles, which are considered totally unsuitable for them. 36 In this moment, at the end of the century, the number or readers increased to a great extent and a large amount of circulating libraries were set up in the whole country, including little towns and villages. The reading practices were also changing, books were read only once and for entertainment. An increasing number of books were required to satisfy the public's necessity for novelties, and editors and printers, especially those who printed books for circulating libraries encouraged authors to write more and more texts. Furthermore, as Nancy Armstrong explains, during the eighteenth century a new model of woman emerges, confined to the domestic realm with the only task of supervising the household servants' work and too much leisure time (79). 37 One of the ways found by women as an alternative to occupy their spare time was reading-an entertainment which was considered adequate for them. But at the same time, it was a fact that caused great anxiety, since it was more and more difficult to control what women read because their access to books was easier than before, precisely thanks to circulating libraries. William Lane, the owner of the Minerva Press, one of the most famous printing houses in Britain at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, took advantage of these circumstances and started launching books written by and for women. A prospect published by this press in 1798 clearly illustrated this fact. Among the new publications issued, the recent novels by "particular and favourite authors" were advertised, and all of these authors were women: Anna Maria Bennett, Regina Maria Roche, Elizabeth Meeke, Agnes Musgrave, Anna Howell, Mary Charlton, Isabella Kelly, Elizabeth Parsons, Elizabeth Bonhote and 35

Ibid., 31. Lasa Alvarez, "El personaje," 452-3. 37 Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction, 79. 36


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Anna Maria M'Kenzie. 38 As J.M.S. Tompkins underlines, women wanted to read literary works where other women had the leading role and thus tended to identify with them. 39 This was a common assumption of the period: "the woman reader was expected, according to the terms of the contemporary psychological and physiological tenets which stressed her innate capacity for sympathy, to find it far easier than a man would do to identify with characters and incidents from her reading material." 40 Similarly to Sheridan, Fielding, or Lennox, most of the women novelists who wrote for the Minerva Press also shared financial difficulties, and had to write to maintain their families. William Lane was likely to take advantage of these women's circumstances, since they were very prolific due to their penuries and might be paid less than men. 4 1 However, in this case these writers sold directly the copyright of their literary works to the editor. William Lane was a conscious businessman and did not hesitate to visit potential writers for his printing house. An anecdote narrated by Charlotte Smith in a letter gives evidence of Lane's dealings. He unexpectedly visited the novelist at her home telling her that: "Novels are -as perhaps you know- quite my forte and, understanding you are about one, I called to know if you are disposed to deal for it!." 42 When Smith rejects his offer and tells him that she is not leaving the editor Cadell, Lane insists saying that "Mr Cadell has made a great fortune. Now I have a fortune to make and for that there is reason d'ye see, I would give you twice as much as he will; by reason that a novel of yours just now would be worth any money to me." 43 Later on in the same letter Smith mentions pride as the main reason for refusing Lane's offer, given that she might consider, as many of her contemporaries did, that he published worthless novels for undemanding readers. Concerning most eighteenth-century women writers, history repeats itself. In the literary circles of that time Charlotte Smith's financial difficulties were well known and she even did mention them in the prefaces to her works and did use the heroine's pecuniary worries as the topic of the plots and subplots in her novels. 44 She started to publish her literary works after her divorce and when she had to maintain her large 38 39

Blakey, The Minerva Press 1790-1820, 311-2. Tompkins, The Popular Novel in England 1770-1800, 120. 4°Flint, The Woman Reader 1837-1914, 38. 41 Lasa Alvarez, "Los grandes exitos" 754-7. 42 Quoted in Fletcher, Charlotte Smith. A Critical Biography, 104. 43 Ibid., 104. 44 Copeland, Women Writing about Money, 47-49.

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family. Smith first published a book of sonnets, despite being dismissed by two editors, Dodsley and Dilly. The book saw the light when she managed to get the permission to dedicate it to an important poet and patron of poets, William Hayley, who happened to live in Smith's neighbourhood. 45 She referred to him as "the greatest modem Master of that charming talent, in which I can never be more that a distant copy.',4 6 As poetry was not well paid, she then published novels and books for children, which produced more benefices. The friendship with Hayley continued during all her life and he helped her with her dealings with editors and lawyers. He also introduced her in literary circles and put her in contact with other writers. Charlotte Smith thus was acquainted with some of the writers mentioned above, such as Elizabeth Montagu's Bluestocking circle, who were subscribing the fifth edition of her Sonnets, 47 and some of the most renowned revolutionary or Jacobin writers, William Godwin, Elizabeth Inchbald, Eliza Fenwick, and Mary Hays. 48 Thus, the literary career offered women a solution to their financial difficulties, although, obviously, only to those gifted ones. Yet, even if they had the talent necessary to do it, women writers sought other people's support, normally more relevant women, to succeed in the world of letters, still considered mainly male. Patronage and literary and social circles were of especial relevance in the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, the changes introduced in the literary market by the proliferation of circulating libraries made it possible for women, who were not well acquainted, to deal directly with printers and editors, who thus were able to maintain the shelves of their premises full of novelties for the readers.

Works Cited Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction. A Political History o f the Novel. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987. Astell, Mary. A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. Parts I and II. Ed. by Patricia Springborg. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2001. Battestin, Martin C. and Clive T. Probyn, eds. The Correspondence o f Henry and Sarah Fielding. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.


Fletcher, Charlotte Smith. A Critical Biography, 65. Smith, The Poems o f Charlotte Smith, 2. 47 Fletcher, Charlotte Smith. A Critical Biography, 102; 48 Ibid., 288-9. 46


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Benedict, Barbara M. "Readers, Writers, Reviewers, and the Professionalization of Literature." The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1740-1830, ed. by Thomas Keymer and John Mee, 3-23. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. Bennett, Agnes Maria. Anna; or Memoirs o f a Welch Heiress. Interspersed with Anecdotes o f a Nabob. In four Volumes. London: Printed for William Lane, Leadenhall Street, 1785. - . The Beggar Girl and Her Benefactors. In Five Volumes. Second edition. London: Minerva Press, 1799. Blakey, Dorothy. The Minerva Press 1790-1820. London: Bibliographical Society and Oxford UP, 1939. Brewer, John. The Pleasures o f the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. London: Harper Collins, 1997. Cleary, Jean Coates. "Introduction." In Memoirs o f Miss Sidney Bidulph, by Frances Sheridan, vii-xxxiii. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1995. Copeland, Edward. Women Writing about Money: Women's Fiction in England, 1790-1820. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Eger, Elizabeth. "Bluestocking Circle (act. c.1755-c.1795)." Oxford Dictionary o f National Biography. Online edition. Oxford UP 2008. 5 March 2009. Fielding, Sarah. Remarks on Clarissa. Introd. by Peter Sabor. Los Angeles: The Augustan Reprint Society, University of California, 1984. Fletcher, Loraine. Charlotte Smith. A Critical Biography. London: Palgrave, (1998) 2001. Flint, Kate. The Woman Reader 1837-1914. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Garrig6s, Cristina. "Introducci6n." In La mujer Quijote by Charlotte Lennox, 7-71. Madrid: Catedra, 2004. Garside, Peter, Jacqueline Belanger and Sharon Ragaz. British Fiction, 1800-1829: A Database o f Production, Circulation and Reception Designer A. A. Mandal. 15 Jan 2006 Goring, Paul. Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture. London and New York: Continuum, 2008. Harcstark Myers, Sylvia. The Bluestocking Circle. Women, Friendship, and the Life o f the Mind in Eighteenth-Century England. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. Haslett, Moyra. Pope to Burney, 1714-1779.Scriblerians to Bluestockings. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

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Haywood, Eliza. Love in Excess, or, The Fatal Enquiry, 2nd edition. Ed. by David Oakleaf. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2000. Helme, Elizabeth. St. Clair o f the Isles: or, The Outlaws o f Barra, A Scottish Tradition. In Four Volumes. London: Printed by A. Strahan, Printers-Street, For T.N. Longman and 0 . Rees, Paternoster-Row, 1803. Isles, Duncan. "Appendix: Johnson, Richardson, and The Female Quixote." In The Female Quixote, by Charlotte Lennox, 419-428. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1989. Jones, Chris. "Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindications and Their Political Tradition." In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft, 4258. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. Kelly, Gary. Women, Writing, and the Revolution. 1790-1827. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Korshin, Paul J. "Types of Eighteenth-Century Patronage." EighteenthCentury Studies 7.4 (1974): 453-473. Lasa Alvarez, Begofia. "Los grandes exitos de la editorial inglesa 'Minerva Press'." InActas de/ II Congreso Internacional de SELICUP "Literatura y cultura popular en el nuevo milenio, ed. by Manuel Cousillas Rodriguez, Jose Angel Fernandez Roca, Pablo Cancelo and Ruben Jarazo, 749-761. A Corufia: SELICUP and Universidade da Corufia, 2006. - . "El personaje de Don Quijote como referente en las novelistas en lengua inglesa de finales del siglo XVIII y principios del XIX." In La hue/la de Cervantes y de/ Quijote en la cultura anglosajona, ed. by Jose Manuel Barrio Marco and Maria Jose Crespo Allue, 447-456. Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid, 2007. Lennox, Charlotte. The Female Quixote. Ed. by Margaret Dalziel, introduced by Margaret Ann Doody. Chronology and appendix by Duncan Isles. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1989. Sabor, Peter. "Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Sarah Fielding." In The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1740-1830, ed. by Thomas Keymer and John Mee, 139-156. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. Schellellenberg, Betty A. The Professionalization o f Women Writers in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Sheridan, Frances. Memoirs o f Miss Sidney Bidulph. Ed. by Patricia Koster and Jean Coates Cleary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. Smith, Charlotte. The Poems o f Charlotte Smith. Ed. by Stuart Curran. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.


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Spencer, Jane. "Fielding and Female Authority." In The Cambridge Companion to Henry Fielding, ed. by Claudia Rawson, 122136.Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Tompkins, Joyce Marjorie Sanxter. The Popular Novel in England 17701800. London: Constable and Co., 1932. Turner, Cheryl. Living by the Pen. Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century. 1992. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. Vazquez, Lydia. "Estrategias paratextuales de la traducci6n: En tomo a las versiones espafiolas de las ficciones francesas del siglo XVIII." In Reflexiones sobre la traducci6n, ed. by Luis Charlo, 707-720. Cadiz: Universidad de Cadiz, 1994.


Introduction When in the "Author's Preface" to her unfinished novel Maria; or The Wrongs o f Woman ( 1798) Mary Wollstonecraft affirmed that "this history ought to be considered, as of woman, than of an individual" she was asserting the necessity for a collective consciousness among women.2 In this respect, the novel is used as a vehicle for the transmission of a sociopolitical reality: the cross class subjection of women to the eighteenthcentury patriarchal power which isolates them from one another. Thus, Wollstonecraft conveys the idea that being, in the author's own words, "the oppressed half of mankind," women's key to their release from that patriarchal power has its essence in the opening of their self-centred perspectives to identification and solidarity. 3 1

This paper has been possible thanks to the research network "Rede de lingua e literatura inglesa e identidade" (2007/000145-0) funded by the Galician Government and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This grant is hereby gratefully acknowledged. 2 Wollstonecraft, "Author's Preface," 67. 3 Ibid., 67.


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Although the work is incomplete, the significance of The Wrongs o f Woman is implicit in its denunciation of the crude way in which women silently endured attempts against their dignity and personal safety in the eighteenth century English society that Wollstonecraft depicts. Offering a perspective that ranges from the lower to the middle classes, the author makes clear the stigmatisation to which women were subjected, which on many occasions took place simply due to their condition as women. All through the novel the reader witnesses the progress of two women, Maria and Jemima, whose attitudes towards each other evolve from disregard to cooperation. Whereas Maria has been imprisoned in an asylum under a false diagnosis of madness with the intention of taking her child and her possessions from her, the low-class Jemima has experienced a motherless infancy where mistreatment and humiliation on the hands of men have turned her into a strong sceptical and asocial woman. In the asylum, Jemima's early role as Maria's jailer soon changes to that of an accomplice. Sharing their misfortunes opens these women's eyes to a sense of empathy which derives in a need for cooperation. As Maria realises that Jemima's sensibility and her capability to love have been numbed, she will try to awaken her humanity. Jemima's role in Maria's life will be essential as well; in fact, Jemima will not only help Maria find her daughter, but she will also show her the way towards her release form her prisons-both the physical one, represented by the actual jail to which she has been confined, and the psychological one that binds her to her relationships with the undermining patriarchy. It can be said that, in spite of the fact that both Maria and Jemima are completely antithetic as far as their characters are concerned, they will both find in their mutual support a way to recover their identity as human beings and find a healing to their sufferings. It is important to consider that the sense of union that arises between Jemima and Maria in The Wrongs o f Woman takes shape in a progressive manner along the plot of the novel. Both women suffer an evolution that leads them to this empathic relationship. In this regard, the novel presents some characteristics of the Bildungsroman in which the protagonist attains her actual wisdom in the train of events. There seems to be a necessity by both characters to become self-made women and depart from the constructs created by the prevailing patriarchy for the pleasure of men. In many ways Wollstonecraft openly defies the stereotypes of her time when she criticises the heroines who "are to be born immaculate; and to act like goddesses of wisdom, just come forth highly finished Minervas from the

Overcoming the "Crushing Hand of Power"


head of Jove. " 4 In contrast, she creates two heroines that, far from following that trend, look forward to a self-assertion that would lead them to the acquisition of a feminist consciousness. This analysis on the sense of collective identity in The Wrongs o f Woman intends to highlight the idea of progression in the characters of both Maria and Jemima as they evolve towards fellowship in the train of events. Several issues within this progression will be objects of analysis as well. Motherhood is one of the most important ones; taking into account that maternity is something that only women can experience, it is not surprising that it is presented as a source of identification and empathy among them. A further point that will be treated is the way in which patriarchy isolates women from one another. Wollstonecraft, in this respect uses the metaphor of a "killing frost" that turns women into insensible beings at the same time that they become feeble and malleable enough to serve the principles of patriarchy. In sum, all of these aspects will contribute to reflect Wollstonecraft's faith in female collective consciousness as a way out of subjection and neglect in spite of all the barriers and difficulties that the eighteenth-century male culture imposed.

The entrapment in the dominating patriarchy Janet Todd, as she deals with the character of Maria and the movements that characterise her history, asserts that "[t]wo main movements mark Maria's history, one circular and repetitive, the other linear and developmental. The circular binds her to male relationships within the patterns of youth; the linear tends toward freedom and maturity." 5 Hence, Todd associates the aforementioned circular and repetitive movement both to Maria's relationships with men and to her youth. The concept of youth not only points at the early stages of Maria's life, but also at her romantic character, which occasionally leads her to act impulsively and commit some, if not all, of her wrongs. In any case, this circular movement closely related to the patriarchal power, supposes an unconscious entrapment for Maria, and it progressively secludes her from other women, damaging considerably her relationships with her mother, with Jemima and with her own daughter at different stages in the novel. In a first phase in her history, Maria faces two tyrannical figures: her father and her brother. Both men succeed in subjecting mainly Maria's mother to the most extreme point of feebleness. Although Maria does not 4 Ibid., 67. 5 Todd, Women's Friendship, 211-2.


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give many details about her father's temper, she does point at the negative influence that it had on her mother's health and the way in which the discussions derived from this influence affected the normality of everyday life. In her own words, "I shall pass over the tyranny of my father, much as I suffered from it; but it is necessary to notice, that it undermined my mother's health; and that her temper, continually irritated by domestic bickering, became intolerably peevish. " 6 The subjection is such that even having received a dubious treatment from them, this woman's attachment to the patriarchal power makes her disregard her daughter's cares, and in her deathbed, she unfairly favours her son to the detriment of Maria herself. In this context Maria's first impulsive wrong reaction takes place. She marries Venables, a man she does not love, just to escape from her father and his new wife's dominion. Thus, her initial subtle doubts about Venables's fairness soon become a definite reality. Maria starts to understand that their relationship is an act of growing "self-denial," as she realises that her marriage demands from her the fulfilment of a series of pre-established duties which annuls her as a human rational being, facilitating her being regarded as an object of interest and economic benefit. It is worth mentioning that one of Maria's most revealing assertions in this respect is the one in which she affirms that "a wife, being as much a man's property as his horse or his ass, she has nothing she can call her own." 7 What is more, it can be asserted that Venables's attempt to sell her to another man clearly proves that Maria was not even owner of her own person. In any case, when Maria is confined to the asylum, her main concern is her daughter, who has been taken from her and about whom she eventually receives false news of her death; however, the presence of a new male figure changes the estate of Maria's mind again. Here her attention is deviated towards Damford, a man who has been confined there too and whom Maria falls in love with. Although Damford's narrative openly reveals that he is another example of a womaniser, Maria's impulsiveness, as well as the desperate situation in which she is involved makes her rely on him. In this situation, the growth of Maria and Jemima's friendship is constantly undermined by Damford •s presence and Maria• s idealisation of him. Therefore, if at the beginning Todd was quoted in her affirmation that Maria is immersed in a circular repetitive movement, the critic's further 6 Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs o f Woman, 114. 7 Ibid., 140.

Overcoming the "Crushing Hand of Power"


commentary that there is a centripetal nature in it should be added. 8 Maria's relationships with men, and particularly with Darnford, damage her attachment to other women, preventing her from strengthening the identity bonds that unites her to them. It is particularly interesting to analyse Maria's relationship with Darnford in depth, as it sheds light on Jemima's actual efforts to channel Maria's attention towards the progressive lineal movement Todd mentions. Contrary to the circular movement, this one, as Todd asserts, leads Maria towards maturity. It is a movement which demands a consciousness of the transcendence of women• s misfortunes in the hands of patriarchy and also of the fact that they may have a continuity in the future. 9 But to place Maria in this trend demands a conflict between Jemima and Darnford, as Wollstonecraft reveals them as antagonist forces driving Maria inside and outside their spheres of action. Therefore, Jemima, in this respect, becomes Darnford's opponent with regard to Maria's friendship. Whereas Darnford attracts Maria through his progressive political ideas written in the marginalia of the books they share, Jemima constantly offers her weapons to fight for her interests, which Maria clearly misuses. For instance, when Jemima enables Maria to write, providing her with some voice to reflect and protest, Maria misuses those powerful tools to employ them in writing letters to Darnford, falling continuously in the circle in which she is entrapped. Even their conversations, which were intended to alleviate Maria• s sufferings in her confinement, constantly find in Darnford's idealisation a subject matter. It is due to the enhancement of her sensibility that Maria adopts the role of a Pygmalion, creating in her mind an ideal husband whose physical recreation takes place in the figure ofDamford. Both her readings of JeanJacques Rousseau's La Nouvelle Heloi'se and John Dryden's Guiscard and Sigismunda together with Damford's progressive political ideas, contained in the marginalia of those books lent to her finally convince her of their affinities. While Damford's narrative of his life reveals his tendency to follow the good life instead of the ethically correct way and his proneness to immoral vices, Maria's blindness makes her interpret his attitudes as a liberal perspective towards things. There is a clear difference in the conception of reality by both Maria and Darnford which is evidenced in their writings: whereas Damford's are political, Maria creates rhapsodies. Female sensibility in Wollstonecraft's writings and the author's consideration of it as positive or detrimental has 8 Todd, Women's Friendship, 212. 9 Ibid., 211-2.


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been an issue of great discussion 10. In this novel, sensibility is presented as oppressive whenever it follows the dictates of the patriarchal power, or when it turns out to be a way of isolation against it. In this sense, Maria's romanticism, that seems to serve her as a refuge from the reality that she is living, is not an appropriate reaction against the mistreatment that she has been suffering, as it undermines her reactionary position towards the injustice to which she is subjected. However, sensibility also conveys a sense of truthfulness, and it turns out to be essential for that sense of compassion and identification among women to take place. In this respect, Wollstonecraft seems to realise that this feeling is not necessarily related to oppression; rather, it is perfectly compatible with the defence of one's rights.

Motherhood Maria's state of romantic enthralment, then, is presented as an intermittent one. In this respect, Jemima's narrative will be her best tool to control her relation with Maria in her task to guide her towards her freedom. Through her confession, Jemima not only is able of moving Maria, but she also makes her aware of the actual scope of female oppression. That consciousness reaches Maria as she understands that her sufferings are not particular to her but common to many other women as well. Further than that, Maria reflects on the case of her daughter and she realises that motherhood itself is a way of perpetuating women's suffering throughout the generations.

10 Poovey, The Proper Lady, 98, 100; Wilson, "Mary Wollstonecraft and the Search for the Radical Woman," 63. Wollstonecraft approves neither sensibility nor passion in The Rights o f Woman. However, as Mary Poovey, exposes in The Proper Lady, there is much ambiguity in this respect i f w e take into consideration the case o f The Wrongs o f Woman. The narrator, which is associated with the author herself, frequently moves "from detached, critical observer to emotional participant." This critic, in fact points at a "seduction of the narrator;" what is more, she argues that the optimism implicit in the female imagination tries to counterpart the dramatic character o f some situations, and it is that state of happiness that the author seems to desire "to retain for as long as possible, the idealism that she has shown to cripple Maria." Furthermore, in A. Wilson's article the author deals with Marilyn Butler and Mary Jacobus's opinions on this issue. They both consider that female sensibility is a way o f eloquence and they find it necessary as a "mode o f expression" for women, "the alternative, they imply, is the reconstruction of the self as male."

Overcoming the "Crushing Hand of Power"


Thinking of Jemima's peculiar fate and her own, she was led to consider the oppressed state of women, and to lament that she had given birth to a daughter. Sleep fled from her eyelids, while she dwelt on the wretchedness of unprotected infancy, till sympathy with Jemima changed to agony, when it seemed probable that her own babe might even now be in the very state she so forcibly described. 11 Mary Wollstonecraft concedes motherhood and mother-daughter relations a high relevance in The Wrongs o f Woman. After all, as Claudia Johnson asserts, "[t]he bond that Jemima and Maria share, then is their blighted motherhood and daughterhood, and this blight they repair first in their relations to one another and, second, in their joint relation to Maria's daughter." 12 Both Maria and Jemima become aware of the importance of the presence of a mother in the life of a child due to their experiences as abandoned daughters, and, eventually, it is mainly motherhood what unites them in their cause of avoiding the perpetuation of women's condemnation in the life of Maria's children. Jemima's case in this regard is particularly revealing. Being raised by a nurse whose heart had been hardened by poverty and "the habit of seeing children die off her hands," Jemima was provided with a special strength. 13 The lack of maternal care in crucial moments of her life made her aware of the value of a mother. Her solitude, in this respect, is regarded as the origin of many of her troubles, as she makes clear in her assertion that Now I look back, I cannot help attributing the greater part ofmy misery, to the misfortune of having been thrown into the world without the grand support of life-a mother's affection. I had no one to love me; or to make me respected, to enable me to acquire respect. I was an egg dropped on the sand; a pauper by nature, haunted from family to family, who belonged to nobody-and nobody cared for me. 14 What Jemima lacked was the sense of comprehensiveness, solidarity and aid that the mother-daughter relationship implied. And it should be taken into account that this is a series of values which derived, not only from the fact that they belonged to the same sex, but also from the suffering of the same misfortunes, based on abuse and neglect. But apart from being a daughter, Jemima almost went through, if not motherhood, the loss of a child. Jemima, being pregnant, realised the Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs o f Woman, 107. Johnson, Equivocal Beings, 68. 13 Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs o f Woman, 92. 14 Ibid., 95.




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adverse fortune that her child could suffer in the hands of her father, the man who had raped Jemima, so she decided to resort to abortion. For Jemima, the experience of motherhood and the decision of ending with a potential new life supposed an inner conflict; the harshness of the situation becomes explicit in her confession that "rage giving place to despair, sought for the potion that was to procure abortion, and swallowed it, with a wish that it might destroy me, at the same time that it stopped the sensations of new-born life, which I felt with indescribable emotion." 15 In The Wrongs o f Woman, death is usually presented as an act of solidarity towards daughters whenever they are regarded as potential sufferers. Maria also goes through a similar experience to that of Jemima when, in the sixth ending that Wollstonecraft sketched for the novel, she almost succeeds in committing suicide with the intention of converting her own body into a releasing tomb for her baby. Thus, as she drinks laudanum, "[h]er murdered child appeared to her, mourning for the babe of which she was the tomb.-And could it have a nobler?-Surely it is better to die with me, than to enter on life without a mother's care!" 16 In spite of the fact that it may seem slightly contradictory with respect to the idea of death as a release for daughters, in my opinion there is also a general impression that this resort to death is considered as an index of feebleness, and, it can be asserted that Wollstonecraft has some faith in the possibility of finding an alternative solution to the problem. In fact, as Jemima saves Maria, the latter is given a new opportunity and it is then when she shows the strong resolution to fight for her children. From this new perspective, based on hope and self-reliance, children are an incentive for Maria not to end up with her life.

The Metaphor of the Frost In many respects, the fact that Maria and Jemima are so different in their characters enables them to work in a complementary way. While, Jemima presents the due strength to fight against the dangers of Matias' romantic mind and the attachment to men that entraps her in the vicious circle of patriarchy, Maria is aware of the fact that Jemima's problem lies in her necessity to awaken her sensibility. In spite of all the resentment that Jemima feels, she still maintains a capacity to love, as a mother and as a sister. Maria easily realises that "Jemima's humanity had rather been benumbed than killed, by the keen frost she had to brave at her entrance 15 16

Ibid., 98 (my emphasis). Ibid., 176.

Overcoming the "Crushing Hand of Power"


into life," and it is her task to melt that frost in which Jemima's character has been educated. 17 The metaphor of the frost, that Maria also uses in a writing she addresses her daughter, is particularly interesting and representative of the harms of patriarchy on these women and on their relationships to each other. As Claudia Johnson explains, it stands for "the cruelty with which male culture represses women's warmth toward each other: the frost that blights Maria's daughter has already wounded Maria herself." 18 It is certainly that frost what renders women insensible and egocentric to the point of becoming tyrants to their own gender. Jemima herself is an instance of this fact, as she feels guilty for becoming the tyrant to her sex at least in two occasions in the novel. The first of these occasions takes place when she starts a relation with a man who has already made a promise of marriage to another woman. The woman is pregnant, but, due to Jemima's appearance, the man, who refuses to marry her, makes her leave the house in which they live. As a result, and considering the fact that her life, and very probably her child's as well, was doomed to misery and ultimately death, the girl commits suicide. Her corpse is found in Jemima's presence and, in that moment, she becomes aware of the role that she has been playing: "I thought of my own state, and wondered how I could be such a monster!" 19 Undoubtedly, the girl turns into a mirror in which Jemima sees her own reflection; she realises that the case of that girl does not differ much from that of her mother and her own, and that is what leads her to feel a sense of identification and compassion at the same time that she considers herself the tyrant that has contributed to the death of another suffering woman. Still, as Jemima meets Maria in her prison, she does not seem to feel any pity for her and her torment. It will not be until her acknowledgement that Maria had been devoid of her daughter that her attitude towards her will turn into that of complicity. In the madhouse, Jemima once more becomes the tyrant of her own sex. Probably due to the indolence with which her experience has taught her to consider the rich and the poor as natural enemies, she does not seem to suffer with the fact that many of those women for whom she is a "jailer" are unjustly imprisoned. These two examples, then, are particularly revealing of the way in which women are collectively deceived as they are considered objects that can be even mercilessly used against one another. In any case, undoubtedly, the relationship between Maria and Jemima and their 17 18 19

Ibid., 107. Johnson, Styles o f Radical Maternity, 382. Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs o f Woman, 104.


Chapter Eight

complicity shed light on the fact that this frost created by patriarchy can finally be melted through comprehension and identification. As a matter of fact, it is important to take into account that in spite of all this, Jemima seemed to be aware of the fact that she had been actually damaged by men and, as Mary Poovey maintains, If Jemima's experiences have taught her to despise men, they have not wholly frozen her to a more radical expression o f female feeling: Jemima retains the capacity to love-not men, significantly, but women. Jemima's only childhood wish was for a "mother's affection," her only feelings of guilt stem from her having made another woman suffer, and she is quick to respond to Maria's anguish. 20

Therefore, as Jemima gains consciousness of that collective identity that is being dealt with, she contributes to the creation of the manifesto that Maria's writing of her memories for her daughter constitutes. Meena Alexander points at the cathartic effect of writing for Jemima, and she says: "[a]s a child Jemima had been humiliated by the written word [... ]. In helping Maria write down her tale, a fragile reparation seems possible for herself. "2 1 Hence, in this sense, both women become united in the task of the writing of a social critique to prevent another future woman from suffering the misfortunes that they themselves have undergone.

Conclusion As previously mentioned, both Jemima and Maria undergo a maturing process towards a self-definition that approaches them to the heroines of the Bildungsroman. They both become aware of the force of their unity and they work actively together. If there is something in which the trajectory of Wollstonecraft's heroines differs from the Bildungsroman type of novel, is the fact that in this case, the ending does not include a happy state of love and marriage; rather it leads to a state of sisterhood that is intended to end up with the mistreatment that has lead them both to the acquisition of their final wit to find a site for their happiness. The Wrongs o f Woman is marked by its protagonists' development towards the acquisition of a self identity as human beings, as women and 20

Poovey, The Proper Lady, 104. Alexander, Women in Romanticism, 55. This allusion to "the written word" points mainly at the fact that, as a child, Jemima is sent to the street with defamatory writings in her forehead whenever she sees herself forced to steal in order to solve her state o f hunger. 21

Overcoming the "Crushing Hand of Power"


as mothers. In this respect, sensibility is a key concept for the liberation from patriarchy, as it has been previously proved. In fact, much of the strength of this work lies in its representation of a new type of woman who is able to find the exact equilibrium between rationality and sensibility so as to discern the origin of the way out of subjugation. It is important to take into account that Wollstonecraft sketched at least six endings to this novel, but the most developed one relates the success of Maria and Jemima's union, defying the principles of patriarchy and creating a new sphere for women in which motherhood and sisterhood acquire a prevailing position. The author's faith in the consciousness of a collective suffering that could lead to solidarity, cooperation and eventually peace and justice becomes explicit in The Wrongs o f Woman. In sum, it is not risky to regard Wollstonecraft as a visionary in this work, because, as Barbara Taylor asserts, her concept of cooperation could seem a "[h]ardly utopian vision then, but a prescient one: a century further on, and it was alliances like these-fragile, bias ridden, courageous-that were to become the driving force of a mass feminist politics. "22

Works Cited Alexander, Meena. Women in Romanticism: Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Shelley. Maryland: Barnes and Noble, 1989. Johnson, Claudia L. Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender and Sentimentality in the 1790s Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995. - . "Mary Wollstonecraft: Styles of Radical Maternity." In Mary Wollstonecraft and the Critics, 1788-2001, vol. 2, ed. by Harriet D. Jump, 372-385. London: Routledge, 2003. Poovey, Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works o f Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen. Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1984. Taylor, Barbara. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003. Todd, Janet. Women's Friendship in Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1980. Willson, Anna. "Mary Wollstonecraft and the Search for the Radical Woman." In Mary Wollstonecraft and the Critics, 1788-2001, vol. 2, ed. by Harriet D. Jump, 60-75. London: Routledge, 2003. 22

Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination, 244.


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Wollstonecraft, Mary. The Vindications. A Vindication o f the Rights o f Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Ed. by D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2001. - . Mary and The Wrongs o f Woman. Ed. by Gary Kelly. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.


Introduction Josephine Butler is one of those crucial women in the history of the fight for women's emancipation and women's rights in Great Britain. Although she was a middle-class married woman, since very early in her life, she identified with poor discriminated women. She considered prostitutes and fallen women as her fallen sisters, and first claiming education and work, and then leading the campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869, she became a referent in the claim for equality for women of all social classes based on religious principles. Her moral strength and impressive personality made her become the leader of the Repeal Campaign under the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (LNA). Throughout the campaign, she travelled around the country looking for support for her crusade. She also made her voice be heard in Parliament, and counted on the work of women of her class, some middle-class men, and working-class men and women, including the prostitutes themselves, to promote a moral reform that was against the discrimination of one half of the human race. This reform was also against the humiliation that supposed the compulsory examination of women known as "the rape of the speculum."


Chapter Nine

Therefore, this paper seeks to examine issues of gender and sexual identity in terms of social discrimination, and the role of associations like the LNA and outstanding women like Josephine Butler, in the construction of a framework of respect and consideration towards women, becoming the instruments for changing the law and for the aim of equality between the sexes.

Josephine Butler: A Life Devoted to Philanthropy, Reform and the Woman's Cause Josephine Butler (1828-1906) was born in Dilston, Northumberland, in a provincial middle-class family. Her father was an agricultural reformer and antislavery advocate, and he brought up his children believing in the spiritual equality of all human beings, and making them familiar with the political and social questions of their time. She had strong attachments with her mother and sisters, but especially with her sister Hattie. Josephine Butler married George Butler in 1851, and he became her life companion and supporter in all crusades. 1 The Butlers first lived in Oxford, where George Butler was an examiner, tutor and lecturer for the University, but the atmosphere there was not suitable for Josephine's respiratory illness and way of thinking. Oxford's society was very much associated with the idea of the double standard and it was an all-male environment. For that reason George Butler accepted the post of Vice-principal at Cheltenham College in 1856. Their children, three boys and a girl, were born there. 2 However, tragedy struck the Butlers' life when their only daughter, Eve, died by accident. She fell over the stairs of their house and died in 1863. This terrible event sunk Josephine in a deep depression, and they decided to move to Liverpool in 1865 where George Butler was offered the post of Headmaster of Liverpool College. 3 Josephine could not find relief in her recreational activities and daily life, and she was not the kind of woman to indulge in self-pity. In 1866, she began to visit Liverpool workhouse. There, she found in the vaults women picking oakum. 4 Some of them were girls and young women; others were mature women hardened by difficult lives. Many of them 1Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society, 115. 2 Ibid., 116. 3 Boyd, Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale, 35-36. 4 Women sat on the floor untwisting and picking the yam out o f old ropes to earn a few pence.

Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association


were ill and represented Liverpool's refuse, and Josephine felt for them an immense pity. She sat with them, tried to pick oakum and spoke to them with deep affection, and in the end they prayed together. 5 After this, she became popular among outcast women who came to her house to find refuge and help. Many of them were fallen women who were ill and died in her attics, like Marion. Marion was a girl who had been seduced by an old man of the upperclass. She was abandoned by her seducer and her parents, and she had recourse to prostitution as a way of living. When Josephine found her she was consumptive and probably suffered from venereal disease. She was a sweet-natured girl who listened with interest to George Butler's religious teaching. When she died, Josephine Butler defied her middle-class society by filling her coffin with camellias, which symbolised purity. 6 This daring attitude would be found again in many of her deeds and statements during the Repeal Campaign. Because the number of prostitutes and outcast women in the Butler's home was alarmingly increasing, Josephine decided to found her Home of Rest recruiting the help of her recently widowed sister Fanny to look after these women. 7 According to her own granddaughter, "her intention was no less than to set right what she considered the unjust relation of women to men as regards moral affairs. It was their equality in everything that she wanted. It was rather the removal of an iniquitous unfairness to women. " 8 God had given woman a spiritual equality with men, and, on those grounds, she would later base her moral crusade. She believed that unmarried women were not allowed employment and were as a consequence driven to the streets. Therefore, she identified poverty and lack of work as the main cause of prostitution. To help with the provision of work for women, she persuaded the Committee of Liverpool Workhouse to establish an Industrial School for girls where sewing was first offered, and then a small factory was started. 9 Josephine believed that a woman had the right to be an individual and a citizen, and she must be allowed to work effectively; for that, she needed to be educated. Women's education became her major feminist concern in the late sixties. She was President of the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women between 1867 and 1870; she also petitioned Cambridge University for special examinations for women. 5

Moberly Bell, Josephine Butler: Flame o f Fire, 52-53. Ibid., 54. 7 Boyd, Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale, 38. 8 Butler, Portrait o fJosephine Butler, 56. 9 Boyd, Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale, 39. 6


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In her first pamphlet published in 1868, The Education and Employment o f Women, she pleaded for higher education and better job opportunities for women; in 1869 she edited a collection of essays entitled Women's Work and Women's Culture, where, although she accepted the home as women's sphere, she defended the right of women to keep legal, political and economic identities outside the family. 10 However, her life would suffer a sudden turn when in 1869, after returning from a holiday, she found a telegram from her friend and feminist, Elizabeth Wolstenholme, asking her to lead the campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts. Before 1866, she had not realised the importance of these Acts which were first passed in 1864, and she felt horrified by them. She went through a period full of doubts, because she felt fear for her family and husband and the consequences they would suffer. She was also conscious of the danger of life in the streets and political campaign amongst the people, and of the anger and contempt that her middle-class peers would bestow on her for her defence of the working-class prostitutes' dignity. Nonetheless, her husband's words were: "Go and the Lord be with you," and she embarked on one of the most important epochs in the history of women• s emancipation. 11

The Contagious Diseases Acts and the Repeal Campaign under Josephine Butler's Leadership of the Ladies' National Association The Repeal Campaign (1870-1886) became Josephine Butler's main concern and all her efforts and those of the LNA were aimed at the abolition of these Acts, the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869, which were discriminatory against women. There were several attempts in England to introduce these Acts. The first attempt was at the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign during the Melbourne ministry, but it was considered inappropriate for a virgin Queen to sign such an Act of Parliament. A second attempt was made during the life of the Prince Consort, but it was known his dislike of the continental system of regulation of prostitution. The last and definite attempt took place after Prince Albert died when finally the Act was passed through Parliament and signed by the Queen. 12 In fact, the first Act of 1864 was passed very quickly and very late in the evening, and just after a series of sanitary Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society, 11 7. Boyd, Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale, 39-40. 12 Butler, Personal Reminiscences o f a Great Crusade, 2. 10


Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association


measures had been taken like the Contagious Diseases Animals Acts, which had also been passed. This meant that very little publicity was made and most people were ignorant of the dimensions and consequences of this kind of regulation. 13 Under the Contagious Diseases Acts, any woman suspected of being a prostitute could be detained by the police and taken to a doctor to undergo a medical examination which was known as "the rape of the speculum." If she was found venereally diseased, she was taken to a special hospital (lock hospital) or ward to be treated till she was cured. Once she was back in health, she was given a certificate which allowed her discharge from hospital and was also subjected to fortnightly regular inspection after 1869. 14 The 1864 Act provided for the certification of hospitals by an inspecting officer, and the police or certain doctors could inform a Justice of the Peace (JP) that a woman was a prostitute and suffered from venereal disease. Once the JP checked that the information was correct, he could order her examination, and, if found diseased, her detention for a maximum of three months. The woman might escape the interrogatory process if she voluntarily submitted to examination. A controversial clause provided penalties for innkeepers, owners of pubs and so on, who allowed their premises to be used by venereally diseased women to work in prostitution. Therefore, these men became police informers, and their practice unofficially tolerated. The Act was to be applied in eleven military towns and seaports, but there had to be a certified hospital within fifty miles. The 1866 Act elevated the number of districts to twelve (the former one had only been applied in four), but it was not until 1870 that the system was in full operation. In every district, a small force of the Metropolitan Police in plain clothes was provided for its application; detention was extended to nine months. The 1869 Act extended its provisions to six more stations, lengthening the maximum period of detention to twelve months, and women could be kept for five days if they were unfit for examination (menstruation). Another novelty was that women were no longer given their certificates of discharge from hospital, and they were held by the police to avoid misuse. 15 Venereal disease was spreading at an alarming pace and was escaping medical treatment. Medical men and civil authorities were in favour of regulation to control prostitution and social disorder, and to contain 13 14 15

Moberly Bell, Josephine Butler: Flame o f Fire, 71. Smith, "The Contagious Diseases Acts Reconsidered," 197. McHugh, Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform, 35-52.


Chapter Nine

promiscuity in British soldiers and the consequences for their families. Most of the Acts' supporters were upper- and middle-class men; also religious and academic authorities were in favour of the Acts, the same as the police. All of them accepted male sexuality and the double standard, because contraception and masturbation were not accepted by Victorian middle-class minds. They accepted prostitution as a vent for men's sexual impulses. 16 In this arena, Josephine Butler was chosen as the leader of the repeal movement by the LNA because she was a mature middle-class woman whose respectability could not be questioned. Most women on the steering board were middle-aged, had no big family burdens, and were married, so they could travel around the country and speak in public on such delicate matters as prostitution, internal examination and venereal disease. Also, as middle-class mothers, they could protect and instruct their fallen workingclass sisters. These women shared religious affiliations as well, and they had moved towards feminism through moral crusades like abolitionism and temperance. 17 Feminists viewed the repeal campaign as part of a larger project which was women's emancipation. They defended female autonomy and [... ] upheld the ideal o f a companionate marriage, one that would involve social as well as spiritual equality between husband and wife. Although fully acknowledging the social value of wifehood and motherhood, they argued nonetheless that these roles did not entirely establish nor exhaust the limits offemale identity. 18

Women's identities began to be defined in terms different from those of mothers and wives. They saw prostitution as the result of the lack of work opportunities for working-class women who had to compete with men in the labour market, without the proper education and experience. Feminists considered the medical examination of prostitutes a degradation which they abhorred. The process was given different names by the women feminists on the LNA like "the rape of the speculum" or "the espionage of enslaved wombs." Medical authorities were called by them "terrible aristocratic doctors" and "male midwives," and they questioned the idea of women prostitutes who were impure and contaminated men. According to them, it was vicious men who polluted women and spread disease. Consequently, a lot of middle-class women 16

Boyd, Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale, 41-42. Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society, 118-124. 18 Ibid., 125. 17

Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association


joined the LNA and did philanthropy work among prostitutes and fallen women. However, the Repeal Campaign was also supported by working-class men and women who really knew how much the Acts were affecting their peers. Josephine Butler knew she would not have the aid of the upperclasses. 19 Besides, the LNA could not trust most middle-class men who were in favour of regulation. The idea behind this behaviour was that upper- and middle-class men recurred to prostitution and wanted the trade to be safe on the one hand, and, on the other, working-class men were appealed by the fact that it was their daughters and sisters who were the victims of these Acts and of male lust. For these upper- and middle-class men, Josephine Butler had really hard words: "Those gentlemen who make such a noise about the necessity of prostitution too often forget, I think that in order to satisfy the necessity the dishonour o f the daughter o f the people is indispensable, for till now none o f the worshippers o f these medical theories have been found ready to declare willingness that their own daughters should be sacrificed. " 20

Not only working-class men but their women and the prostitutes themselves came to the public arena to attend meetings of the LNA throughout the country and to favour a change in the law that would consider them worth protecting and saving. There were two key stages in the Repeal Campaign of the LNA under Josephine Butler's leadership: the Ladies' Manifesto, also called the Women's Protest, of January 1870, and the Royal Commission that ensued in November 1870 and led to Bruce's Bill in 1872; and the Select Committee of the House of Commons which was appointed in 1879 to enquire into the Acts and led first to their suspension in 1883, and then their abolition in 1886. All these deeds put an end to a law which attempted against the rights conferred by the Magna Charta and the Habeas Corpus Act, and which was contrary to English Common Law. Josephine Butler's first step was to visit the subjected areas and to give publicity to the cause making it known to both Houses of Parliament and to the people in general that the women of England were against such discriminatory and unjust measures towards their sex. Therefore, she decided to draw up a Manifesto in which the formation of the LNA was announced and the different arguments against the application of the Acts

19 20

Butler, Portrait o fJosephine Butler, 71-72. Boyd, Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale, 78.


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were included. Many prominent women signed it and it was published in the Daily News and other important papers. 2 1 The Women's Protest contained eight points which were in fact eight reasons put forward by these women to support their petition for the abolition of the CD Acts. They argued that these laws were passed without the knowledge of the country, that they put in danger women's personal security and their reputation and freedom in the hands of the police, and that the offence was not clearly defined. The women signing the Manifesto also argued that only their fallen sisters were punished, and not the men who were responsible for vice and its consequences, making it easier the path of evil and the lack of moral restraint; they considered these measures hard against women as well as the punishments, "violating the feelings of those whose sense of shame is not wholly lost, and further brutalising even the most abandoned." 22 They continued to question the results of the application of the Acts so far and to propose legal measures that attacked the causes of the evil and promoted social reform. After the publication of this Protest, a "Conspiracy of Silence" followed and regulationists began to organise the fight against repealers. For four years nothing regarding abolition was published in the national press. As a consequence, the National Association for abolition created its own newspaper, The Shield, which kept the abolitionists in touch and where Josephine Butler could address her public. 23 In the next few years, from 1870 to 1875, Josephine gave many speeches and published many papers and books to support the Repeal Campaign, like "An Appeal to the People of England," "The Moral Reclaimability of Prostitutes," "On the Duty of Women," "The Constitution Violated," "Sursum Corda," "Letter to my Countrywomen," "Unjust Laws" and "Thoughts on the Present Aspects of the Crusade against State Regulation." In them, she insisted on the possibility of bringing back these fallen women to a decent life of humility, and she showed a deep sympathy for these outcasts who, according to her, had an immense goodness in them. 24 Many resolutions and petitions were made and were sent to Parliament. The repeal movement was advancing very quickly in the North, but more slowly in the South of the country, and the Government finally appointed a Royal Commission of twenty-five members, who represented both sides of the controversy. Josephine Butler gave evidence at this Commission and 21 22 23 24

Moberly Bell, Josephine Butler: Flame o f Fire, 76-78. Butler, Personal Reminiscences o f a Great Crusade, 9-10. Moberly Bell, Josephine Butler: Flame o f Fire, 79-80. Butler, Portrait o fJosephine Butler, 81-85.

Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association


when she was asked about her opinion of how the State could control profligacy, she proposed several measures that were very relevant for the later changes that many laws introduced regarding women. She claimed that the age of consent should be raised above twelve, that both parents were responsible for bastard children, that the laws to control prostitution should be the same for men and women, and that she was convinced that these laws had to disappear because she did not care whether they worked well or badly. 25 She was asked by the Commission to give proof of the instances of abuse that she gave in her speeches, and she was also asked if she really believed that fallen women had any sense of shame and could be redeemed.To this she answered that she found a higher standard of morality in working-class women than in many gentlemen who had recourse to prostitution as a vent for their sexual needs. Josephine showed herself before the Commission clearly arrogant, and her final statement was truly a vindication of the power of God which lay behind their fight. These words were certainly significant and startling: "Allow me to say I should not be doing my duty to myself, nor to that very large association which I represent throughout the country, i f I left your presence without very clearly declaring to you that all o f us who are seeking the repeal o f these Acts are wholly indifferent to the decision o f this Commission ... We have the word of God in our hands, the Law o f God in our consciences. We know that to protect vice in men is not according to the Word o f God ... This legislation is abhorred by the country as a tyranny o f the upper classes against the lower classes, as an injustice practised by men on women, as an insult to the moral sense o f the people." 26

Josephine Butler really believed in the spiritual equality of men and women. For her this equality was based not on biological fact, but upon spiritual principle. That equality was freely given by God, although she also supported the campaign of feminists to obtain the right to vote and education for women. She made the theological principle "the last will be the first, and the first the last" true regarding prostitutes and fallen women as they were welcomed by Christ. She called herself a "fellow sinner" and a "fellow sufferer," considering herself one of her fallen sisters. She tells them: "You can be the friend and companion of Him who came to seek and to save that which was lost. Fractures well healed make us more

25 26

Ibid., 87. Moberly Bell, Josephine Butler: Flame o fFire, 90-91.


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strong. Take off the very stones over which you have stumbled and fallen, and use them to pave your road to heaven. " 27 She really believed that prostitutes could be saved and these words must have sounded really daring and improper to the members of her own class, especially when prostitutes were regarded less than human with no social status by Victorian society. The Report of the Commission was published in July 1871 and it recommended the discontinuance of compulsory medical examination, and that the special police should wear a uniform. It contained conclusions that clearly supported the double standard, like "There is no comparison to be made between prostitutes and the men who consort with them. With the one sex the offence is committed as a matter of gain, with the other it is an irregular indulgence of a natural impulse." 28 Once again, the double standard code of morality was being applied. As a result, the Home Secretary, Mr Bruce, tried to introduce a Bill known as "A Bill for the Prevention of Certain Contagious Diseases Acts and for the Better Protection of Women" or Bruce's Bill in February 1872. The CD Acts were to be repealed, and the age of consent was to be raised from twelve to fourteen; measures would be taken to protect girls, but in fact regulation would be extended to the whole country. Josephine Butler was against this Bill, but it provoked division amongst repealers, being finally withdrawn by Gladstone. 29 Josephine eventually succeeded in convincing the members of the LNA that this Bill was no good substitute for the CD Acts, and again the press began to cover the information concerning the abolitionist movement, giving impulse to the crusade. All these changes led to the second key stage of the campaign with the appointment of a Select Committee in 1879 that was to recommend the retention, extension or abolition of the CD Acts. Josephine Butler was called again as a witness in May 1882. The members of the Committee were fifteen, and only six were clearly against regulation. However, Josephine's testimony was this time much less aggressive, and she could base her arguments for repeal on grounds of morality and justice. Nonetheless, she kept firm and her intervention was impressive once more. 30 The Select Committee produced a Majority Report signed by nine members and a Minority Report signed by six. In the Majority Report, the old positions of the former Royal Commission were maintained, including 27 28 29 30

Boyd, Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale, 77. Moberly Bell, Josephine Butler: Flame o f Fire, 89. Boyd, Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale, 44. Moberly Bell, Josephine Butler: Flame o f Fire, 157-158.

Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association


the defence of the special police, recommending the application of the Acts. On the contrary, the Minority Report under Stansfeld's leadership put forward the case against the Acts in a coherent and comprehensive way. It was now the time for the National Association to lead the campaign throughout the country to press Parliament to hear public opinion in favour of abolition. And the time came in April 1883 when Stansfeld could introduce the motion "That the House disapproves of the compulsory examination of women under the Contagious Diseases Acts," which was approved by Parliament. The so longed-for victory had come.3 1 The CD Acts were at last suspended in 1883 but they could not be repealed till 1886. Josephine Butler took also part in Stead's campaign for the reform of the Criminal Law Amendment Act in his newspaper the Pall Mall Gazette, which would be passed in 1885 to raise the age of consent for boys and girls from thirteen to sixteen. The Bill would also try to control white slavery and child prostitution, and to protect women against procurers and slave-traders. After that, she devoted her last years to her writing and her family, having a life of well-deserved retirement and rest.

Conclusion Throughout this paper, we have seen how Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Disease Acts had a prominent role in the suspension and abolition of these Acts. However, the importance of their campaign resided in the arguments they employed to claim equality between the sexes on a spiritual basis and to construct working-class women's identities in terms different from those that could be found in the middle-class patriarchal discourse of the time. Also, all the abuses committed in the name of morality against women were questioned and put to an end and this was the success of the LNA and other women's associations that fought against the excesses committed against women as the result of discrimination. Working-class prostitutes could have their own decency and be rescued by women like Josephine Butler and the women on the repeal platform because they were their fallen sisters in the eyes of God. The work of women like her and associations like the LNA restored working-class women to respectability and femininity, leaving behind their image as depraved. Both men and women were spiritually equal and had the same right to redemption and salvation. Moreover, prostitutes had to ply their trade because men were the only members of society who had access to 31

Ibid., 159-163.


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the labour market, so they saw poverty and the lack of job opportunities for women as the main causes of prostitution. For them it was obvious that women needed proper education and moral teaching. All the same, they vindicated that these Acts were discriminatory against women as it was them and not men who were subjected to the degradation of examination and considered responsible for the pollution of society and the spread of disease. As a consequence, with the suspension of these Acts first, and their abolition later, women did not have to suffer the humiliation of the "rape of the speculum" and were restored to their dignity. The Repeal campaign was clearly a standpoint in the history of women's emancipation and feminism, questioning traditional concepts of women's sexual identities, and putting the blame on men for the lack of morality and for the keeping of a double standard between the sexes. Also, women's right to education and work was claimed and Josephine Butler became the charismatic leader of this crusade and never accepted this middle-class view of working-class women as without principles and morally inferior to their middle-class sisters. She succeeded in giving them a decent status as women who deserved the respect of their peers and men of the middle-class.

Works Cited Boyd, Nancy. Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale: Three Victorian Women who Changed the World. London: Macmillan, 1982. Butler, Arthur Stanley George. Portrait o f Josephine Butler. London: Faber and Faber, 1954. Butler, Josephine Elizabeth. [1896]. Personal Reminiscences o f a Great Crusade, London: Horace Marshall and Son, 1910. Garner, R. Josephine Butler: A Guide to Her Life, Faith and Social Action. London: Longman and Tod, 2009. Grey Butler, Josephine Elizabeth, George William Johnson and Lucy A. Nutter,. Josephine E. Butler: An Autobiographical Memoir. Bristol: J.W. Arrowsmith, 2009. Jordan, Jane. Josephine Butler. London: John Murray, 2007. McHugh, Paul. Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform. London: Croom Helm, 1980. Moberly Bell, Enid. Josephine Butler: Flame o f Fire. London: Constable and Co. Ltd., 1962.

Josephine Butler and the Ladies' National Association


Nolland, Lisa. A Victorian Christian Feminist: Josephine Butler, the Prostitutes and God (Series in Evangelical History and Thought), Carlile, Cumbria, USA: Paternoster Press, 2005. Smith, F.B. "The Contagious Diseases Acts Reconsidered". Social History o f Medicine, 3 (1990): 197-215. Walkowitz, Judith R. Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.



In the course of the nineteenth century, a number of factors pushed American women to turn to diary-writing. The rising literacy rate, coupled with an emerging middle-class, the stress on sentiments and the idealisation of the Home concurred to present the diary as a privileged medium readily available for a growing number of women. As the century unfolded, personal records were no longer primarily or exclusively endowed with a religious dimension but with an ever-widening range of functions which could be shifting and sometimes contradictory: indeed, writing one's life enabled the diarist to assert her social position, pose as a family historian, look into her soul, express personal thoughts or confide troubling secrets. Because feelings were generally attributed to woman's sphere, and because women were more and more encouraged to express their sentiments, the diary somehow underwent a feminisation process which was particularly visible in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when ready-made notebooks became available on the market. 1 With its growing variety of functions, it could be said that the nineteenth-century diary was in transition: from soul or family-oriented to self-centred, from exemplary to intimate, life writing practices evolved towards an enhanced sense of individuality which the journal intime would later celebrate. Thus, as a genre, the diary became increasingly blurred, for it was neither wholly private nor simply public. In this context, it is relevant to raise the question of the representation of the female body 1 Culley, A Day at a Time, 3-4; Hunter, "Inscribing the Self in the Heart of the Family," 52.

Inscribing the Body


which, in many regards, holds the same complex and ambiguous status as the diary. Both the body and the diary can be compared to open, fragmented, evolving spaces shaped by daily experience. Besides, as a culturally coded surface and a deeply personal sphere, the body, like the diary, challenges the public/private boundaries and has an ambiguous status. This ambiguity could lead diarists to hide or destroy their texts before their deaths when they judged they were too intimate, or adapt them for publication when they deemed they had some public interest. In the same way, women were urged to make their bodies visible and invisible, a paradox which the imposing crinoline perhaps best embodied. Both the female body and women's diary-writing in the nineteenth century have been the objects of intense scrutiny in the wake of the second feminist wave. In particular, historians have explored how nineteenthcentury middle-class women were increasingly identified with the Home and how they became the objects of multiple discourses enhancing their higher morality, physical inferiority and biological complexity. Besides, gender studies have paid attention to the voices of ordinary women and numerous diaries have been published and analysed from a new perspective.2 The diary as a privileged form of female autobiography has also received critical attention, and scholars like Cynthia Huff even argued that the very form of diary-writing partook of a feminist logic. 3 Interestingly enough, however, not much has been written about how women wrote or did not write about their bodies in their diaries. 4 One finds broad statements noting that nineteenth-century women diarists usually eclipse the body, but silence is simply noticed and often interpreted as a 2

In the wake o f the second feminist wave, historians have tried to give visibility to ordinary women's diaries, arguing that the experiences they related contributed to rewriting History. Editing and publishing processes were given new and explicit care in order not to erase the details and repetitions that had previously been expurgated because they were deemed of little interest. See Cline and Goodfriend for annotated bibliographies o f women's diaries; Bunkers and Huff, Inscribing the Daily, for an illuminating critical introduction (1-20); Culley, Franklin Moffat and Painter for anthologies, and Hampsten and Schlissel for Western women's diaries. 3 On the diary as a privileged form o f female autobiography, see Judy Nolte Lensink and Suzanne Bunkers, 1990 and 1993. On the diary as feminine and feminist form, see Rebecca Hogan and Cynthia Huff, 1989. 4 In France, Philippe Lejeune (Le Moi des demoiselles) and Colette Cosnier (Le silence des filles) focus on how young girls in the nineteenth century obliterate their bodies in their diaries. Cosnier in particular includes a chapter on the censored body. Cynthia Huff deals with the representation o f the female body in two articles: "Textual Boundaries: Space in Nineteenth-Century Women's Manuscript Diaries" and "Delivery: the Cultural Representation o f Childbirth."


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side-effect of repression. Thus, not much has been said about the forms, the modes, and the functions of silence in American women's diaries. It seems to me that these issues deserve further inquiry because they enable us to better understand how women adopted and adapted the discourses on gender which marked the nineteenth century. What is striking about that period is that the female body was the target of an increasing range of discourses which, by the 1820s, tended to define more rigidly an ideal type of womanhood, commonly known as "True Womanhood." The "cult of True Womanhood," which exalted cardinal virtues such as piety, submission, domesticity and purity, was primarily aimed at the white, genteel female body, thus implicitly excluding black women and female workers. However, as a social ideology, many American females felt attracted to the idealisation of the Home and the roles attached to it. 5 The discourses on the female body were numerous and varied: medical, scientific, religious, and sentimental voices combined to draw a picture of womanhood which was not exempt from paradox. Indeed, while marriage and motherhood were presented as woman's natural and noble destiny, wives and mothers were not supposed to openly talk about the physical experiences which made that destiny possible: thus, sexuality, menstruation and pregnancy were usually silenced. Likewise, while religious sermons and female magazines glorified woman's moral superiority and extolled her role as guardian of the Home and of the race, medical research made public the mysterious insides of the "Angel in the House" and the womb and ovaries were featured as extremely complex and capricious organs which potentially handicapped their possessors (Smith-Rosenberg 1986 b: 183-184). Whether she was perceived as a disembodied angel or as an "over embodied" animal, woman's true place was said to be in the Home. How did white, middle-class women, those who were the primary targets of such discourses, react to the confusing definitions of their womanhood? How did they compare to the ideal body which had to be pure but fertile, fragile but attractive, inferior but influential? How, in their life-writing practices, did they deal with this central but embarrassing part of their identity? Before answering this question, two important preliminary points must be made. First, we should bear in mind that although women diarists had a compelling idea of gender expectations, they did not automatically feel repressed or oppressed by gender discourses; 5 Welter, "The Cult o f True Womanhood: 1820-1860," 152-174; Lerner, "The Lady and the Mill Girl," 190-191.

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many actually supported them and middle-class women as a group largely contributed to their spread. Rather, we should consider that women's private voices were in constant interaction with public discourses, either through conformation, deviation, adaptation or subversion. Thus, as historian Nancy Theriot aptly says: "sexual ideology is both womanforming and woman-formed" (2). This leads to the second point: in this interactive perspective, the act of diary writing can be seen as an autobiographical project not always explicitly focused on the self as subject but always staging a female body that is the result of a compromise between the cultural construction of womanhood and the personal experience of one's female body. Because the diary is a cultural artefact as well as a privileged space for the immediate recording of experience, it must also be understood as a consensual document. Thus, both the autobiographical body of the diarist and the textual body of the diary are involved in a process of wording and silencing, inscribing and erasing, showing and concealing. This is valid not only for the diaries regularly covering decades of the life of their authors but also for the shorter, more fragmented or factual journals which women decided to begin or end at certain periods of their lives. 6 The study of nineteenth-century women's diaries shows that while marriage and motherhood, as institutions, are freely talked about, sex, menstruation and pregnancy as experiences hardly ever receive direct comments and are either silenced, or obliquely conveyed. Although, as we shall see, each diarist developed a personal way to refer to her body, many diaries use pain as a common language.

The Body in Pain The language of pain is indeed the most widespread and most of the time, it is through the suffering body that women choose to write about menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. This, to some extent, echoes the content of the medical advice books destined to women, which heavily stressed the dangers of the womb's activities. Much of this literature compared the female body to a fragile ship taken in a thirty-year-long storm which began with the upheaval of puberty and ended with the dangerous stage of the menopause (Smith-Rosenberg, 1986b: 184). It is 6 Out of the five diaries chosen for this study, four cover decades of the lives of their authors (Burge, Cabot, Poor, Thomas). Only Samuella Curd's diary is more fragmentary (1860-1863); yet, its writing, which corresponds to the experiences of marriage and motherhood, provides relevant examples of the construction of the autobiographical body.


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not surprising, in this context, that most women expected to feel ill, and adopted the language of disease. Diaries abound in vague adjectives such as "sick" and ''unwell" which often signal some trouble related to the female body. We should also add that, perhaps because pain is one of the rare fields where the virtuous angel and the handicapped animal can unite, suffering was not only considered an inevitable state but sometimes a prestigious activity. Indeed, through the language of pain, women can erase or transcend embarrassing issues while asserting their womanhood and subscribing to the physically fragile ideal. The diary of Samuella (Sam) Curd is quite representative in this respect. Curd was born in Virginia but after her marriage in 1860, she followed her husband and settled in Missouri. The separation from her family was all the harder to bear as the Civil War broke out and confined her in a state which supported the Union. As the diary unfolds, she increasingly uses her journal to express and disguise her feelings of estrangement, both from her community and from the gender role assigned to her. Pious, submissive and domestic, Curd tried hard to model her life on the ideal of True Womanhood but her diary reveals that she did not always feel up to her domestic tasks and, above all, that she dreaded motherhood. This is the entry she wrote on discovering that she was pregnant: I feel so terribly gloomy, this evening came thoughts in connection with the future almost overwhelm one, Oh! that I might become reconciled to my fate. I feel as i f I never could, I know it is wrong, I have so many blessings such a good home and kind husband who is never ceasing in his goodness to me and the best o f friends. Oh! that I might have the future in the hands o f an all wise creator, feeling that he will do best for me. All kinds of dark forbodings (sic) crowd into my mind this evening. I don't feel as i f I could express my feelings to a mortal and only write to try and find relief. Oh! God help me! (February 22,1861) 7

Curd, who never mentions her pregnant body, laments her "fate," feels guilty, and reduces her voice to an onomatopoeic cry: the recurrence of "Oh!" punctuating the passage reflects a dissonance which characterises the whole diary. Until she safely gives birth to a daughter, we notice that Sam frequently mentions ailments whose causes are not specified but whose consequences are scrupulously noted: thus, she often writes that she is compelled to "lie in bed." What is striking is that the frequency of her


Curd, Sam Curd's Diary: the Diary o f a True Woman, n. p.

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diseases does not increase during her pregnancy but decreases once she has become a busy mother caring for her sick husband. It seems therefore that her diary used suffering and confinement to bed as a mode which enabled her to express dissatisfaction, lack of purpose, and to temporarily abscond from domestic duties while apparently cautioning female weakness. So, in a way, this diary illustrates the potentially subversive function of suffering which some women invalids exploited and which Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has studied in relation to hysteria. 8 Sam Curd's diary, like many others, shows us that staging the body in pain must be understood both as a therapeutical act and a discursive strategy. Staging suffering is also connected to the experience of childbirth which receives the highest degree of direct verbalisation, probably because it is a sort of ritual involving public recognition. It is striking to notice that many diaries offer a sort of stereotyped birth tale, following a common pattern. Curd's account is representative: I felt badly and had, had (sic) pains during the night and day, they grew worse, after dinner I sent for cousin Mary who was up stairs and asked her what she thought o f the case, she said I was going to be sick so I made my plans for it, sent for Mrs Mc Kinney and cousin Mary and later for Dr. Abbott. About supper I was taken sick with sick stomache (sic), which lasted all night only ceasing while the pains were on me. I was not relieved until half past 5 o'clock in the morning at which hour the baby was born. I had heard all say there was suffering but the half had not been told. (August 24, 1862)9

We notice that the event is presented in a factual way, with time and space references, the weight and size of the new born, and the names of the persons attending (usually female members of the family, friends and/or a doctor). Besides these objective details, we usually find a subjective comment centred on the degree of pain experienced. Most women emphasised the power of pain, partly because it was collectively valued as a sort of female martyrdom which also underlined love for one's offspring. The crushing power of the physical pain of childbirth is often expressed through the recurrent use of the passive form ("I was taken sick" acting as a set phrase), and diarists often describe themselves as helpless suffering bodies deprived of adequate speech to relate the experience. Thus, Curd lacked words to describe the unspeakable pain of confinement. 8 Smith-Rosenberg, "The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America," 208. 9 Curd, Sam Curd's Diary: the Diary o f a True Woman, n. p.


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Interestingly enough, this shows that although pain can be used as a language in diaries, the language of pain cannot be fully mastered. 10 Although many women staged the power of pain in childbirth, some preferred to emphasise their control of pain. This was the case of the women who wished to construct a version of birth tales in which they were not the passive but the active centre. The diary of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, who left a voluminous forty-year span journal relating her life from childhood to old age, is very telling in this respect. Ella belonged to the aristocratic elite of Georgia's planter class; she was a typical Southern Belle but she received an uncommonly high education and evolved from planter's wife to woman's rights activist towards the end of her life. She married in 1852 and had ten children. Among many other functions, her very rich diary enabled her to inscribe her experiences of childbirth. For her sixth child, she decided to take chloroform, which had started being used by some women after the 1840s. One is struck by the degree of control emanating from this entry: On Monday Morning [ ... ] I was feeling badly and was lying on the couch in the nursery reading an interesting volume descriptive of America by Charles Mackay -an Englishman- the morning was quite cold and we had a fire, the children amusing themselves popping corn. I was taken sick as I always am -in no pain whatever- I immediately wrote a note for ma and Aunt Tinsey to come over and sent in to town for Dr Joe Eve [ ... ] My mode of being sick certainly has some advantages. It gives me time to prepare and a physician to be with me[ ... ] I took chloroform for the first time and was pleased with the result [... ] Ma, who is afraid of it did not apply it as often as Dr Eve told her to [... ] At one time after one inhalation everything became indistinct. I appeared to see Dr Eve who was just before me as tho (sic) in a dream [... ] A feeling of lightness which I cannot describe (sic) came over me. At the same time I was conscious enough to tell ma to "take it away" [... ] its effect in lulling pain is magical [ ... ] I have read Bayard Taylor's description of eating hasheesh (sic) and de Quincy's (sic) Opium Eater, but they, neither of them, describe (sic) more wonderful things than I have dreamed o f[ ... ] (July 24, 1863) 11

It is clear here that the diarist does not reduce herself to a helpless suffering body; she uses the cliche "I was taken sick" but actively controls 10 This probably accounts for the onomatopoeic mode that can be found in Curd's and in many women's diaries. For a fascinating analysis of the language of pain and of the impossibility to verbalize pain, see Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain (323). 11 Thomas, The Secret Eye, n. p.

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the process. Her experience of chloroform lifts the divine punishment and transforms God's curse into a magical experience (ironically, it is delivered by a Dr Eve). Ella is more curious than afraid about the effect of the drug, contrary to her mother who had never used it. Besides, she stages herself as a bright, educated mother, reading books and occasionally giving a critical account of them. In this entry, Ella keeps the traditional elements of the birth tale, listing the persons attending and describing the practical organisation of the event; however, she pays an uncommon amount of attention to her own reaction and participation. This testimony, which contradicts some twentieth-century feminist claims that anaesthesia created complete passivity, indicates that the diarist means to construct an autobiographical body which can conquer pain and yet claim its womanhood. 12 This mastered script of the birth tale, which seems to herald Ella's subsequent commitment to feminism, also reflects her constant wish to author and control her diary. Tom between her need to confide embarrassing facts (mainly her husband's infidelity and addiction to alcohol) and her wish to transmit her journal, her entries sometimes take on mysterious overtones and mention an unspeakable secret through a short poem which appears three times between 1855 and 1870. There are some thoughts we utter not Deep treasured in our innermost hearts Ne'er revealed and ne'er forgot. 13

This poem works as code and is an example of how coding may partake of the compromise enacted by the diary. It is part of the broad phenomenon called encoding which women diarists frequently resorted to, especially when they dealt with issues related to sexuality and pregnancy.

12 Rich, O f Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, 158. Adrienne Rich, for example, wrote that "[ ... ] in the nineteenth century, the possibility o f eliminating 'pain and travail' created a new kind o f prison for women -the prison o f unconsciousness, of numbed sensations, o f amnesia, and complete passivity." 13 These lines, by the Georgian poet Richard Henry Wilde, appear on November 4, 1852; June 2, 1855; June 26, 1856 and January 10, 1870. On June 26, 1856, Ella underlined the last words, "ne'er forgot." Thomas, The Secret Eye, n. p.


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Encoding the Body Suzanne Bunkers defines encoding "as the transmission of the writer's message in an oblique rather than in a direct manner." 14 "For a woman writing in a diary," Bunkers says, "encoding can take a variety of syntactic or semantic forms, including [... ] sentence fragments, ellipses, neologisms, or even a sophisticated code of visual symbols." 15 Diaries, indeed, offer a wide array of codes whose nature and functions vary according to the situation of the authors and the status of their texts. It is also relevant to stress the importance of the spatial positions that the codes occupy. While some coded elements appear in the linear flow of the entries, others are found in the textual periphery, in a physical margin which contains the silenced body. Let us focus on two examples of intra and paratextual coding, related to the experience of sexuality. As the experience of sex is usually silenced in diaries, when it is echoed in the body of the text, diarists often resort to transpositions and metaphors. For example, talking about her honeymoon, Elizabeth Mason Cabot, an upper-class Bostonian lady, offers a sensual description of the landscape and relies on Biblical images, taken from the Book of Revelation: Chestnut Hill is a cosy little place [ ... ] Wednesday rained all day, and I was grateful to pass it in entire rest. Walter read to me and the peace was heavenly. Since, we have had rain at night and showers, making the country radiant, the air delicious as that as paradise. [... ]we walk, we read aloud, we talk, we take deep draughts of rich heavenly life and joy and love [... ] today is more beautiful than any yet [ ... ] my past life seems a dream [... ] a new heaven and a new earth are indeed created for me and they fill my soul. (June 11, 1860) 16

Another way of inscribing sexuality is through non verbal codes. The diary of Mary Pierce Poor, yet another upper-class Bostonian, provides an excellent example of paratextual coding. Mary Pierce Poor had illustrious friends like Ralph W. Emerson and Margaret Fuller, and she bathed in the atmosphere of reforms that pervaded the nineteenth century. In 1841, she married a rich business man with whom she had seven children. She kept a journal for sixty-five years, in the shape of small-sized printed agendas with a yearly calendar on the inside front page and a limited space allotted for each day. As the reduced format reflects, Poor did not intend her diary 14

Bunkers, "Midwestern Diaries and Journals," 194. Ibid., 194. 16 Cabot, More than Common Powers o f Perception, n. p. 15

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to be a confidant. It was mainly valued for its recording function of factual data and the text is indeed essentially shaped by the mentions of births, deaths, visits and trips. However, one notices that the diary also records the rhythm of her female body through a system of codes inscribed either in the calendar or on the edges of the pages, usually on the binding side. Poor used crosses (+) to signal her menstrual periods and the sign "x" to record her sexual relations. Such a document is not only precious for the understanding of sexual behaviour and contraception in Victorian America; it also tells us a lot about the representation of the sexual body as opposed to the social body. The material configuration of Poor's diary epitomises the dichotomy public/ private by fragmenting the diarist's body and evacuating the intimate life of the diarist from the authorised textual space of her journal. The notebooks were meant for transmission and no comment makes explicit connections between the textual linearity of the entries and the marginal web of symbols which was meant to remain a discreet and implicit coding. Obviously, the coding was meant to enable Mary to control her fertility. However, control may not have been the only motive since the coding of sexual relations is used well after the menopause. Thus, it is likely that this enigmatic inscription of the female body also contained an erotic dimension. 17 The diary of Dolly Lunt Burge is a case in point for exploring the variety of codes at play in the inscription of the sexual and pregnant body, as well as the function of those codes in the construction of the diary as a transmissible autobiographical document. When she began writing on February 6, 1848, Dolly had already lost a first husband as well as her three children. She was from Maine but had been living for six years in Georgia where she worked as a schoolteacher. Her diary reflected her deep Methodist faith and served a number of functions: it was initially intended to record her daily activities and fathom her soul, but it also helped her express conflicting emotions when a local planter proposed. In her own words, her diary was meant to "record incidents, thoughts, feelings, trifles and gather the fragments so that nothing is lost" (February 6, 1848). 18 From February 1848 to June 1849, she filled her book with short, regular entries; then, a blank page appears and the next entry reads:

17 For the analysis o f Poor's journal, see Janet Farrell Brodie, Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America (9-37). My own consultation o f the manuscript at the Schlesinger library enabled me to locate the spatial positions of the codes. 18 Burge, The Diary o fDolly Lunt Burge, 1848-1879, n. p.

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Madison, Dec. 29 th 1849, I have turned over from the other page. Not that time has been a blank altogether to me for very many things of deep interest have occurred but O I feel it wrong to write what I now have to say. Little did I think when I penned the last that when I next wrote I should soon be the betrothed of another. 19

This blank page, which can read as silence, break and transition, is part of the textual body of the diary. Feeling guilty about her new relation, Dolly does not dare inscribe it in the linearity of a journal authored so far by a grieving mother and widow. Thus, the constructed gap reveals, as well as it evacuates, the sexual body of Dolly who is about to remarry. Inscription through evacuation can take other forms in Dolly's diary as she is faced with painful pregnancies, one of which resulting in the birth of a still born. When she refers to her pregnancies, she uses two enigmatic phrases written in incorrect French. je ne pas la enfin en la couche (June 7, 1850) je ne enfin (December, 1850) 20

''je ne pas la enfin en la couche" appears to indicate that she is not pregnant while "je ne enfin" points to pregnancy. The first encrypted phrase is located just under a dotted line which appears as yet another symbolical gap in the text since it is very likely that the dots signal bleeding. So we see that the blank page, the enigmatic formulas and the dotted line refer to the sexual or pregnant body which cannot be freely verbalised. Typically, Dolly makes very few direct comments about her pregnancies. One of them is alluded to in three out of the twenty entries covering this period:

2 3

19 20

Last day of March feel well continues rainy everything looks like making crop. (March 31, 1851) Not well to day, but have made pillow slips (April 9, 1851) After a rainy night it has cleared away pleasant andwarm indeed it is warmer than any day we have had I think. The season is very backward though we have had no severe weather yet we have had none that was warm three nights this week we have had a slight frost -My own health is good but chronic complaints are very troublesome how it will end with me I cannot tell. God only knows. Let the result be what it may

Ibid., n. p. Ibid., n. p.

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be. May I be prepared to meet it-have made four pairs of pants this week one each day-thus far. (April 24, 1851) 2 1

At that point, Dolly is about four months pregnant but the fact is never clearly stated. Instead, one finds again the shadow of the sick body. A striking feature is that the diarist seems to drown references to her body in a flow of casual remarks about the weather, the crops and her daily activities. In the third entry, in particular, we notice that the passage evoking her health is placed between hyphens and surrounded by a host of factual details, as though her pregnant body was at once immersed and insulated. One feels that the rhythm of the diary deliberately follows a temporal, seasonal, objective pace which at once evacuates and reflects the intimate, biological rhythm of the pregnant body. Her pregnant body, like the weather, is shifting, uncertain, out of control. Only God knows and resignation is presented as the only acceptable alternative. So we see that Dolly's encoding of her female body through silences, blanks, enigmatic formulas and dotted lines reflects her wish to construct a disembodied, acceptable autobiographical subject. Although she had claimed to gather the fragments so that "nothing is lost," she seems to scatter, hide and disguise the fragments of her sexual and pregnant body in order to construct a purified and transmissible version of marriage and motherhood. In many diaries, the female body acts like an invisible centre discreetly shaping the text, so that the reader gets the impression that diarists write "around" rather than about their bodies. However, pain and powerlessness do not sum up the complex inscription of the body for control and pleasure can also be found. More generally, the space of the diary and its margins enable women to test the language, adapt the discourses and inscribe their own gender scripts in inventive ways. By designing their own codes and shaping the textual bodies of their diaries, women ensured the visibility of their texts without altogether making their bodies invisible. This indicates that silence and the many oblique ways diarists used to inscribe their bodies can be interpreted as ways of exercising a sense of authorship. Thus, it is not so much as repressed women but rather as inventive authors that nineteenth-century diarists should be seen.


Ibid., n. p.


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Works Cited Primary Sources Burge, Dolly Lunt. The Diary o f Dolly Lunt Burge, 1848-1879. Ed. Christine Jacobson Carter. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1997. Cabot, Elizabeth Rogers Mason. More than Common Powers o f Perception: the Diary o f E.R Mason Cabot. Ed. P.A.M Taylor. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991. Curd, Samuella. Sam Curd's Diary: the Diary o f a True Woman. Ed. Susan S. Arpad. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 1984. Poor, Mary Pierce. Journals, 1841-1906. Poor Family Papers. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College. Thomas, Ella Gertrude Clanton. The Secret Eye: The Journal o f Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889. Ed. Virginia Ingraham Burr. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Secondary Sources Brodie, Janet F. Abortion and Contraception in Nineteenth-Century America. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994. Bunkers, Suzanne L. "What Do Women Really Mean? Thoughts on Women's Diaries and Lives." In The Intimate Critique, Autobiographical Literary Criticism, ed. by Olivia Frey, 207-221. Durham: Duke UP, 1993. - . "Subjectivity and Self-Reflexivity in the Study of Women's Diaries as Autobiography." alb: Auto/biography Studies 6.2 (Fall 1990):114-124. - . "Midwestern Diaries and Journals: What Women Were (Not) Saying in the Late 1800's." In Studies in Autobiography, ed. by James Olney, 190-210. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988. Bunkers, Suzanne L. and Cynthia A. Huff, eds. Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women's Diaries. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996. Cline, Cheryl. An Annotated Bibliography o f Women's Diaries, Journals and Letters. New York: Garland Pub., 1989. Culley, Margo, ed. A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature o f American Women From 1764 to the Present. New York: Feminist Press, 1985. Franklin, Penelope, ed. Private Pages: Diaries o f American Women, 1830's-1970's. New York: Ballantine, 1986. Goodfriend, Joyce D. The Published Diaries and Letters o f American

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Women: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G. K Hall and Co., 1987. Hampsten, Elizabeth, ed. Read This Only to Yourself: The Private Writings o f Midwestern Women, 1880-1910. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. Hogan, Rebecca. "Engendered Autobiographies: the Diary as Feminine Form." In Autobiography and Questions o f Gender, ed. by Shirley Neuman, 95-107. London: Frank Cass, 1991. Huff, Cynthia. "Textual Boundaries: Space in Nineteenth-Century Women's Manuscript Diaries." In Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women's Diaries, ed. by Suzanne L. Bunkers and Cynthia A. Huff, 123-138. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996. - . "Delivery: the Cultural Representation of Childbirth." In Autobiography and Questions o f Gender, ed. by Shirley Neuman, 109121. Portland, Oregon: Frank Cass, 1991. - . "That Profoundly Female and Feminist Genre: the Diary as Feminist Praxis." Women's Studies Quarterly 17.3-4 (Fall-Winter 1989): 6-14. Hunter, Jane. "Inscribing the Self in the Heart of the Family: Diaries and Girlhood in Late Victorian America." American Quarterly 44.1 (March 1992): 51-81. Lejeune, Philippe. Le Moi des demoiselles. Paris: Seuil, 1993. Lensink, Judy Nolte. "The Diary as Female Autobiography." In 'A Secret to be Buried': the Life and Diary o f Emily Hawley Gillespie, 18581888, ed. by Judy Nolte Lensink, 378-395. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1989. Lerner, Gerda. "The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson, 1800-1840." In A Heritage o f Her Own, ed. by Nancy Cott and Elizabeth Pleck, 182-196. New York: Touchstone, 1979. Moffat, Mary Jane, and Charlotte Painter, eds. Revelations: Diaries o f Women. New York: Vintage Books, 1974. Rich, Adrienne. O f Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. London: Virago, 1991. Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking o f the World. New York: Oxford UP, 1985. Schlissel, Lillian, ed. Women's Diaries o f the Western Journey. New York: Schocken Books, 1982. Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. "The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America." In Disorderly Conduct: Visions o f Gender in Victorian America, ed. by Carroll Smith-


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Rosenberg, 197-216. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. - . "Puberty to Menopause: The Cycle of Femininity in NineteenthCentury America." In Disorderly Conduct: Visions o f Gender in Victorian America, ed. by Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, 182-196. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. Theriot, Nancy. Mothers and Daughters: the Biosocial Construction o f Femininity. Westpoint, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1988. Welter, Barbara. "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860." American Quarterly 18 (Summer 1966): 151-174.


As critics and readers agree on pointing out, London turns into an inspiring force and a creative principle for the British writer Virginia Woolf. Throughout her life and in her writings, Woolf shows her fascination for the modem and urban landscape of London, which becomes a constant motif in her novels and essays. Furthermore, Woolf is to the eyes of a number of critical voices like Christine Wick Sizemore the first urban woman writer, and a forerunner for other women writers at the end of the twentieth century like Doris Lessing, Margaret Drabble, Iris Murdoch, P.D. James, or Maureen Duffy, who decide to portray the city with a place for women in their writings.2 This paper analyses the publication of six essays by Virginia Woolf under the collective title The London Scene (1931, 1932) as a model sample of Woolf's urban literary production, and most remarkably as a tourist guide of the city of London addressed to women. The serialised publication of these essays-"The Docks of London," "Oxford Street Tide," "Great Men's Houses," "Abbeys and Cathedrals," "This is the House of Commons" and "Portrait of a Londoner"-from December 1931 to December 1932 in Good Housekeeping magazine, aimed to a middleclass female readership, establishes the tone of the series. The magazine 1 This essay partially results from my research for the volume Virginia Woolfy el ensayo modernista sobre Landres: The London Scene (2009), and explores in further detail some of the arguments hinted there. 2 Sizemore, A Female Vision o f the City o f London in the Novels o f Five British Women, 5.


Chapter Eleven

becomes the ideal medium to portray a London connected with Woolf's female gaze and reveals women's experience in the city. Thus, Woolf, as the perfect tourist guide, takes Good Housekeeping female readers on a tour that starts on the docks, continues through the monumental and commercial areas, until it reaches the houses of cultural icons like Carlyle or Keats, or the house of a fictional Mrs Crowe. In such a tour, a feminist perspective of the city prevails. The London delineated by Woolf, shows hints of an active female presence that subverts and broadens the traditional portrait of a maleexclusive city. In fact, the writer does not hesitate in attributing the female gender to London, as she does explicitly in her draft "London" in 1903: "London it must be confessed, is like a Lady whom one surprises in her dressing gown; she is not at her best." 3 Nevertheless, it must be noticed that, in the case of Virginia Woolf, an evolution regarding her representation of the city can be detected, from her observation of London as a masculinised space, to its configuration as a space that can reflect female experience as Susan Merrill Squier argues: "From her early view of the city as male territory often hostile to women, Woolf deepened her perspective to include an appreciation of the city's power to embody women's experience." (1985: 7). In these urban essays under consideration, as in some others, together with the existence of the jlaneur and the jlaneuse, and closely related to these figures that are defined for the first time by Baudelaire in "Le peintre de la vie modem" (1863) as consumers of urban experience in itself and daily impressions, Woolf incorporates into her essays another significant figure that was emerging in her contemporary society: the tourist. Walter Benjamin was one of the first critical voices to study in detail this urban figure of the jlaneur in his works Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era o f High Capitalism (1969) and The Arcades Project (1982). Benjamin links this concept to the consumer society as the jlaneur surrenders to "the intoxication of the commodity around which surges the stream of customers. "4 Whereas Benjamin focused on a male jlaneur, soon feminist criticism would conjecture about the invisibility of women in the literature of the city like Janet Wolff's "The Invisible Fliineuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity" (1990) or Elizabeth Wilson's The Contradictions o f Culture: Cities, Culture, Women (2001). Parsons contends that there is an equivalent active female figure in the city in literature since the nineteenth century (38): the jlaneuse or the passante. 5 3

Woolf, A Passionate Apprentice, 210. Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, 55. 5 Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis, 72.


A London for Them


Although, as James Buzard asserts, tourism and travelling became consolidated as a leisure option throughout the nineteenth century, it is in the twentieth century when such activity became institutionalised. Thus, tourism started to be regulated and became part of the economy of a country, especially after the Great War: Establishing official means to solicit and organize tourist traffic, European nations after the Great War signalled their willingness to organize themselves, to array a part of their economies and their cultural selfrepresentations according to the presumed or inferred interests of foreign visitors. They began a collaboration with transport and travel agencies to stimulate and reward tourist demand, thus tightening that circle of tourist expectations and responses which had been the subject of much wary nineteenth-century comment. 6 The male and female tourists are cultural consumers and own the peculiarity of offering a retired vision from the urban reality that they contemplate as external observers. In this way, the figure of the tourist offers a fresh and distant vision of the city as outsider. Similarly, this is a position in which women have found themselves-as "the other"-for years as regards society and public life. This is a traditionally masculinised space shaped by a patriarchal society in which Woolf finds herself, as she confesses in her diary when she gathers her impressions about the quick and condensed rhythm of life in London from the confessed perspective of someone who is out of life in the city: "The ease and rapidity of life in London a good deal impressed me-everything near at hand, to be compassed between lunch and tea, without setting out and making a job of it. [ ... ] I seeing it all much componed and in perspective swing to my outsider's vision" 7• Besides, Woolf's entries describing her strolls throughout the streets of London in which the spirit of the tourist-explorer is present are numerous. Correspondingly, as a woman writer, Woolf seems to stand aside from literary convention, considering herself an outsider or a figure on the margins, despite her well-to-do social status, as stated by Squier: "Despite her origins in the British intellectual aristocracy as the daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen, and despite her membership in the generation rebelling against their high Victorian precursors, for much of her life Woolf felt an outsider from the intellectual realm that was London." 8 For this reason, Sizemore assesses Woolf's marginality Buzard, The Beaten Track, 332. Woolf, Diary 2, 55. 8 Squier, "Virginia Woolf's London and the Feminist Revision of Modernism," 104.

6 7


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exclusively in gender terms, and chooses to designate her role as that of an "outsider-within:" "It is this 'outsider-within' standpoint in which she combines insider status in terms of class and outsider status in terms of gender [... ]." 9 Some of the early sketches and essays by Woolf already offer a first approximation to an outer vision of London from the eyes of the tourist. This is the case of reviews like "The Stranger in London" 10 (1908) in which the very title itself is highlighting the foreigner's perspective as outsider, alienated from London reality, and a stranger in the city, as opposed to a Cockney Londoner's perspective. In this review the writer favours the distant but fresh and sensitive vision of the visitor, who stares at London at its finest with the hustle and bustle so characteristic of the capital city, as an evocation of the continuous movement and change that Woolf emphasises as central attributes of London in The London Scene: Each traveller exclaims at the size o f London, its uproar, its multitudes, its incongruities. [... ].Each takes a drive through the streets and is bewildered and exhilarated by the innumerable types which pour through the narrow channels, always moving, always changing, and giving off a perpetual uproar. Each marvels at the dexterity o f the newsboys, and at the majesty o f the policemen. They visit the City, the Tower, Greenwich, and show themselves sensitive, as only foreigners are, to the imprisonments and executions which have taken place there. 11

Woolf also enhances the monumental and touristic areas like Oxford Street, Kensington Gardens or Piccadilly, that attract foreign visitors and still captivate Londoners themselves, and she draws a picture of a London conditioned by the urban development throughout history, which has turned into a immense city, full of contrasts and tendencies before the eyes of the tourist: They find a perpetual fascination in the sight o f the immense town which has gone on growing for so many centuries, absorbing whole worlds and finding space for them, adding impartially, splendid buildings and mean ones, and holding the tumult together by some central hear of its own. 12


Sizemore, "The 'Outsider-Within'," 61. Review o f Londoner Skizzenbuch (19--) by A. von Rutari (Arthur Levi) and of Landres comme j e l'ai vu, texte et dessins par Charles Huard (1908) for Times Literary Supplementin July 1908. 11 Woolf, Essays 1, 201. 12 Ibid., 202. 10

A London for Them


Furthermore, Woolf will also favour a portrait of London depicted in the mind of the true Londoner, as reviews like "London Revisited" 13 (1916) prove: "But each Londoner has a London in his mind which is the real London, some denying the right of Bayswater to be included, others of Kensington; and each feels for London as he feels for his family, quietly but deeply, and with a quick eye for affront." 14 Thus, every author's and every reader's mind choose a personal London, the one that ends up captured in the text. In fact, the city, as Woolf asserts, can generate varied opinions. Significantly enough, the essay "Street Haunting: A London Adventure" (1927) already presents the clear layout of a sensory London open to be walked by a woman, who, in this case, is Woolf herself turned into a jlaneuse. The writer does not hesitate in highlighting how London streets, crowded with native and foreign masses, can offer great advantages for women: the possibility of impersonality and anonymity that women long for in the city, which allows them to go into it freely-a privilege that the tourist experiments inherently: "We are no longer quite ourselves. As we step out of the house on a fine evening between four and six, we shed the self our friends know us by and become part of the vast republican army of anonymous trampers, whose society is so agreeable after the solitude of one's own room." 15 There is no doubt that Woolf uses these early sketches and some more mature essays to start delineating a first draft of London as a space inhabited by women and a suitable tourist destination for them, a portrait that Woolf will consolidate in The London Scene. The essays in the series The London Scene appeared for the first time published in the women magazine Good Housekeeping-founded by William Randolph Hearst-from December 1931 to December 1932, in serialised form and by specific request. Good Housekeeping magazine was and still is a publication addressed to a middle-class female readership to a certain extent. It supported women's incorporation to social and public life and the labour market, though not neglecting yet domestic labour and housework, understood as female-exclusive, which still submitted women's role to the private sphere of the house, where she would be in charge of the household and the family. In fact, Jeanette McVicker observes this side of a magazine in tune with Victorian values and conventions but in transformation: 13 Review of London Revisited by E.V. Lucas (1916) published in Times Literary Supplement. 14 Woolf, Essays 2, 50. 15 Woolf, Collected Essays 4, 155.


Chapter Eleven Obviously the name of this periodical invokes the old private sphere o f the Victorian house, together with its ideal o f womanhood and family and its dependence for entertainment on exotic fictional locales o f the imperialist Project. But it is definitely a house in the process o f transformation into one befitting the emerging disciplinary society. 16

This magazine included different sections on fiction and special articles, among which Woolfs essays could be found, and other sections where issues on cooking, home, fashion, health and beauty were discussed and which integrated, for instance, advertising of household electrical appliances such as electric cookers, irons-designed to make women's life at home easier-or of beauty products like creams or corsets. Curiously enough, among such contents, women fiction and essays like those by Victoria Sackville-W est, Rebecca West, or Virginia Woolf herself had a place, together with articles devoted to women like the series "Ladies of Letters" by Mary Craik. All these details were proof of the affinity of the publication for Woolf and her ideology, especially as regards women. Woolf wrote these essays for the magazine by specific request, therefore, there can be no doubt that the writer had in mind the medium of publication and its ideology when she wrote them. Nevertheless, the pleasant tone that Woolf had to display could even exasperate her, as shown in a letter to Ethel Smith: "I'm being bored to death by my London articles - pure brilliant description-six of them-and not a thought for fear of clouding the brilliancy; and I have had to go all over the Thames, port of London, in a launch, with the Persian Ambassador-but that I liked-I don't like facts, though" (Letters 4 301). In spite of enjoying creative freedom, Woolf took into consideration the condition of the magazine and its well-off middle-class female consumers, and partially adapted her essays to the medium. A proof of this, as Squier argues in her analysis, is the deletion of excessively critical fragments of the essay "The Docks of London" (1983: 490-491). Woolf presents her essays in Good Housekeeping magazine under the pretext of a kind tourist guide or urban travelogue, suggesting an entertaining, attractive and even alternative tour of the most touristic and representative landmarks of the city like Oxford Street, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul Cathedral, the House of Commons, Carlyle's and Keats's house museums, although combined with some other less attractive and less known areas such as the docks, small churches or Mrs Crowe's anonymous house. However, under the appearance of an entertaining reading and a kind tone addressed to Good Housekeeping female readers, 16

Mc Vicker, "'Six Essays on London Life'," 159.

A London for Them


lies hidden the complex portrait of a modernist London which exposes an interesting feminist and social criticism. In this sense, Squier claims that Woolf subverts the travelogue in order to communicate her own message of gender and social nature: "Moreover, at their best the "London Scene" essays subvert the often complacent genre of the urban travelogue to portray gender and class relations." (1985: 52). All this leads us to conclude that the adaptation of the essays to the medium is consciously made on purpose, as employing a mask which hides truly critical essays, although retrained by these specific circumstances. This tourist guide of London already provides a specific global and very personal meaning that throws light on the traditional discourse of the city. As mentioned above, the essays in The London Scene have the appearance of a tourist guide, but at the same time Woolf includes fictional elements which bring these essays closer to the short story genre. As regards the consideration of Woolf's essays as a tourist guide, urban travelogue or tour book, Defoe can be identified as a precursor of the subgenre for his contribution to its development and consolidation as Richard Lehan alleges: "In creating a narrative that relies heavily on a sense of place and of individual development, Defoe was consolidating various kinds of subgenres, such as the tour book, [... ]. But what is most important to see that this new sense of human and individual destiny was inextricably connected with the city and the new commercial order." 17 Therefore, it is no coincidence that Woolf includes her essay "Defoe"where the praise of this classic author prevails-in The Common Reader: First Series (1925). Woolf exhibits and celebrates a London that is alive and sensual, poetic and emotional, dynamic and tumultuous, full of urban elements, symbols of modernity and in a continuous transformation, a city where, as Woolf records, the English language has changed: "Even the English language has adapted itself to the needs of commerce." 18 In order to delineate such a portrait of London, the writer engages in superposing static images, evoking permanence and images that suggest an inexorable renovation. The true character of London is extracted from the mixture of static buildings and historical monuments on the one hand, and factories and industrial works at the docks or the consumerism of commercial streets and ordinary people on the other hand. In "The Docks of London" Woolf reflects this blending concisely: "Domes swell; church spires, white with age, mingle with the tapering, pencil-shaped chimneys of factories. One hears the roar and the resonance of London itself." 19 Lehan, The City in Literature, 33. Woolf, TheLondon Scene, 22. 19 Ibid., 16. 17



Chapter Eleven

At the same time, this is not an aesthetic London exclusively, since Woolf manages to trace a human portrait of London, based in everyday plural activity. Woolf, through the eyes ofthejliineuse narrator, guides us through the essays in a peculiar social demand to consider marginal elements part of the city and displays a female configuration of the city. Julian Wolfreys already identified the aesthetic, economic and social background that the portrait of the city exhibited as soon as in the 18 th and 19 th centuries: London fortuitously becomes the space-it names the taking p l a c e - a t the end o f the eighteenth century and the beginning o f the nineteenth century, where issues of aesthetics, textuality, power, economics and the discourse o f class come to be intricately mapped and most powerfully focused in the writing o f the period in a particularly forceful fashion. 20

In this respect, Woolf, as Squier confirms, employs a ''urbanism of the margins" that allows her to praise the marginal over the alreadyestablished: "a representation of the city that strategically decenters it, reframing as central what has previously been seen as marginal." 2 1 The London Scene reveals a vision of London which brings to light relevant elements of the city from a new gender perspective and stresses previously unnoticed aspects. The fact that Woolf grants prominence to the ordinary, as thejliineuse and guide of this tour gives evidence of this occasional masked feminist and social critique, that must adequate to the medium of publication and its readership. Thus, Woolf selects some apparently aesthetically unattractive areas like the docks in "The Docks of London," or areas which are not among the most exclusive as hypothetically in the case of Oxford Street in the essay "Oxford Street Tide:" "Oxford Street, it goes without saying, is not London's most distinguished thoroughfare. Moralists have been known to point the finger of scorn at those who buy there, and they have the support of the dandies." 22 In these two essays Woolf brings us the beauty of everyday life in two areas which are originally introduced as "marginal" showing hints of her sympathy with the marginal and alternative, and women and outsider. Therefore, Woolf transforms beforehand unpleasant scenes in the docks, with its cranes, warehouses and dirty into appealing and eye-catching visions that capture 20

Wolfreys, Writing London, 18-19. Squier, "Virginia Woolf's London and the Feminist Revision o f Modernism," 108. 22 Woolf, The London Scene 26.


A London for Them


our attention and accentuate the beauty of common everyday activity in the city: Hence beauty begins to steal in. The cranes dip and swing, and there is rhythm in their regularity. The warehouse walls are open wide to admit sacks and barrels; but through them one sees all the roofs of London, its masts and spires, and the unconscious, vigorous movements o f men lifting and unloading. Because barrels of wine require to be laid on their sides in cool vaults all the mistery o f dim lights, all the beauty o f low arches is thrown in as an extra. 3

Woolf identifies beauty in places where few people are able to contemplate it. In this way, the writer enhances once more the charm, freshness and novelty of London everyday, which awakens the senses, even from the sofa at Mrs Crowe's home in "Portrait o f a Londoner:" "The delightful thing about London was that it was always giving one something new to look at, something fresh to talk about. "24 So the hustle and bustle of the city, the street views full of cars, omnibuses and the clamour of people are endowed with agreeable connotations. For all this, Woolf succeeds in depicting a London as a sensorial display of a high lyrical quality, and, in this respect, Alter points out how Woolf develops a whole system of values based on immediate sensorial impressions. 25 On the other hand, essays like "Great Men's Houses" and "Portrait if a Londoner" subvert what at first sight seem portraits of prominent men of letters and their houses, since these descriptions turn, in fact, into the female portraits of Carlyle's wife, Jane Welsh Carlyle in the first case, and of an anonymous and fictitious lady, Mrs Crowe, in the other. From this new perspective, the essays become a feminist claim of the acknowledgement of these women's and so many other women's labour in the shadow. Therefore, in "Great Men's Houses," instead of focusing her attention on Carlyle, Woolf remarks Jane Carlyle's role in the domestic space, together with the maid, in a home defined as a battlefield: "All through the midVictorian age the house was necessarily a battlefield where daily, summer and winter, mistress and maid fought against dirt and cold for cleanliness and warmth. " 26 Presenting these women as soldiers, Woolf clearly wants to evoke the feelings of slavery and abuse suffered at the service of their master, the already demystified Thomas Carlyle. Woolf records, in this sense, a jump from London streets to private life and intimate space. 23

lbid.,20. Ibid., 82. 25 Alter, Imagined Cities, 110. 26 Woolf, The London Scene, 39. 24


Chapter Eleven

"Portrait of a Londoner" takes the portraits of great men of letters and their houses as a model and subverts them to adapt them to the portrait of an anonymous lady, Mrs Crowe, and her house: "But it is with the front drawing-room that we are concerned; for Mrs Crowe always sat there in an armchair by the fire; it was there that she had her being; it was there that she poured out tea. " 27 In her depiction Woolf seems to be doing a touristic alternative tour of the house as if it were another house museum as Carlyle's or Keats' house. Moreover, with these words, Woolf, by describing her eternal presence in her sofa by the fireplace, provides her with the sense of permanence granted to great iconic personalities. In the same way, in what again results an unconventional touristic picture, Woolf puts into practice a "democratising" or "humanising" strategy in order to demystify and humanise great personalities of the world of culture, literature or politics, by means of stressing their commonest human qualities, going beyond the mystified and heroic concept shaped by the collective consciousness of an outdated Victorian society. Imposed stereotypes are "democratised," so that differences between figures like Nelson, Donne, Chaucer, kings and queens of England, Gladstone or Disraeli, and ordinary people from middle-low class, and even marginal sectors of society are significantly reduced. Woolf employs such strategy in "Abbeys and Cathedrals" where, in an evocative manner, she draws a picture of the great sculptures and tombs in St. Paul Cathedral and Westrninster Abbey, that seem to come to life and humanise themselves. The perceptible static distance, consecrated and elitist, becomes a more straightforward and common portrait of the person. Thus, the poets, full of life, listen to the clergyman whereas the prime ministers continue with their political issues: "Chaucer, Spenser, Dryden and the rest still seem to listen with all their faculties on the alert as the clean-shaven clergyman in his pick-and-span red-and-white robes intones for the millionth time the commands of the Bible." 28 In "This is the House of Commons" Woolf chooses the House of Commons as urban space and a symbol of the democratic tradition of the country. In this case, Woolf demystifies politicians and representatives in the House of Commons and their usual political distance, with the purpose of bringing them closer to the etymologically identical but abysmally different concept of "common people:" "But what with their chatter and laughter, their high spirits, and impatience and irreverence, they are not a whit more judicious, or more

27 28

Ibid.,75-76. Ibid., 55-56.

A London for Them


dignified, or more respectable-looking than any other assembly of citizens met to debate parish business or to give prizes for fat oxen." 29 With the same intention, in "Great Men's Houses" Woolf ironically refers to the tendency of turning those great cultural icons' houses into museums, like Carlyle's and Keats' houses. This is what McVicker calls "commodification of tradition represented by the National Trust." 30 Woolf ridicules the halo granted to writers and other personalities and their houses by means of exposing their ordinariness and highlighting the everyday real activity carried out in those houses, similar to that of every private house like Mrs Crowe's home in "Portrait of a Londoner," that seems to be designed to precisely offset these myths. In this context, Mrs Crowe's house turns into a microcosm of a heterogeneous London society, and Woolf alludes to the need of knowing the true Cockney character and private houses so as to have a true view of the real London: "Nobody can be said to know London who does not know one true cockney-who cannot turn down a side street, away from the shops and the theatres, and knock at a private door in a street of private houses. Private houses in London are apt to be much o f a muchness." 3 1 Undeniably, Woolf proposes an alternative to the conventional monumental touristic tour of the city and humanises London. Without any doubt, these essays and early sketches prove how Woolf is aware of the fact that the city and city public life in London had been masculine and patriarchal up to her days. Woolf reflects and denounces these circumstances in her approach to the essays as a tourist guide for women, which transcends the simple touristic tour and exposes a female alternative view of the city. Even though on occasions Woolf's ambivalence becomes evident, the writer subverts and destabilises this male vision of London from the tourist's alternative gaze, from its external standpoint of outsider and women, conventionally relegated to a marginal position in the city public life.

Works Cited Alter, Robert. Imagined Cities: Urban Experience and the Language o f the Novel. New Haven, London: Yale UP, 2005. Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era o f High Capitalism, translated by Harry Zohn. London: NLB, 1973. 29 30 31

lbid.,65. Mc Vicker, "'Six Essays on London Life'," 148. Woolf, The London Scene, 75.


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Buzard, James. The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to Culture, 1800-1918. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Lehan, Richard. The City in Literature: An Intellectual and Cultural History. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1998. McVicker, Jeanette. '"Six Essays on London Life': A History of Dispersal Part I." Woolf Studies Annual 9 (2003): 143-165. - . "'Six Essays on London Life': A History of Dispersal Part IL" Woolf Studies Annual 10 (2004): 141-172. Parsons, Deborah L. Streetwalking the Metropolis: Women, the City, and Modernity. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Sizemore, Christine Wick. A Female Vision o f the City o f London in the Novels o f Five British Women. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1989. - . "The 'Outsider-Within': Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing as Urban Novelists in Mrs Dalloway and The Four-Gated City." In Woolf and Lessing: Breaking the Mold, ed. by Ruth Saxton and Jean Tobin, 5972. London: Macmillan, 1994. Squier, Susan Merrill. "Virginia Woolf's London and the Feminist Revision of Modernism." In City Images: Perspectives from Literature, Philosophy, and Film, ed. by Mary Ann Caws, 99-119. New York: Gordon and Breach, 1991. - . Virginia Woolf and London: The Sexual Politics o f the City. Chapel Hill, London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985. Wilson, Elizabeth. The Contradictions o f Culture: Cities, Culture, Women. London: Sage Publications, 200 l. Wolff, Janet. "The Invisible Fliineuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity." In Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women and Culture, ed. by Janet Wolff, 34-50. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990. Wolfreys, Julian. Writing London: The Trace o f the Urban Text from Blake to Dickens. Houndsmills, London: Macmillan Press, 1998. Woolf, Virginia. Collected Essays Vol. 4, ed. by Leonard Woolf. London: The Hogarth Press, 1967. - . The Diary o f Virginia Woolf, 5 vols, ed. by Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie, London: Harvest, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1977-1985. - . The Letters o f Virginia Woolf, Vol. 4, ed. by Nigel Nicolson y Joanne Trautmann. London: Harvest Books, 1981. - . The London Scene. London: Snowbooks, 2004. - . A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals 1897-1909, ed. by Mitchell A. Leaska. London: Pimlico, 2004.



The third section is devoted to the cluster of ethnicity and gender as represented in several literary texts from different geographical backgrounds. It begins with Ana Bringas' essay, "Writing the Unspeakable: Violence against Women in Rozeena Maart's The Writing Circle." Bringas highlights the author's commitment to bring to an end the traditional absence of public discourse on this issue in South African society, by means of five women characters who narrate personal experiences of violent victimhood. Coming from non-marginal backgrounds, the protagonists of The Writing Circle not only destabilise the stereotypes of social class in relation to rape and sexual violence, but also they transcend typical gender prejudices by using writing as a healing tool. According to Bringas, the novel problematises the role of the family for the perpetuation of violence and women's fear of being raped, drawing attention instead to the repairing power of female bonding and solidarity. Other cliches, such as the hypersexualisation of black women or the treatment of this problem as an insignificant topic during the period of apartheid are criticised in the book, as Bringas argues. Thus, she concludes, Maart's text contributes to make rape visible, since the experiences of the victims are disclosed and legitimised as valuable discourses of confrontation. In the following chapter, "The Construction of Female Identity in the Protagonists of 'Woman Hollering Creek,' 'Never Marry a Mexican' and 'Bien Pretty' by Sandra Cisneros," Carmen Maria Sales analyses the representation of the multiple marginalisation of Chicana women in Anglo-American society. Drawing on the many critical commentaries about the traditional parameters of female behaviour in the Chicano context, like the dichotomies of mujer mala/mujer buena, Virgen/ Malinche, madonna/puta and the symbolic figure of La Llorona, Sales explores the configuration of women's subjectivity within patriarchal hegemony as portrayed in the three stories by Cisneros. She concentrates on the victimisation of the protagonists but most importantly, on the strategies of resistance that the author renders them capable of developing along the texts. Crossing the imposed borders, subverting the traditional roles assigned to women and creating bonds among them figure then as the mechanisms that Cisneros creates for her Chicana women characters so

Experiencing Gender: International Approaches


that, according to Sales, they eventually find self-reconciliation and manage to appreciate themselves. The third essay in this section, "The Arab Mother: Friend or Foe? The Mother-Daughter Relationship in the Contemporary Greater Syrian and Egyptian Feminist Novel" by Suzanne Elayan, turns to a different geographical context and ethnic identity. She discusses the representation of the Arab mother in Arab feminist fiction from the central MiddleEastern area. As in the previous papers, Elayan starts from the well-known premise of the patriarchal restrictions over women within the family, where they grow up feeling inferior to men. By tracing the importance of honour and women's sexual purity in this cultural tradition, as well as the responsibility of the mother to guarantee her daughter's respectability, she concentrates on the strained mother-daughter relation resulting from such constriction. For Elayan, Arab feminist writers claim for a renewed relation between them, as described in several novels that are analysed in depth in her essay. According to her, the common thread in the three texts is that the heroines' attempt at liberation from the maternal constraint and the female codes of behaviour ends up in a rather unpromising way, as they are unable to modify those social parameters. Gerardo Rodriguez Salas discusses in "Paradise Regained: From Black Madonna to New Eve. Religion and Marital Abuse in Zora Neale Hurston's 'Sweat'" the African-American writer's position within the Harlem Renaissance movement and her literary commentary of racial, and most particularly, gender issues. With his thorough analysis of the famous short story "Sweat," Rodriguez Salas insists on how Hurston contributed to social awareness of and reaction against marital abuse. Religious discourse and the elements of the biblical passage of Eve's fall acquire a central significance both in the plot and in his analysis. As the author of the essay concludes, with the subversion of the traditional roles of women in the Bible, and the killing of the abusive husband, Hurston manages to raise consciousness about the relevance of this social issue. The final chapter in this section is Silvia Pilar Castro's "Cultural Roots, Wholeness and the African Diaspora." She begins her analysis by stressing the important role that the search for wholeness through spirituality acquires for women of the African diaspora. Her reading of three texts by an African, an African-American and a Caribbean woman writer illustrates their common claim for the achievement of gender identity. Likewise, according to Castro the three authors emphasise the power of collective memory and spirituality as mechanisms for personal completeness. She contends that the rhetoric of inclusion that is portrayed


Introduction to this Part

in the texts demonstrates the healing possibilities of spirituality not only for individuals but also for communal identity.


The Writing Circle, published in Canada in 2007, is the second work of fiction by Canada-based South African writer, professor and psychotherapist Rozena Maart. The novel focuses on the issue of sexual violence and is part of her wider work opposing violence against women, which includes the foundation, with four other women, of the first Black feminist organisation with a critique of male violence and patriarchy, Women Against Repression (WAR), created in Cape Town in 1986. 1 Maart's work against violence granted her the nomination for the "Woman of the Year" award hosted in Johannesburg in 1987. Reading The Writing Circle can be a rather disturbing experience, given the overwhelming amount of sexual violence against women that is portrayed in the novel-all five women protagonists have undergone at least one episode of rape and sexual violence in their lives. But then, sexual violence against women is overwhelmingly present in South African society. In 1995, the Human Rights Watch Report on domestic violence and rape drew attention to the dramatic increase of rape in South Africa and asserted that for every rape reported to the police, another thirty-five rapes went unreported. 2 Nine years later, this same 1This group's "pavement politics" led them to engage in unusual and risky actions, such as picketing against child sexual abuse and grafitti spraying in order to expose the patriarchal character o f society, including the male-dominated politics of the anti-apartheid groups, who upheld sexist traditions such as lobola on the grounds that "they are just cultural phenomena" (Russell 255). 2 Human Rights Watch, Violence Against Women in South Africa, 51.


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organisation's 2004 Report on South Africa described sexual violence against women and children in the country as "a problem of epidemic proportions [... ] with child rape as one of its particularly disturbing features." 3 Moreover, the report went on, "[b]ecause South Africa is also in the grips of an explosive HIV/AIDS epidemic, sexual violence is a potential death sentence. "4 Like these two reports, numberless other studies carried out in post-1994 South Africa have also shown that"[ v]iolence against women has been one of the most prominent features of post-apartheid South Africa." 5 Undoubtedly, centuries of colonialism, racism and apartheid have left a bitter legacy in South Africa: "a violent social context characterised by high levels of unemployment, extremes of wealth and poverty, continuing racism, the easy availability of guns and patriarchal values and behaviours." 6 In this context, where many children were born and reared and have become adults in violent situations, violence has come to be seen by many as an acceptable way of expressing their emotions and interacting with the world. 7 As Jewkes and Abrahams have pointed out, "In South Africa, rape and sexual coercion form one part of the broader problem of gender-based violence, which in tum is heavily influenced by a general culture of violence which pervades society" (1239). 8 While recent police reports speak about a significant reduction of crime since the arrival of democracy in 1994, rape and sexual violence against women and children, far from being reduced, seem to be increasing, with tens of thousands of rape cases being reported to the police each year,9 probably hundreds of thousands of them going unreported, 10 and with teenagers as the age group 3 Human Rights Watch, Deadly Delay, 11. 4 Ibid., 3. 5 Vetten and Shackleton, "SA Political Parties Sidestep Issues around Violence against Women," 2. 6 Harber, "Schooling and Violence in South Africa," 261. 7 Ibid., 262. 8 Jewkes and Abrahams, "The Epidemiology of Rape and Sexual Coercion in South Africa," 1239. 9 See Vetten and Shackleton, "SA Political Parties Sidestep Issues around Violence against Women." According to a South African Police Service report, 182,588 violent crimes were committed against women between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2008. 10 Vetten, "Addressing Domestic Violence in South Africa: Reflections on Strategy and Practice," 2. Many studies estimate that for each reported rape, another nine are not. Others, like the aforementioned Human Rights Watch 1995 Report, suggest that there are thirty-five rapes for every one reported to the police (see note 2 above), which would make figures soar up to several hundred thousand rapes

Writing the Unspeakable


more prone to being the victims of sexual violence. 11 This culture of violence shows a high level of social tolerance of rape, manifested in the neglectful, when not hostile, way rapes are dealt with by the police, the criminal justice system, the surgeons and even the friends and relatives of the survivors. 12 Within this context, Rozena Maart's novel The Writing Circle, with its focus on rape and sexual violence against women, follows a feminist politics of voicing that aims at bringing to light a phenomenon that is often rendered unspeakable: "My reason for highlighting rape and sexual abuse is that I feel people ignore them. They are not interested in these problems because they think they are personal and domestic issues. But if so many women experience them, then it surely can't just be personal and domestic." 13 Maart's words here, dating back to twenty years ago, allude to a very important point, which is the traditional confinement of gender violence to the realm of the private, an issue that feminists have always denounced, emphasising its political nature. In the context of post-1994 South Africa, the issue is further complicated after the controversial Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) supposedly put an end to a violent and illegitimate past: Among the worse results o f this attempted closure is that there is now a kind o f vacuum concerning gross violations o f human rights -now, when women and children are raped and battered, these are seen as purely "private" matters. No harmful acts, it seems, can be politically motivated anymore, since we now ostensibly live in a "just" political dispensation just as we used to live in a wholly unjust political dispensation before. During the political struggle women's rape was justified in terms o f the struggle, in other words, it was seen as a weapon of terror, an instrument o f torture, or women's sexuality was simply used as a way o f motivating or every year. Obviously, underreporting makes it really difficult for experts to assess the real impact o f sexual violence on South African society, but even the most conservative estimates suggest that the number o f reported rapes underestimates the extent o f the problem. For a detailed account o f the reasons behind the low rate of rape reporting, see Jewkes and Abrahams. 11 More recently, lesbian women are becoming a frequent target of the so-called "corrective" rape, a practice that is being passed down to younger generations o f South African men: many young boys in schools believe that lesbian girls need to be raped in order to "correct" their sexual orientation. This ironically, is happening in a country that has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and that was one o f the first countries to legalise homosexual marriages (see Action Aid). 12 Jewkes and Abrahams, "The Epidemiology o f Rape and Sexual Coercion in South Africa," 1240. 13 Russell, Lives o f Courage, 254.


Chapter Twelve rewarding soldierly acts. This was moreover done by both "sides" o f the "struggle. " 14

Feminist anti-rape activists have denounced the TRC's failure to do justice to women rape victims during apartheid, since the issue of rape was disregarded in the hearings in favour of other forms of abuse where most of the victims were men. Only three Special Women's Hearings were held before the TRC, and only because pressure was put on the Commission by gender activists, who were angered by the fact that women were only testifying as witnesses of crimes committed against their men (husbands, sons, fathers, etc.), but very few actually testified on the abuses, often of a sexual nature, that they themselves had been victims o f The Special Women Hearings were held in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, but none took place in the Eastern Cape, 15 a region recognised as the site of most human rights violations. 16 The TRC thus sanctioned men as the universal subject of suffering and torture, and, what is worse, it also "contributed to the disappearance of rape and women's particularities from the political and public consciousness and agendas after 1994 in ways that would ostensibly never have been possible with other forms of human rights abuses that mainly affect(ed) men, such as ('sex-neutral') torture." 17 The consequence of this privatisation of rape and sexual violence is that the victims are made "to bear the full burden of the crime and seek justice as [individuals] through diminished justice systems that are often overburdened and insensitive to gendered crimes." 18 This is then the complex context in which Maart sets her novel. The Writing Circle turns around an episode of violence which disrupts the lives of five middle-aged women friends from Cape Town who gather every week to "share their experience of writing memory, writing the body," as the introductory epigraph informs. 19 Isabel, Jazz, Carmen, Beauty and 14

Du Toit, "Feminism and the Ethics o f Reconciliation," 5. McEwan, "Building a Postcolonial Archive?," 745. Furthermore, as McEwan goes on to explain, "There were also profound cultural and other pressures placed on women that deterred them from testifying. These include discourses o f shame, collusion and complicity that prevent women from discussing in public the sexual violence that is privately acknowledged to have been widespread, pressures not to discredit the liberation movement by revealing abuses committed by comrades in their own organisations, and even direct pressure from government ministers not to disclose stories of sexual assault." 16 Ibid., 745. 17 du Toit, "Feminism and the Ethics o f Reconciliation," 6. 18 Sigsworth, "Gender-based Violence in Transition," 9. 19 Maart, The Writing Circle, 1. 15

Writing the Unspeakable


Amina will take turns to narrate (in two chapters each) the hijack and rape of Isabel, the circle• s host, in her own backyard when she is just back from work and about to meet her awaiting friends for one of their discussions. This traumatic event will trigger off the successive unveiling of similar instances of violence that each and every one of the women have gone through at some point in their lives and have for the most part endured in silence. These experiences will be disclosed by each woman in a parallel narrative to that of Isabel's rape, her accidental killing of the rapist, the subsequent disposal of his body, and the events of the ensuing days in which all five women will try to resume their lives and, in the process, will be forced to confront their previously unacknowledged fears and traumas and even their personal relationships. 20 One of the strong points of the novel lies in its presentation of culturally and ethnically diverse characters, 2 1 in a deliberate dissection of a multicultural South Africa -the rainbow nation- where the experience of gender violence cuts across ethnic boundaries. Moreover, the characters are all educated, professional women with successful careers, a fact that does not allow readers to see them just as "helpless victims," while it also serves to undo widely extended myths about rape and sexual violence happening to women from marginalised backgrounds. The novel's opening is powerful: "It was the cold mouth of the gun against my temple as I sat behind the wheel of my car that alerted me to the fact that this was indeed a hijack. "22 The speaker here is Isabel, the host of the writing circle's Friday gatherings. Maart's choice of the firstperson narrative, not only for this chapter but throughout the novel, gives each of the five women the chance to narrate her own experience directly and without mediation. As Laura Tanner has argued, "To provide an 'external' perspective on rape is to represent the story that the violator has created, to ignore the resistance of the victim whose body has been appropriated within the rapist's rhythms and whose enforced silence 20

The novel is structured in two parts, the first focusing on the events surrounding the rape on a Friday evening, close to the end of May. The second part narrates the events of the following days and concludes just before the women are about to hold their first gathering after Isabel's rape. In each part, all five women take turns to narrate one chapter each in the same sequence: Isabel, Jazz, Carmen, Beauty and Amina. 21 Isabel is Coloured; Jazz is a Sikh woman oflndian origin, raised in England and with connections in South Africa; Carmen is an English woman who has arrived in South Africa going away from a failed marriage; Beauty is a Xhosa woman, and Amina is Muslim. 22 Maart, The Writing Circle, 3.


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disguises the enormity of her pain. "23 By giving voice to the victim, each individual narrative is carried out from a subjective perspective that is meant to focus on the pain and trauma that the act of rape represents for the victim, while at the same time it tries to give back to her some sense of agency and power of speech. Each chapter of the novel becomes a piece the women write for sharing within the writing circle in an attempt to gain some understanding and some healing. In Beauty's words: "As I struggle each day with the writing I am now forced to call my own, in order to allow my body to heal itself from the suffering it has endured, I push myself to make peace with a past that still eats at the very core of my body." 24 The novel is thus an exercise in ecriture feminine, much in the terms expressed by Cixous when she states: "Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies." 25 The hijacker's death threat literally deprives Isabel of speech (not least because the gun he thrusts into her mouth completely prevents her from speaking), which comes to demonstrate that "physical violence functions as a means of claiming the victim not only as a body but as a speaking subject." 26 This reduces Isabel's possibilities for communication to her body's irrepressible wordless language: she repeatedly describes herself as "breathless, shaking and shivering," "gasping and crying." 27 Throughout the narration of her rape, Isabel is painfully aware of her body as fragmented, alienated, invaded and devoured: "my body was being ravaged by an intruder. "28 Her account inscribes the violated body as a site of suffering, thus writing back against Western canonical narrativesboth literary and artistic-that have often represented rape as seduction, aestheticising it and thus obscuring and legitimising its violence. Furthermore, by vividly representing the physical pain-not to mention the psychological trauma-that rape and sexual assault bring on women, 29 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Tanner, Intimate Violence, 29. Maart, The Writing Circle, 52. Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," 875. Tanner, Intimate Violence, 5. Maart, The Writing Circle, 3; ibid., 6. Ibid.,12. This is the case with all o f the women in the novel, whose narratives o f their respective sexual assault emphasise the physical pain the experience entails, as well as the trauma resulting from it: Jazz has trouble sleeping and is taken to be anorectic; Amina is anorgasmic as a result o f her husband's abuse, and Carmen reports having hurt herself repeatedly during the period when she was being raped by her father. Isabel's physical and mental breakdown is described with most detail in the novel, and it includes anorexia, insomnia, self-inflicted injuries, dissociation

Writing the Unspeakable


Maart is also contesting the widespread use of rape as a metaphor, which obscures the material reality of the practice ofrape as a sexual assault. 30 Isabel's narrative of her rape alternates between a dissociated state of mind which allows her to cope by distancing herself from the traumatic situation she is going through-she sees it all as if from outside and speaks of herself in the third person-and an acute awareness of her surroundings: neighbours watching reports on the Iraq war on television, the train at the station, the neighbour across taking out his rubbish. She can see that life goes on in Cape Town with no interruption whatsoever just because another woman is being raped. Isabel hopes for her usually vigilant neighbour to steal a glance in the direction of her yard as he usually does to check up on her, "in a manner befitting a guardian of some sort to women who did not have men to look after them." 3 1 This apparently trivial detail illustrates how South African society has internalised rape and sexual assault as an everyday life dynamics that women need to be prepared for: the women in the novel take constant precautions to avoid being assaulted: security doors, window bars, elaborate alarm systems, male escorts on their way to or from work, constant phone calls from friends and family to check up on them, etc. These arrangements show how, in the words of Susan Griffin, "more than rape itself, the fear of rape permeates [women's] lives." 32 According to Griffin, women have been taught to think of rape as part of our natural environment, without asking why men rape and instead accepting it as one of the many mysteries of nature. 33 In a similar line, Sharon Marcus argues that rape is a script taking its form from what she calls "a gendered grammar of violence" that assigns positions within the script: "The language of rape solicits women to position ourselves as endangered, and amnesia. A recent example o f this use was the object o f much controversy in South Africa when, on September 7, 2008, the well-known cartoonist Zapiro published, in The Sunda y Times, a satirical cartoon on Jacob Zuma and his allies' alleged threats to the justice system in order to put an end to Zuma's prosecution for corruption. The cartoon showed a woman representing Justitia (blindfolded and holding the scales o f justice) being pinned down by a group o f men identified as members o f certain political parties, while Zuma is in front o f the woman undoing his trousers as i f preparing to rape her. Controversy was generated and Zapiro was accused by some o f being irresponsibly complicit with the social disregard o f rape as a material reality for many real-life women in South Africa by making use o f Woman as object ofrepresentation, in this case Justice (see van der Westhuizen). 31 Maart, The Writing Circle, 25. 32 Griffin, Rape: The Politics o f Consciousness, 83. 33 Ibid., 3. 30


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violable, and fearful and invites men to position themselves as legitimately violent and entitled to women's sexual services." 34 In The Writing Circle, the women are always fearful and suspicious of the men they don't know: Jazz reassures Amina's sister that the ambulance men taking her to hospital are "trusted men [... ] [who] would never do anything to harm [her]"; 35 and Amina's estranged brother-in-law sees the need to promise her that she will be safe alone with him in the car. 3 6 The threat, however, does not always come from strangers and the novel shows that the family often becomes the source of much violence against women. While narrating her rape, Isabel remembers the first time she was sexually abused by her own uncle when she was a child. The abuse was repeated several times and she endured it "too afraid to say anything," until at twenty-one she felt strong enough to tell her father. 3 7 Carmen, who comes from the lapsed English aristocracy, was repeatedly raped by her own father from the age of twelve, a common "privilege" among those "born into high-society circles who raped and sexually assaulted their daughters and their family members and suffered no consequence, except the occasional awkward mention of female relatives who committed suicide, to whom the honorary Virginia Woolf status was offered." 3 8 Amina's first chapter also reveals how she was raped and abused by her now dead husband Fuad, and how she couldn't tell her family about it because her father had invested a lot of money in her marriage. Jazz also reports being sexually assaulted at nineteen by a cousin of her father's and then being accused by a female member of the family of having provoked the assault. The novel thus undoes the myth of home and family as a safe haven for women and, indeed, statistics prove that a high percentage of rape cases occur in a domestic environment. 39 After Isabel accidentally shoots the rapist dead thus alerting her friends to the situation, there is an unexpected tum of events in the novel. Isabel deliberately ignores the protocol to be observed in case of rape (she takes off her clothes and takes a bath), and she adamantly refuses to go to hospital or call the police. Her reaction, all the more surprising considering 34 35 36 37

Marcus, "Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words," 390. Maart, The Writing Circle, 82. Ibid., 85-86. Ibid., 10. 38 Ibid., 47; Later, Carmen will also be psychologically abused by her first husband, Albert. The fact that Carmen is English, of course, makes a point about sexual violence not being exclusive of South Africa. However, Carmen will also be raped by a stranger after moving to Cape Town from England. 39 Jewkes and Others, "Rape of Girls in South Africa," 319.

Writing the Unspeakable


that she works as a rape counsellor at the hospital and, as Carmen notes, she should be familiar "with the emotions women endured when raped or otherwise sexually assaulted," is explained by the fact that she is all too familiar with the ordeal that rape victims have to face when they go through the official procedures, as her own sister committed suicide after not being believed when she charged her high school teacher with rape. 4 04 1 Carmen also has a negative experience to tell: when she goes to the police after being raped in a parking lot in Cape Town, she is told not to expect anything, as "cases like [hers] often ran into dead ends." 42 A further reason to want to avoid the police is, of course, the fact that the rapist has come off dead. By killing him, even if it was accidentally, Isabel has stepped out of the rape script that demands that women renounce violence and resistance and passively submit to rape. 43 As Heberle puts it, "The law demands that victims be victims through and through before rendering its limited forms of justice" (320). 44 In the face of this limited social support, the women of the writing circle will rely on their close-knit community of affection and compassion. Business-like Jazz mobilises the other women to take charge of the situation and comply with Isabel's wishes of bypassing the police and getting rid of the rapist's body. In order to do so, the women will put aside their qualms and personal differences, and will even risk getting in legal trouble burying the rapist's body illegally with the help of Amina's brother-in-law, the gravedigger. The women will also sustain Isabel through her elaboration of trauma, her mental breakdown and the beginning of her recovery when she finally accepts going to therapy with a woman counsellor. The importance of sisterhood and the bonding between women is emphasised throughout the novel, as all the personal stories the women narrate show how it was always a woman that stood out for them when they needed it. It is also highly significant that the novel pays tribute to Anne Mayne, to whom it is dedicated, "for her courage and determination in starting Rape Crisis in Cape Town, with three women, in 1976, when no one else dared to." 4 5 40

Maart, The Writing Circle, 36. Jewkes and Others, "Rape of Girls in South Africa," 319. A recent study has revealed that school teachers are the most common child rapists, and are responsible for 33% of rapes of girls. 42 Maart, The Writing Circle, 48. 43 Marcus, "Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words," 390. 44 Heberle, "Deconstructive Strategies and the Movement against Sexual Violence," 320. 45 Maart, The Writing Circle, n.p. 41

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Racial issues in connection with sexual violence are introduced in the novel through the character of Beauty, the only Black (Xhosa) woman in the circle. Beauty's rape as a teenager by her grandmother's white boss inscribes the racist discourse prevalent during the apartheid regime. Mr Pirelli, who for years was Beauty's benefactor, helping her get expensive items from exclusive art shops to foster her artistic work, is now retiring and before that he claims "he'd done our family so many favours over the years and why would I not grant him this one." 46 Pirelli's words betray the colonial construction of the black woman (and man) as hypersexualised and always available for sex: "I know you people like to do it." 47 Ignoring Beauty's protestations, he claims his colonial rights as a white man to her body and sexuality. However, Beauty does not fail to observe that black women are also victimised by black men, as she recalls witnessing her mother's sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her boyfriends, or how she herself was nearly assaulted by one of the black labourers in the white people's farm. Maart, however, is not really interested in focusing on racial issues; her point is rather that, as one of her characters says, "men of all ages, creeds, and colours [rape] women," and this is more than aptly illustrated by the variety of race, class and religious backgrounds both women victims and male perpetrators in the novel come from. 48 The idea is made more evident by the unexpected revelation that the rapist is not "one of the new African immigrants," 49 as Jazz's guess was by looking at his appearance, but the member of a well-off family: he is the son of Beauty's beloved friend Mary, a retired university professor (and a feminist) and her husband Sipho, a cabinet minister of the ANC government who, interestingly, is involved in the development of legislation to fight violence against women. This emphasises the idea that sexual violence permeates all layers of South African society, even those which, at least in theory, should be more prepared to reject the discourse of violence, and it could also be read, in my view, as a sceptical comment by Maart on the skin-deep commitment of the South African government to the anti-gender violence struggle. As she has pointed out elsewhere, during apartheid, men in the male-dominated anti-apartheid resistance movements tended to disregard ''women's issues" including violence against women as a secondary cause that took away emphasis and resources from the really important liberation struggle: "There was no consideration of the fact that 46

Ibid., Ibid., 48 Ibid., 49 Ibid., 47

56. 56. 43. 20.

Writing the Unspeakable


women were equally oppressed and exploited; there was no account by these movements of why it was men who were violent against women, even though we were all oppressed and exploited under the apartheid regime. " 50 The sexism of the male activists during the struggle is also put forward in the novel through the character of Mary, who remembers how "All those men, those amajonis, so sure of themselves, so self-absorbed, so happy to have their lovely admirers around them, expected their wives and girlfriends to be committed to them first, and then to the struggle." 5 1 These masculinised revolutionaries are the ones who have now taken the reins of the new South African democracy and Maart's scepticism about any prospects of change in their discourse or political practice is made evident when she makes Isabel's rapist smirk at catching a glimpse of a newspaper featuring "the beloved deputy president Zuma, who had been charged with rape. " 52 Although in their conversation about it Beauty raises the issue of black men taking responsibility, Mary surprisingly decides to keep the circumstances of her son's death untold, arguing that her husband's political work against sexual violence would be undermined if it was made public that his own son was a rapist. She instead chooses to keep the whole matter in the realm of the private and prefers to nurse her wounds as a troubled mother within the more protective space of the women of the writing circle-a delicate encounter that Maart leaves for the reader to imagine. Although this can arguably be seen as a problematic way of handling the situation, as it once more seems to privatise the narrative of so D'Souza, "South Africa's Secret War: Interview with Rozena Maart," n.p. 51 Maart, The Writing Circle, 178. 52 Ibid., 6. Jacob Zuma, current president of the African National Congress and of the Republic of South Africa, after the ANC won the past general election held on April 22, 2009, was accused in 2005 of having raped a thrity-one-year-old woman, the daughter of a decesead friend of his. He admitted to having had sex with the woman but claimed that it had been a consensual relationship, thus denying the charges of rape. To make matters worse, Zuma, who at the time was the Head of the National Aids Council, admitted to having had unsafe sex, even though he knew that the woman was HIV-positive. There was a huge controversy in South Africa over the whole case, the details of which (including the identity of the victim) were filtered to the media, and during the trial Zuma got the support of his party's youth wing (later, he was also claimed by the ANC's Women's League as their chosen candidate for the presidency). The result of the trial was that in May 2006, Zuma was found not guilty of the charge of rape, while the woman who brought the charges against him had to seek asylum in the Netherlands one year later in order to get away from the stigmatising treatment she was the object of in South Africa as a result of her accusation.


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rape, I would like to read it in the sense that Maart wants to make a point about the way sexual violence has an enormous social cost, as beyond the traumatic effects on the women who suffer it directly, it also tragically disrupts the familial and affective context of the perpetrator. Mary is profoundly disturbed by what her son has done, but she tells Beauty, "I want to tell [the women from the writing circle] what I did as a mother, and what Sipho did as a father, and that there were wonderful things about my son that they don't know anything about. I am sorry for your friend, for what he did to her, and I will tell her that, but I don't want Peter to be remembered only as a rapist. " 53 This episode reflects an anecdote that Maart has referred to in interviews, of how she was deeply moved by the suffering of a mother whose son had been killed while raping a woman. Rape is thus represented, not only as a tragic personal experience that ravages women's bodies and spirits, but also as a social disease that disrupts the family and community life of both the victim and the perpetrator. In conclusion, The Writing Circle is committed to a feminist politics of visibilisation of rape and sexual violence against women as a pervasive phenomenon in contemporary societies, particularly in South Africa. Through the first-person accounts of the different characters presented, the novel legitimises the point of view of women survivors and gives them space to articulate the herstories that a social context of neglect and even hostility often renders unspeakable. As the author has put it, "The last thing I want as a South African is to have rape and sexual assault as a statistic." 54 The Writing Circle is also trying to contribute to the shaping of public consciousness about sexual violence in post-1994 South Africa, where one of the most progressive democracies in the world coexists with the perpetuation of terrorism against women. Democracy has fallen very short of the expectations of South African women seeking the vindication of their human rights after the dismantling of apartheid, and the prospects are certainly not very bright, given the scant attention (if any at all) paid by most political parties to gender violence in the last general election of April 22, 2009. 55 Furthermore, considering that the newly elected president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, has already proved to have very little sensibility about the issue, the perspectives of a short-term significant 53

Maart, The Writing Circle, 179. "Rozena Maart on the Women of The Writing Circle," n. p. 55 Vetten and Shackleton, "SA Political Parties Sidestep Issues around Violence against Women," n. p. 54

Writing the Unspeakable


advance in women's rights to their sexual integrity and general wellbeing seem rather gloomy.

Works Cited Action Aid. Hate Crimes: The Rise o f 'Corrective' Rape in South Africa, 2009. 29 Apr. 2009.

Cixous, Helene. "The Laugh of the Medusa," translated by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen. Signs: Journal o f Women in Culture and Society 1.4 (1976): 875-893. D'Souza, Irene. "South Africa's Secret War: Interview with Rozena Maart." Herizons, Spring 2008. Rozena Maart's personal website. 23

du Toit, Louise. "Feminism and the Ethics of Reconciliation." Eurozine (16 Mar. 2007). 29 Apr. 2009. Griffin, Susan. Rape: The Politics o f Consciousness. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986. Harber, Clive. "Schooling and Violence in South Africa: Creating a Safer School." Intercultural Education 12.3 (2001): 261-271. Heberle, Renee. "Deconstructive Strategies and the Movement against Sexual Violence." In Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality: The Big Questions, ed. by Naomi Zack, Laurie Shrage, Crispin Sartwell, 308321. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. Human Rights Watch. Deadly Delay: South Africa's Efforts to Prevent HIV in Survivors o f Sexual Violence. (3 Mar. 2004). 14 Apr. 2009.

Human Rights Watch. Violence Against Women in South Africa: State Response to Domestic Violence and Rape. New York and Washington: Human Rights Watch, 1995. Jewkes, Rachel and Naeema Abrahams. "The Epidemiology of Rape and Sexual Coercion in South Africa: An Overview." Social Science and Medicine 55 (2002): 1231-1244. Jewkes, Rachel, Jonathan Levin, Nolwazi Mbananga and Debbie Bradshaw. "Rape of Girls in South Africa." The Lancet 359, January 26 (2002): 319-320. Maart, Rozena. The Writing Circle. Toronto: TSAR, 2007. Marcus, Sharon. "Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: A Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention." In Feminists Theorize the Political, ed.


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by Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, 385-403. New York and London: Routledge, 1992. McEwan, Cheryl. "Building a Postcolonial Archive? Gender, Collective Memory and Citizenship in Post-Apartheid South Africa." Journal o f Southern African Studies 29.3 (Sep. 2003): 739-757. "Rozena Maart on the Women of The Writing Circle." YouTube. 28 Apr. 2009. Russell, Diana E.H. Lives o f Courage: Women for a New South Africa. New York: Basic Books, 1990. Sigsworth, Romi. "Gender-based Violence in Transition." In Violence and Transition Project Roundtable (7-9 May 2008). Centre for the Study o f Violence and Reconciliation. Transitional Justice Programme. Johannesburg. (Sep. 2008). 30 Apr. 2009.

Tanner, Laura E. Intimate Violence: Reading Rape and Torture in Twentieth-Century Fiction. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1994. van der Westhuiven, Christi. "Zapiro, Zuma and Us." Weblog Entry. Load-Shedding in the (Post-Colony). Mail and Guardian Online (10 Sep. 2008). 20 Feb. 2009.

V etten, Lisa. "Addressing Domestic Violence in South Africa: Reflections on Strategy and Practice." In Violence against Women: Good Practices in Combating and Eliminating Violence against Women. Expert group meeting. UN Division for the Advancement of Women. Vienna. (17-20 May 2005). 15 Mar. 2009.

V etten, Lisa and Sally Shackleton. "SA Political Parties Sidestep Issues around Violence against Women." Pambazuka. Issue 428 (16 Apr. 2009). 28 April 2009.


Culture forms our beliefs. We perceive the version of reality that it communicates. Dominant paradigms, predefined concepts that exist as unquestionable, unchallengeable, are transmitted to us through the culture. Culture is made by those in power-men. Males make the rules and laws: women transmit them. 1

The present work analyses the female protagonists of three tales by Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek, Never Marry a Mexican and Bien Pretty included in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991). We will analyse how women living in poor ethnic communities suffer the consequences of race, class, and gender oppression. The main characters of these stories are alienated and marginalised within Anglo-American society for being Chicanas, poor, and by their own sexist culture for being women. Through the study of these women it will be shown how the limitations of a patriarchal society perpetuate a world that makes Chicana women perform their social roles without considering the real conditions and possibilities of their lives. At the same time, this study will analyse the mechanisms these women develop to resist patriarchy. Cisneros denounces the situation of women in this patriarchal society in which they have been silenced for many years and proposes new options for them. The author positions herself in the feminist fight against women oppression. In these short stories, Cisneros proposes different ways 1

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera. The New Mestiza, 16.


Chapter Thirteen

of fighting against the limitations of patriarchy. The characters in the stories are able to construct new identities, their own female identities, by means of different mechanisms: the strengthening of bonds between women; the resistance to traditional women roles imposed by males; or the redefinition of women role models as the Virgin of Guadalupe or La Maline he. 2 The works by Sandra Cisneros, as many other feminist writers', reflect the ideals and demands of many women in the 90s. Cisneros explores the misogynist constructions of her own culture. In order to do so she examines the frustration and sadness of being a woman in a male-centred society dominated by fixed religious, familiar and social patterns that reject the ideals of freedom and personal choice. Woman Hollering Creek and other Stories belongs to the Third Wave of Feminism that emerges as a protest against the suffocating theories that white middle class feminists had offered till that moment, the 1980s. In fact, in this decade, the majority of Asian, African-American and Latina criticism, theory and creative production were excluded from the Western academic world. Gloria Anzaldua, Chanra Mohanty and Gayatri Spivak, among others, reject the feminist approaches that assumed the singularity, generality and universality between all the women and all the cultures.3 Ivonne Yarbro-Bejarano argues: The most important principle o f Chicana feminist criticism is the realisation that the Chicana's experience as a woman is inextricable from her experience as a member o f an oppressed working-class racial minority and a culture which is not the dominant culture. 4

Chicano literature and criticism have a very political and social character since they denounce the situation of Chicana women in a society that excludes them from the ruling positions: "Chicana feminism as a political movement depends on the love of Chicanas for themselves and each other as Chicanas." 5 Criticism provides Chicano literature with the theoretic base for the analysis of this reality. As Gloria Anzaldua points out in Borderlands/ La Frontera, The New Mestiza (1987), Chicano society imposes a cultural tyranny on women. 6 2

The term will be explained deeply later on in the article. Madsen, Understanding Contemporary Chicana Literature, I. 4 Yarbro-Bejarano, Ivonne. "Chicana Literature from a Chicana Feminist Perspective," 214. 5 Ibid., 214. 6 Gloria Anzaldua is a Chicana writer who made contributions to ideas of feminism and contributed to the field of cultural theory/chicana and queer theory. One o f her major contributions was her introduction to United States academic audiences o f 3

Woman Hollering Creek, Never Marry a Mexican and Bien Pretty


Chicana women are considered burras, since they carry all the way of their community. This fact leads them to take only three directions in life: to be a nun, to be a wife, or to be a prostitute. They are immersed in a society that oppresses them and defines them in terms of their relation to males, that is to say, as mothers, sisters and wives. Women's only role in life is to be attractive for men, to be good wives, to be good mothers, to take care of their family. In Chicano society women are completely subjugated to men: fathers and husbands. They impose the rules and women transmit them. They are born in a dominant male society that considers them as whores or deviants whenever they do not follow the establish roles for women. As Anzaldua explains, "the culture and the church insist that a woman must be subservient to men. If she doesn't renounce herself in favour of the male, she is selfish. If she rebels, she is a mujer mala." 7 That is the reason why many women accept this way of living. Most of these women cannot attend school or study. Almost all of them get married young to be housewives. If women do not marry and have children, they will feel total failures. They have not had the possibility of experiencing a different life. Women identity in Chicano culture is defined based on a series of oppositions that represent polarised models for women: mujer mala/mujer buena, Virgen/Malinche, madonna/puta. 8 These opposite models reduce the possibilities for women and leave them in a very difficult situation. According to Dominguez Miguela: Una mujer es buena o mala ... no existe termino medio, siendo los terminos aparentemente positivos tan opresivos como los negativos. Estos roles femeninos son simplemente arquetipos, a veces inalcanzables (como el de la mujer virgen asexual) pero ejercen una presi6n enorme sobre los comportamientos de la mujer dentro de la cultura. Son creados por el sistema patriarcal para controlar el comportamiento social y familiar de la mujer que es condenada al ostracismo y rechazo general si no sigue los modelos clasificados como positivos deseables por la comunidad patriarcal. 9 the term mestizaje, understood as a state o f being beyond binary conception, into academic writing and discussion. In her theoretical works, Anzaldua calls for a "new mestiza," which she describes as an individual aware o f her conflicting identities, and challenges binary thinking in the Western world. The "new mestiza" way of thinking is illustrated in postcolonial feminism. 7 Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera, 15-16. 8 The polarised role models for women are: bad woman/good woman, V irgin/Malinche, madonna/whore. 9 Dominguez Miguela, Antonia. Esa imagen queen mi espejo se detiene, 94-5.


Chapter Thirteen

This fact makes women internalise a series of fixed models that, when impossible to achieve, leads them to feel failures. Nevertheless, the three protagonists of Cisneros's stories are able to find meaningful models in other women. They finally decide to break the rules established by men to control women by not getting married, not being mothers, or giving great emphasis to education. This last model is proposed by Anzaldua, as a fourth option to the three traditional ones: getting married, becoming a nun or becoming a prostitute: "today some of us have a fourth choice: entering the world by way of education and career and becoming self-autonomous persons." 10 Anzaldua proposes different ways for women to achieve their personal freedom and to perform other roles in life different from those of mother and wife. Connected to this idea, three relevant myths in the Mexican as well as Chicano culture are found in Cisneros's work. As Tey Diana Rebolledo mentions in Women Singing in the Snow (1995), "[l]a Virgen de Guadalupe for Chicano culture characteristics considered positive for women," as for instance, virginity, purity, submissiveness, passivity, that is to say, the ideal qualities of motherhood. 11 In opposition to these spiritual and positive aspects of women, La Malinche has her own role in this culture. She was a Mexican woman of noble birth that was sold into slavery by her family. When she was twenty she was given again to Heman Cortes. She became a translator, for she spoke both languages (Spanish and Maya), and she also became Cortes's mistress. This is the reason why her name became closely related to the Conqueror and the word Malinche became synonymous of a person who betrays her country. She represents the seduction, temptation to man's flesh and sexuality, and incorporates all the power of passion, energy, and desire, together with a threatening power of knowledge. She is trapped between two cultures and caught in a crisis of identity for she was caught between her native culture and Spanish culture, between her native religion and between Christian religion. Therefore, it can be said that La Malinche becomes the symbol of "mestizaje." La Malinche is also seen as an object of sexual desire; in fact, she is often portrayed as a whore in Chicano society. Yet, also, it is her intelligence what is feared by men in La Malinche. Men in Chicano society do not want women to think, or study; women do not have this opportunity because they are mere objects that belong to men. This is so in most of the cases in the Cisneros's novel. That is why this myth is



Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera, 17. Rebolledo, Women Singing in the Snow, 53.

Woman Hollering Creek, Never Marry a Mexican and Bien Pretty


always portrayed as negative in a society dominated by men. Nevertheless, La Malinche is vindicated by Chicana writers as Gloria Anzaldua in Borderlands, for she represents the defiance to all kind of traditions. According to Rebolledo, La Llorona is another symbolic myth of Chicano culture. Her children are lost because of the assimilation into the dominant culture or because of violence and prejudice. La Llorona is also seen as a victim of poverty and circumstances, as many of the women in Chicana society. She constantly lives with guilt and with the memories of the deaths of her children. Women are also the victims of the social system and, hence, their story mirrors the history of Chicanos everywhere. The tragedy of La Llorona is the tragedy of all children lost because of violence, of neglect, of abuse. La Llorona is always crying and lamenting for her children and her life, but she does not do anything to change the situation. That is the problem of many women in Chicano society. The protagonists of Woman Hollering Creek, Bien Pretty, and Never Marry a Mexican, Cle6filas, Clemencia and Lupe, are examples of women who, at one point in their lives, have internalised the strict rules imposed by patriarchal society. Cle6filas, the protagonist of Woman Hollering Creek, is a Mexican woman given by her father to a man she hardly knows, to marry him. Cle6filas, who has an idealised vision of what love is, since she is very much into the world of soap operas, soon finds out Juan Pedro is very far from being one of these passionate men she has seen on TV. The first time she is conscious of this is the first time she is mistreated by her husband: "[t]he first time she had been so surprised she didn't cry out or try to defend herself' (47). But this time she does not react, she behaves as any woman who has internalised the rules of a patriarchal society in which she needs to accept her inferior position with respect to her husband. The story Woman Hollering Creek is a clearly illustrative revision that Cisneros makes of the myths that have traditionally defined feminine identity within Mexican and Chicana culture. Cisneros provides these myths with a new meaning in stories such as the story of Cle6filas. According to Jaqueline Doyle in Haunting the Borderlands: La Llorona in Sandra Cisneros's "Woman Hollering Creek" (1996): "[i]n the stories in Woman Hollering Creek, Cisneros reshapes the myths that define Chicana identity, conjuring the ghostly apparitions of what Anzaldua calls 'Our Mothers': la Virgen de Guadalupe, la Malinche, la Llorona." 12 Cle6filas is clearly identified with the myth of La Llorona, she looks for a new 12

Doyle, Haunting the Borderlands, 64.


Chapter Thirteen

language that can give voice to her story and all the stories of women killed and abused that appear in the newspapers everyday: "this one's cadaver, this one unconscious, this one beaten blue. Her ex husband, her husband, her lover, her father, her brother, her uncle, her friend, her coworker."13 At this point, the story acquires a dramatic and realistic quality since Cisneros is referring directly to the murders of Ciudad Juarez. 14 According to Norma Alarcon (2002), the symbolic figures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, La Malinche and La Llorona, have been utilised as models of reference for women to control, explain and perceive women in Chicana culture. However, in this story, Cisneros rewrites the myth of La Llorona since the character of Cle6filas, thanks to the help of other women that represent new models and help her, runs away from the situation of violence, creating a new identity that does not fit the strict rules. Cisneros establishes a parallelism between La Llorona and the women who suffer for love in soap operas. Cle6filas, when marrying, assumes her role as wife and mother, and moves to the other side of the borderland, by the creek La Gritona: "La Gritona, such a funny name for such a lovely arroyo. But that's what they called the creek that ran behind the house. Though no one could say whether the woman hollered from anger or pain"15. Cle6filas gets immersed in silence and confusion after the physical abuse she suffers from her husband, an antithesis of the man that appears in soap operas. She identifies herself with the woman that seems to cry and call her from the creek. When Cle6filas gets married she is crossing different physical, spiritual and cultural frontiers, and she is conscious of what this crossing means when she is first abused by her husband: "[ s]he had always said she would strike back if a man, any man, were to strike her. But when the moment came, and he slapped her once, and then again, and again, until the lip split and bled and orchid of blood, she didn't fight back."16 Unable of rebelling against her husband and, at the same time, of managing on her own, her social world is limited to two neighbours, Soledad and Dolores, other two examples of women oppressed by their men. These women have also assumed their roles of silenced women. Actually, it is not a coincidence 13Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek, 52. 14The phenomenon of the female homicides in Ciudad Juarez involves the violent deaths of hundreds of women since 1993 in the northern Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, a border city across the Rio Grande from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. Most of the cases remain unsolved. 15Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek, 46. 16Ibid., 47.

Woman Hollering Creek, Never Marry a Mexican and Bien Pretty


that Cisneros has chosen such names for these characters. Both characters have been abandoned by their husbands. Nevertheless, Cisneros introduces a new character, Felice, who plays a very important role in the construction of the new identity of Cle6filas. Felice is a very independent woman, who owns her own car, works, does not depend on a man, is self confident and free. This character, Felice, together with Graciela, the nurse that works at the hospital where Cle6filas goes, helps Cle6filas run away with her children from the oppression and violence she suffers at home. It is very obvious that Cisneros has chosen the names of these characters in clear opposition to the names of Cle6filas's neighbours. Felice and Graciela contrast La Llorona with the pain and suffering connotations this myth possesses. When Felice and Cle6filas cross the creek, Felice starts shouting, but it is a different cry from the one Cle6filas has been listening to since she has been there; it is not a desperation cry, it is a liberation cry, a new era for Cle6filas: When we crossed the arroyo she just started yelling like a crazy, she would say later to her father and brothers. Who would've though? Who would've? Pain or rage, perhaps, but not a hoot like the one Felice had just let go. Makes you want to holler like Tarzan, Felice has said. Felice began laughing again, but it wasn't Felice laughing. It was gurgling out o f her throat, along ribbon oflaughter, like water. 17

In this fragment, Cisneros provides a new meaning to the arroyo and the role Cle6filas has adopted till that moment: "las opciones para Cle6filas como esposa maltratada y madre sufrida o la rabia, adoptando la postura destructiva de la Llorona." 18 Felice's cry or laughter becomes a symbol of the new identity and the new life of Cle6filas, who, with the help of other women, is being able to recover her own self and start a new life in which she will decide for herself. "Never Marry a Mexican" presents another example of redefinition of myths: the myth of La Malinche. Clemencia, the protagonist of "Never Marry a Mexican," has lived her whole life in an inferior position with respect to the men she has loved, since they have always controlled her and she has always been "the other," the "lover." At the beginning of the story, Clemencia is an example of a woman that has internalised the roles and the rules of patriarchal society, defining herself according to patriarchal terms and feeling inferior: "I'm guilty of having caused deliberate pain to other women. I'm vindictive and cruel, and I'm capable 17


Ibid., 56. Dominguez Miguela, Antonia. Esa imagen queen mi espejo se detiene, 113.


Chapter Thirteen

ofanything." 19 Drew, the man with whom she has had a long relationship, even compares their relationship with the one between Cortez and La Malinche: "a private game between us, because you looked like a Cortez with that beard of yours. " 2° Clemencia has assumed that Drew will never marry her because she is not white. However, once the relationship is finished, she realises her situation, and starts developing resistance awareness. As a consequence of that, her role in society as a lover becomes an instrument of resistance. The place she has had in society has been determined by her condition as a lover. Traditionally, the woman that is a lover of a married man is perceived as a marginal being within a patriarchal society, since the man is the one in power. However, this position can be also seen from another perspective, as a way to oppose the strict rules of patriarchy. As Rebolledo mentions, women who are lovers are considered mujeres andariegas, "these women who don't stay at home tending to their husbands, children, parents. Perhaps, they cross boundaries, like Gloria Anzaldua's atravesadas." 2 1 According to Rebolledo, mujeres andariegasare those who do not follow any kind of rule o social role established in society. Therefore, they are perceived within Chicano society as prostitutes that defy patriarchal society by making use of their sexuality. These women resist any social construction, since women in Chicano society must be passive and act according to gender roles. Clemencia has a very undetermined place within the hegemonic structure of patriarchy given her condition. Clemencia cannot fit within the domestic frame and does not fit either in the role of mother, given the use of her sexuality. Clemencia rejects being a mother. Therefore, in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1992) Cisneros proposes certain ways of resistance for women. From this, it is deduced that women must know and practice the dominant patriarchal discourse and conventions in order to be able to survive in a society created and dominated by men, although, they need to find certain spaces in which they can find an unmediated, affirmative identity of self One of these spheres is the erotic sphere as a way of empowerment for women. The fact that women can recover certain myths and spheres that have been traditionally defined and controlled by men, in this case, the sexual sphere, helps them build a new identity that is not defined by men anymore, but by women themselves. 19 Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek, 68. 20 Ibid., 74. 21 Rebolledo, Women Singing in the Snow, 183.

Woman Hollering Creek, Never Marry a Mexican and Bien Pretty


The protagonist of "Never Marry a Mexican" is also a victim of the patriarchal system. The description that Clemencia, the protagonist, makes about her mother and the advice she used to give to her daughter, "never marry a Mexican," demonstrates the kind of life she has experienced. Clemencia's mother tells her daughter to keep Latino men away from her life: "Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Chilean ... I don't care. I never saw them. My mother did this to me." 22 Clemencia's mother does not want her daughter to suffer what she has suffered after marrying a Mexican man, coming from a very traditional Mexican family: "[h ]aving married a Mexican man at seventeen. Having had dealt with all the grief a Mexican family can put on a girl because she was from el otro /ado, the other side, and my father had married down by marrying her. " 23 According to Anzaldua's ideas in Borderlands, Jimena is caught in a conflict of identities. She is regarded as inferior within Anglo-American society for being Chicano, and within Mexican society because she does not share the culture and the language: "[b ]ut what could be more ridiculous tan a Mexican girl who couldn't even speak Spanish, who didn't know enough to set a separate plate for each course at dinner, nor how to fold cloth napkins, nor how to set the silverware." 24 Jimena, from the very beginning of her marriage, does not accept the fixed rules of patriarchal Chicano society. She subverts patriarchal roles since she had had relationships with other men before her husband died. She is, in a certain way, a Malinche, even more because the man with whom she had the relationship was white Anglo-American. Clemencia and her mother could be seen as examples of subversive personalities, since they make use of their sexuality, they do not follow the roles they have been assigned by the society in which they live, and, therefore, they would be defined as Ma/inches. In fact, Drew, the married man with whom Clemencia is defines her as: "[ m]y Malinalii, Malinche, my courtesan. "25 However, Cisneros provides this myth with a new meaning, for the one it had been given traditionally was just one more construction of patriarchal principles. Cisneros provides a new meaning to the myth of La Malinche. La Malinche is seen in positive terms, as a model for women. Clemencia and her mother cross the borders of what is supposed to be acceptable for women in such a male-centred society. From Cisneros's perspective, women need to look for a new identity within different systems in opposition, they need to find 22 23 24 25

Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek, 69. Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek, 69. Ibid., 69. Ibid., 74.


Chapter Thirteen

their own way between the labels, binary systems, and subvert the traditional roles to be able to define themselves. "Bien Pretty" is very similar in many ways to "Never Marry a Mexican" since this story is also narrated by a Chicano artist who has assumed the roles of the patriarchal system of beliefs. Lupe, the protagonist, is a young artist who falls in love with Flavio, a Mexican guy, who after having a love relationship with her, abandons her and never comes back. In this story, Cisneros makes a revision of the legend of prince Popocatepetl and princess Iztaccihuatl in which the traditional roles assigned to men and women are revisited. 26 By means of art in this case and the revision the artist makes of a legend, she manages to find her own identity and renew herself. The protagonist, as well as Cle6filas, has assumed her inferiority with respect to males: "[o]nce you tell a man he's pretty, there's no taking it back. They think they're pretty all the time, and I suppose, in a way, they are. It's got to do with believing it. Just the way I used to believe I was pretty. Before Flavio Munguia wore all my prettiness away," [... ] "Everything's like it was. Except for this. When I look in the mirror, I'm ugly. How come I never noticed before." 27 Lupe, when abandoned by Flavio, feels inferior. She looks for the reasons why she has been left and she just can think about reasons to blame herself, for instance, she was not beautiful enough, she was not clear enough when showing her love for him: "I'd never said 'I love you'. I'd never said it, though the words rattled in my head like urracas in the bamboo." 28 Lupe is one more victim of the patriarchal system. She feels a failure. She blames herself for not being able to keep a man by her side. From here, it can be seen how women, sometimes, assume their inferiority with respect to men.

26 In Aztec mythology, Iztaccihuatl was a princess who fell in love with Popocatepetl, one of her father's warriors. The king sent Popocatepetl to war in Oaxaca, promising him Iztaccihuatl as his wife when he would return (which Iztaccihuatl's father presumed he would not). Iztaccihuatl was falsely told Popocatepetl had died in battle, and believing the news, she died o f grief. When Popocatepetl returned to find his love dead, he kneeled by her grave. The gods covered them with snow and changed them into mountains. Iztaccihuatl's mountain is called "White Woman" because it resembles a woman sleeping on her back, and is often covered with snow. He became the volcano Popocatepetl, raining fire on Earth in blind rage at the loss o f his beloved. 27 Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek, 137; ibid., 160. 28 Ibid., 160.

Woman Hollering Creek, Never Marry a Mexican and Bien Pretty


Nevertheless, Cisneros, as she does with the rest of the protagonists of her stories, provides Lupe with the mechanisms to resist that feeling of inferiority and create a new identity, not based on the male-centred norms. In "Bien Pretty," Cisneros rewrites the myth of Prince Popocatepetl and Princess Iztaccihuatl. This legend, mentioned several times throughout the story, becomes the centre of it when, after listening to a song by Daniela Romo: "[y]a no. Es verdad que te adoro, pero mas me adoro yo," has a moment of recognition with those lyrics and decides to restart paintingan activity that she had not practiced since Flavio left her. 29 Then, she rewrites the myth. This legend tells the story of a young couple of lovers who are separated because of the war. Itxa, after hearing about her love's death, marries another man. After two years, Popocatepelt comes back and Itxa feels so ashamed for having betrayed him that she commits suicide. When Popocatepelt knows about that, he feels so sad that he dies. The legend tells that gods felt sorry for them and converted them in volcano and mountain. According to the legend, the volcano named Popocatepetl in Mexico is the prince that watches the princess who is lying dead by his side, represented by mountain that is close to the volcano. This legend had always presented the princess, in a passive attitude, being watched by the prince. However, Lupe creates a work of art in which she becomes herself the prince, that is, she plays the role of the man and Flavio becomes Itxa. She becomes the voyeur, the one watching over a man. In this way, Cisneros subverts the traditional roles and provides Lupe with the mechanisms to resist internalisation of roles. Lupe is able to reinforce herself by means of art and trough it she gets to channel her pain. She starts loving herself: "[e]verywhere I go, it's me and me," "and every bird in the universo chittering, jabbering, clucking, chirruping ... going crazy because God-bless-it another day has ended, as if it never had yesterday and never will again tomorrow. Just because it's today, today. With no thought of the future or past. Today. Hurray. Hurray!" 30 As a conclusion, patriarchal society imposes a series of values upon women, values that, in many cases, are internalised by them and making them feel inferior to men and, sometimes, leading them to define themselves according to the extremes of the polarity. As Anzaldua mentions:

29 30

Ibid., 163. Ibid., 165.


Chapter Thirteen Culture forms our beliefs. We perceive the version of reality that it communicates. Dominant paradigms, predefined concepts that exist as unquestionable, unchallengeable, are transmitted to us through the culture. Culture is made by those in power-men. Males make the rules and laws: women transmit them. 3 1

Cisneros tries to create a new identity for women by means of creating bonds among them, as the case of Cle6filas and Felice. This is one of the ways for women to get to know themselves and feel stronger. It is even more significant in the case of Chicano women, since Chicano society is a male-centred one in which men impose the rules and women perpetuate them. Another possible way out offered by Cisneros in her stories is art as a means to channel the pain and suffering and reinforce oneself. This is shown in Lupe's story. Besides, Cisneros also talks about women who reject being controlled by men. Cisneros rewrites the traditional myths and provides them with a new meaning. Chicano feminist literature has a very political and social aim, since it denounces the reality of many Chicanas, but not only that, it also provides women in this culture with some mechanisms of resistance. Cisneros, as many other Chicano writers and critics, tries to find solutions and propose new paths for these women who suffer the consequences of being women in a men's world, poor and mestizas. Cisneros uses characters that, eventually, by means of different ways, get to love and value themselves.

Works Cited Alarcon, Norma. "Chicana's Feminist Literature: A Re-vision Through Malintzin/or Malintzin: Putting Flesh Back on the Object." In This Bridge Called my Back. Writings by Radical Women o f Color, ed. by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, 182-190. Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 2002: Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera. The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999. Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. New York: Vintage, 1992. Dominguez Miguela, Antonia. Esa imagen que en mi espejo se detiene. La herencia femenina en la narrativa de Latinos de EEUU. Huelva: Servicio de Publicaciones, Universidad de Huelva, 2000. Doyle, Jacqueline. "Haunting the Borderlands: La Llorona in Sandra Cisneros's '"Woman Hollering Creek'." In Women, America and 31

Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera, 16.

Woman Hollering Creek, Never Marry a Mexican and Bien Pretty


Movement. Narratives o f Relocation, ed. by Susan L. Roberson, 62-80. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998: Madsen, Deborah L. Understanding Contemporary Chicana Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. Rebolledo, Tey Diana. Women Singing in the Snow. Tucson/London: The University of Arizona Press, 1995. Yarbro-Bejarano, Ivonne. "Chicana Literature from a Chicana Feminist Perspective." In Chicana Creativity and Criticism: New Frontiers in American Literature, ed. by Maria Herrera-Sobek and Elena Maria Viramontes, 213-219. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1996.



"Novels," as Edward Said writes, may be considered "objects that fill gaps in an incomplete world." 1 The novel, when it reflects reality, is a contributive tool for a writer to reflect his or her own views on the strengths and shortcomings of a society, be they social or political. The writer can also "fill gaps" and show alternatives to the reality in which they live. Arab societies are family-oriented. The same goes for Arabic fiction. The emancipation of the female protagonist from the patriarchal restrictions of the family is a common theme that Arab feminist writers use to reflect the imperfect image of their male-dominated societies. In this paper, I will discuss the role of the Arab mother in Arab feminist fiction. The work I will be exploring originates from the Greater Syrian and Egyptian region-the central Middle-Eastemarea. 2 Generally, not enough background information is given about the character of the mother. The mother is typically silent, absent, dead, or helpless. The mother is only seen from the protagonist's point of view, so the reader needs to keep in mind that it is a subjective viewpoint of the female struggling to overcome the obstacles she faces in a patriarchal 1 Said, Beginnings: Intentions and Method, 82. 2 Greater Syria, in Arabic "Bilad Al Sham," used to be what is now modern day Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. These four countries share similar (but not identical) social conventions, norms, traditions, dialect and even cuisine.

The Arab Mother


society. In order to understand the role of the Arab mother in fiction, one must imagine her role as a daughter brought up in a patriarchal household. When a girl is born into a family, she grows up feeling inferior and even, in more extreme cases, embarrassed because she was not born a boy. She grows up hearing well-known expressions such as "the burden of girls is from cot to coffin," and "girls are a worry until you are in your grave." 3 She ends up believing these sayings; hence she develops an inferiority complex that she carries with her into marriage. The origin of these beliefs can be traced back as early as 2500 B.C.E. Between 3000 and 2500 B.C.E the Semitic nomads that inhabited the region with the assistance of the Sumerians, who had come from the east, developed male dominated societies. Trading and farming were essential for the society's survival. In order to guarantee the paternity of property heirs, women's sexuality needed to be controlled by men. 4 Leila Ahmed writes, ''women's sexuality was designated the property of men, first the woman's father, then of her husband, and female sexual purity (virginity in particular) became negotiable, economically valuable property. "5 Many of the pagan traditions of that era have been abandoned. The matter of virginity, however, has been transformed into a matter of honour and potential scandal. 6 Women in Arab cultures have the power to single-handedly bring about an entire family's social demise. This is why an unmarried girl must be held under tight control, since, in Arabic traditions, a man has nothing if he has no honour. This negative power that every woman holds is part of her victimisation: if this power were to be exercised, the consequences would be tragic for her. An unmarried girl, who has little say in most family affairs, can be the cause of her family's social abasement. This fear of losing face in front of friends, neighbours and all members of society makes the Arab mother's job of watching over her daughter considerably harder. This threat of scandal is born with a baby girl-which is in part the reason why married couples prefer having boys. A daughter's virginity is of the utmost importance. If doubt or questions arise regarding a girl's virginity, the girl and her family would be shunned by society. It is the mother's duty to maintain her daughter's respectable reputation until she is 3 Faqir, Pillars o f Salt, 123; ibid., 129. 4 Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam, 12. 5 Ibid., 129. 6 Honour: Shara/in Arabic derives from the root Shur/a, which means the highest point o f something, such as a mountain or hill. The highest point o f a man is his honour-and, in an Arabic meaning, honour is that his family be untouched by scandal.

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married of£ This aspect of Arab culture is one of the factors that makes the Arab mother-daughter relationship frequently strained-at least in contemporary Arabic feminist fiction. I believe that the contemporary Arab feminist writer is trying to send a message encouraging change in the family. By showing the consequences of a mother's actions-or lack of a c t i o n - on her daughter's character, the writer attempts to demonstrate the necessity of breaking the cycle of the flawed/absent/ dead mother resulting in a flawed/absent/dead daughter. It seems to spring from the mother's protection of her daughter's virginity. Arab feminist writers have explored the matter of virginity and the Arab mother-daughter relationship in their fiction. It is a common theme: an adolescent girl starts exploring her sexuality and her mother discourages it. The mother's task is to ensure that her daughter does not stray in order to keep the family name untarnished and to maintain her husband's (and society's) high regard of her as a good and successful mother. The subject of sex is a forbidden one, and mothers do not broach the subject with their daughters because issues such as respectability and honour are considered taboo. One of the measures to which mothers resort is keeping a girl's sexuality secret from her. In Nawal El Saadawi's novella Searching (1988), the protagonist Fouada has negative issues with the feminine parts of herself which she often saw attached to her body and washed with soap and water every day without knowing them. Her mother was the cause. Perhaps if she had been born without a mother, she would have known everything spontaneously. When she was very young, she learned that she had been born through an opening beneath her mother's stomach, perhaps the same opening through which she urinated or another one nearby. But when she told her mother of her discovery, she scolded her and said that she'd been born from her ear.7

Because of the early death of Fouada's father, she has a limited freedom that other Greater Syrian and Egyptian heroines do not have. Her mother, although unable to shake off her own patriarchal upbringing when it comes to suppressing sexuality, is as liberal as an Arab mother of that generation could be. For example, she allows her daughter to obtain a degree in chemistry and does not interfere in her daughter's decisions. Fouada is an unhappy employee in a male-dominated environment. Throughout the novel, Fouada is in search of her happiness, the man she loves who has suddenly disappeared, and of a fulfilling career that will 7 El Saadawi, Searching, 125.

The Arab Mother


help her find true self-satisfaction. In support of her daughter's soulsearching, Fouada's mother is willing to invest her savings in her daughter's business endeavour, which is to start her own chemistry lab. Fouada's mother is "unlike other mothers these days [and] did not think about marriage." After her husband's death, Fouada's mother tells her daughter that her "future lies in studying" and that "there is no use in men." Fouada's mother is supportive and lays "all her failed ambitions" on her only daughter. She supports her daughter's education and career plans, and financially supports her ambitions. In spite of her faith in her daughter's success, however, Fouada resents her mother. As Fouada walks around Cairo, her mother's words echo in her mind, "may the Lord make you successful, Fouada my daughter, and may you make a great discovery in chemistry." Fouada answers in her mind, "a great discovery in chemistry! What did her mother know about chemistry?" 8 Fouada's rejection towards her mother's high hopes can be explained if looked at from a Freudian perspective where the "daughter particularly blames her mother for the restrictions placed upon her sexual life. "9 Another perspective on the resentment a daughter may carry towards her mother is discussed by Adrienne Rich in her book O f Woman Born (1976): "Few women," she says, "growing up in a patriarchal society can feel mothered enough." 10 According to Rich, "many daughters live in rage at their mothers for having accepted, too readily and passively, 'whatever comes.' A mother's victimisation does not merely humiliate her, it mutilates the daughter who watches her for clues as to what it means to be a woman."" Fouada is brought up in a patriarchal society, and although her mother tries to break free from the stereotypical social conventions, she is unable to break free from the taboos regarding sexuality, and this is where Fouada's resentment towards an otherwise supportive mother springs from. Fouada does not forgive her mother's attempt at suppressing her curiosity regarding sexuality. This unforgiving tendency manifests itself in hatred towards all things patriarchal- and motherhood, in Fouada's mind, is a patriarchal institution. Fouada links the atmosphere at work-the most aggressively patriarchal atmosphere that Fouada is subjected to on a daily b a s i s - to her mother:


Ibid., 13. Phillips, B e y ond the Myths, 140. 10 Rich, O f Woman Born, 243. 11 Ibid., 243.



Chapter Fourteen she looked up at the gloomy building and saw it bulging out of the open courtyard, like her mother's stomach. Long wide cracks spread over its dark brown surface like stretch marks. She caught a strange smell, like the one she smelled in hospital maternity wards [... ] the feeling of nausea intensified and she knew she was approaching her office. 12

Fouada associates the negativity of the workplace with her mother and of motherhood. The workplace prevents her from evolving as a chemist due to its patriarchal administration. Her mother prevents her from evolving as a woman due to her own patriarchal upbringing. This makes the two inherently linked in Fouada's mind. Fouada blames her mother for her unhappy life: "You don't believe that I can do anything[ ... ] because I am your daughter." 13 Once Fouada's mother assures her that she was always convinced that her daughter could achieve anything, Fouada replies: "that conviction ruined my life! That conviction of yours haunted me like a ghost. It weighed me down. I only passed my exams for your sake. " 14 Fouada first accuses her mother of not believing in her and then blames her for believing in her too much. Fouada takes out her frustration on the only person who would take i t her mother. Fouada's search leads to a gradual separation from her mother. In her book Beyond the Myths (1991), Shelly Phillips discusses the psychological affects of this separation on the daughter; she explains that the daughter is "likely to feel guilty for seeking independence." 15 Phillips suggests that once daughters get their independence, they "long privately for their mother's death, in order to free themselves from the guilt occasioned by leaving their mothers to a life of pointless anonymity. " 16 After her mother's death, Fouada gazes at a photograph that hangs in her room, "her mother seemed to look at her with large, jaundiced eyes, feebly pleading with her to stay. She covered the face with her hand. Would her mother never lose that accusing look?" 17 Phillips analyses this issue, "the loss of her mother and the daughter's heightened awareness of the inevitability of her own death can be compounded by feelings of guilt and anger about the imperfections of the relationship with her mother. " 18 El Saadawi, Searching, 31. Ibid., 59. 14 Ibid., 60. 15 Phillips, Beyond the Myths, 106. 16 Ibid., 107. 17 El Saadawi, Searching, 111. 18 Phillips, Beyond the Myths, 130. 12


The Arab Mother


The death of the mother is a recurring phenomenon in Greater Syrian and Egyptian Arabic feminist writing. Maha, one of the narrators of Fadia Faqir's Pillars o f Salt (1996) loses her mother at a young age. Maha's motherlessness gives her the strength and determination she needs to resist the temptation of giving in to seduction. The memory of her mother motivates Maha to "keep her honour." Maha says: "the women who loved my brother, Daffash, who sneaked out stealthily in the middle of the night to meet him, were fools. Stupid idiots who risked honour for love. Did Harb think that Maha too, the daughter ofMaliha, was a fool?" 19 • Phillips examines the literary device of omitting the mother from the plot: there is an [... ] advantage in the absent mother tradition. Motherhood can be idealised through the dead mother and any shortcomings can be separated and projected on living scapegoats. [... ] Any questioning o f the patriarchal system and its ambivalent expectations and impossible ideals is safely contained. The result is a good, undisturbin novel o f the heroine's tribulations and her arrival at independent maturity. 0

At one point, Maha regrets not succumbing to Harb's advances because she fears that he would never return, she then immediately blames her mother: "my mother was responsible. She had told me not to give in to men. [... ] I should have listened to the call of my heart. " 2 1 It is curious that Maha chooses to blame her dead mother for discouraging her from "giving in to men" rather than blame the double-standards and chauvinism of her surroundings. Her society enables (perhaps even encourages) a man to seduce a woman without his having to worry about scandalising his own family or being punished himself. The man places all the blame on the woman for not resisting the temptation of intercourse and not preserving her family's honour. Maha also does not choose to blame her brother, although she is aware that he would punish her severely: "What if Daffash found out? He would certainly kill me. "22 Again, the daughter feels able, if not justified, in blaming her mother for the imperfections of society and the restrictions placed on women rather than blaming the men who enforce them. Dafash, Maha's brother, is able to meet with women at night, while Maha would die at his hands if she were to 'listen to the call of her heart' Rich's theory applies here. The daughter deeply resents her mother for submitting to victimhood, that is, for following the unwritten 19 Faqir, Pillars o f Salt, 10. 20 Phillips, Beyond the Myths, 291. 21 Faqir, Pillars o f Salt, 291. 22 Ibid., 13.


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rules of a patriarchal society for expecting her daughter to do the same. In patriarchal cultures, it is easier for a daughter to blame her mother for circumstances than for the daughter to try changing them. In Faqir's My Name is Sa/ma (2007), the protagonist is both a mother and a daughter. Salma, who lives in the deserts of Jordan like Maha, does succumb to the 'call of her heart' and is seduced by Hamdan. Salma and Maha are polar opposites, Maha's mother, even after her death holds her daughter under tight control and is able to keep her daughter from compromising her honour through what she taught Maha in her lifetime. Ironically, Salma's mother is alive and yet unable to save her daughter. Unlike Maha's mother, she does not warn Salma against men. When she suspects that her daughter is in love, she merely says: "Salma, you stupid child, are you in love?" 23 She does not attempt to explain to her daughter the potential dangers of this love-affair. Salma and Hamdan's relationship progresses, and Salma's mother's suspicion is finally aroused: 'you little slut, what have you done?' My mother yanked my hair. [ ... ] 'You smeared our name with tar. Your brother will shoot you between the eyes.' [... ] She yanked, bit, belted until I turned black and blue and sank blissfully into darkness. 24

After her mother's initial rage, she brings a midwife who "sticks iron bars inside" her. The abortion attempt is unsuccessful, Salma wakes up soaked in blood and her mother says: "It is still clinging to your womb like a real bastard." 2 5 At that point Salma runs to her teacher, who arranges for her to be taken into protective custody in a prison where she gives birth to a daughter whom she never sees again. Salma only hears from her mother again once more. She receives one letter in prison which her teacher writes on her mother's behalf. The letter warns Salma that her brother Mahmoud has vowed to shoot her mother if she attempts to visit Salma. Eventually Salma is rescued by nuns who take her to Britain. Salma, now an absent mother herself, lives in torment and guilt. She is told by a minister that if she finds a job and a good place to live she can one day go back and get her daughter. The thought of saving her daughter is what gets her through the struggle of finding independence and confidence in England. Her progress, however, is always interrupted by thoughts of her mother, "where was I? How far away was I from my


Faqir, My Name is Sa/ma, 12. Ibid., 33. 25 Ibid., 42. 24

The Arab Mother


mother?" 26 Salma's memories of her mother are symbolic: "My mother's black shawl was wrapped tight around my shoulder, but I could still feel the cold. Whenever I was beaten by Mahmoud, my brother, Mother would stroke my head to calm me down. "27 Here, the mother's role towards her daughter is nurturing, but frail. A mother cannot do much more than offer her fugitive daughter a shawl that does not keep the cold away. She cannot stop her son from attacking his sister, but can only attempt to comfort her daughter after a beating has taken place. Salma's mother has no hope of preventing her son from killing her daughter. Eventually, Salma gains independence and dignity. She shakes away her guilt and shame. After years of exile she goes back to Jordan, only to find that her illegitimate daughter has been thrown into a well by Mahmoud. Her mother, now blind, screams and begs Mahmoud not to kill his only sister but the novel ends with Mahmoud shooting his sister in the back. The well-known saying, an eye for an eye, which is also widely used by Arabs, only leads to blindness: Mahmoud's blind fury, Salma's blind hope, and Salma's mother's literal blindness. Her blindness, which can be viewed as an exaggerated symbol of helplessness, prevents her from saving Salma from Mahmoud's bullet. Her inability to save both her daughter and granddaughter is an extreme metaphor regarding the helplessness of the Arab mother-who is both mother and daughteragainst patriarchal order in fiction and Arab society non-fiction. Another character who finds herself pregnant out of wedlock is Mariam in Sahar Khalifeh's The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant. Mariam, a Christian girl, is pursued and seduced by a Muslim boy, Ibrahim. Mariam• s story is narrated by Ibrahim, and so Mariam• s relationship with her mother is reflected through his observations only. His own relationship with his mother is a negative one, "whenever I look at my mother I see only a woman who used to be beautiful. "28 He thinks of her and his sister as his "problem" after his parent's divorce and he coldly states, "if my mother were not alive, I would have gone to live with my father." 29 Mariam's blind mother, who feels neglected by her own sons, persuades Ibrahim to visit his mother. Again we are confronted with the symbol of the blind mother, which recurs often in the region's feminist fiction. The blind mother represents ignorance, helplessness, and the 26 27 28 29

Ibid., 73. Ibid., 95. Khalifeh, The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant, 82. Ibid., 81.


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inability to see beyond patriarchy or truth. Mariam's mother knows nothing about her daughter's forbidden relationship with a Muslim boy. She is unable to see that her daughter needs guidance. Surprisingly Mariam's mother is able to influence Ibrahim's life positively. She encourages him to value his mother, and gives him advice about life. She does not, however, see that her own daughter is lost, already pregnant, and in danger of being killed by her brothers. Mariam's mother tells Ibrahim that "children are more important than our country," and that "our children are dearer to us than our lives." 30 Through Ibrahim's conversation with Mariam's mother, we discover that Mariam is important to her mother. Nevertheless, Mariam's importance does not enable the blind mother to stop her sons from running after their pregnant sister with rifles. Although children are more important than one's country and one's life, when it comes to family honour, it is more important to sacrifice one child to save the entire family from social disaster. Actions speak louder than words, and what Mariam's mother says completely contradicts what she does not say. Her actions, however, say it loud and clear: family honour is dearer than her daughter's life. Mariam's mother complains to Ibrahim, that it is the father and not the mother, to whom children are loyal: "Christ died on the cross and he didn't complain and didn't say, 'mother', though his poor mother cried over him until her tears dried up. He did not call for his mother but said, 'Abba, Father! "' 3 1 The image of Mary crying until her eyes dried suggests a mother losing use of her eyes after her child is lost. It is as though a mother becomes useless without her children. Mariam's mother then goes on to explain how she lost her authority over her children with the death of their father; she describes herself as becoming "marginal" after his death. By losing her eyesight, Mariam's mother embraces her role as marginal. She enforces her insignificance as a parent by stepping aside as her sons attempt to honour-kill her only daughter. References to Mariam• s mother keep turning up throughout the novel. We are told by Ibrahim that she "discovered [Mariam's] pregnancy despite her weak vision and became stricter with her." 32 How Mariam's mother reacts to her daughter's pregnancy remains unknown, and exactly how she "became stricter with her" is left unclear. However, her becoming stricter implies that she was always strict with her daughter. We know from her conversation with Ibrahim, and through her inability or unwillingness to 30 31 32

Ibid., 64. Ibid., 64. Ibid., 82-3.

The Arab Mother


stop her sons, that her sons pay little attention to her authority. Eventually news of Mariam's pregnancy reaches her brothers and they run after her with their rifles. Matter-of-factly, Ibrahim informs the reader that "honour killing is a tradition and only blood washed away the shame brought by a girl. Mariam ran away and hid in a church. "33 Decades later, Ibrahim goes back to Mariam's old house trying to find her and his son. He finds photographs of her brothers, but none of Mariam or her son. As Mariam's mother is unable to control her daughter's actions, the course she chooses to take is to erase all traces of her daughter's existence from her house. In Arab societies an unmarried girl must be controlled at all times-especially by her mother. Her mother feels herself to be in charge of her body, her actions, even her choices. Mariam's mother clearly could not fulfil her role as an Arab girl's mother. Rather than feel that she failed as an Arab mother, she chooses to sweep the scandal under the proverbial carpet. Ibrahim continues searching in several locations and houses, and eventually manages to find a diary of Mariam's. She describes her own experiences as a mother: they say that motherhood is miraculous, pure love, pure affection, sacrifice, devotion, and gratefulness, but I only feel oppression and revolt, I want to run away from my heart. Why should I be the only one tied down? This feeling and the baby hurt me. [... ] I am oppressed, I am lonely. 34

Mariam becomes a victim of patriarchal perceptions of motherhood. Hirsch says, "the adult woman who is a mother, in particular, continues to exist only in relation to her child, never as a subject in her own right," and so it is in the case with Mariam. 35 The fact that Mariam has the child out of wedlock makes her even more oppressed in patriarchal society than she was prior to her pregnancy. This harsher oppression leads her to resent motherhood. She is shunned by society, rejected by the baby's father, and nearly killed by her own brothers. Hirsch, writing from a psychoanalytic feminist perspective, finds that "maturity can be reached only through an alignment with the paternal, by means of an angry and hostile break from the mother. " 36 Mariam, abandoned by everyone, in tum, reaches maturity by abandoning her own baby and joining a convent-embracing the paternal, in this case God, and 33

Ibid., 87. Ibid., 179. 35 Hirsch, The Mother/Daughter Plot, 167. 36 Ibid., 168. 34


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breaking away from her mother. Simone De Beauvoir's argument about woman's otherness in patriarchal society applies to Mariam's case: under patriarchy, woman is 'The Other', the object. Man is the subject. He does not engage in reciprocal relationships with females, but is the psychic oppressor. [... ] Thus a woman's life is empty. Her best alternative is the pursuit o f religion and the love o f God, which are substitutes for the adoration o f man. 37

The twist in the plot is that the man, Ibrahim, starts craving adoration from the woman he abandons. Mariam, however, accepts her place in the patriarchal order and embraces her role as a servant of God. She has no further need or desire to resume what Ibrahim ended decades earlier. Ibrahim, on the other hand, continues a frantic search for his long lost love and son, idealising and disregarding his negative role in Mariam's life. Little is known about Mariam's feelings, but from what little evidence Ibrahim finds, he feels outraged that she abandons her child. Ibrahim believes that a woman's place is with her child, regardless of the mother's circumstances. In spite of the fact that all of society and even her own family are against her, Mariam is still expected to fulfil her role as mother. These double standards of a patriarchal society are instilled in its members, and while Ibrahim does not mind leaving the girl he seduced to fend for herself after her pregnancy, he finds it unfathomable for her to have deserted his child. Ibrahim is guilty of having sexual relations with a girl he has no intention of marrying. He is also guilty of abandoning her as well as her child. Furthermore, he is guilty of judging her parental choices. He is also a victim of patriarchy, which instils male supremacy and female inferiority in its followers and locks them into a straitjacket of gender. Mariam breaks all the rules; she refuses to be controlled by patriarchal tradition-and since patriarchy also demands unconditional love from a mother, Mariam breaks this rule as well. Ibrahim finds Mariam's actions shocking and impossible to comprehend, as it is believed that an Arab mother's place is with her child at all times. The Arab mother in contemporary Greater Syrian and Egyptian fiction that does not abandon her child through death, necessity, or free will most often provide her daughter with the necessary and basic teachings of survival in the patriarchal society; how to "catch" a husband, how to keep him happy, and how to please a mother-in-law are a few examples. The female novelist attempts to emancipate her heroine from the common Arab phenomenon of being taught the art of manipulation at an early age. As an 37

Phillips, Beyond the Myths, 153.

The Arab Mother


attempt to "modify reality" writers choose to allude to this through other secondary characters rather than the protagonists. While the heroines are almost motherless and are forced to rely on themselves, other female characters in the novel have strong relationships with their mothers and are deeply dependent on them. In Samia Serageldin's The Cairo House, Gigi is introduced to Mirvat, her ex-husband's new wife for the first time. Gigi observes the interaction between her ex-husband Yusef and Mirvat and reflects: I could see that she had learned to handle Yusef. Under her self-effacing, pliant exterior I recognised the kind o f relentless manipulativeness which nature and nurture combine in women like her. This subtle skill is learned at their mother's knee and reaches its apotheosis in the capture o f the most eligible suitor possible. 38

It is expected that every Arab woman will learn and master this art of manipulation, and it is usually the mother who teaches her daughter how to practice it. In Gigi's case, however, her relationship with her mother is distant, and so it is her Aunt, Tante Zohra, who takes it upon herself to educate Gigi in that respect. Tante Zohra attempts to reconcile Gigi and her estranged husband by instructing Gigi to use "a little patience and a little diplomacy." 39 Tante Zohra goes on to say, "I don't understand why you can't get your way with him. Pretty as you are, clever as you are, you should have him eating out of the palm of your hand [... ] a woman should be supple!" 40 Gigi's mother is not as involved in Gigi's affairs as Tante Zohra. As a child, Gigi was chaperoned and accompanied by a French governess, Madame Helene. Gigi's mother remains nameless, although she is alive for most of the novel. It is Tante Zohra who finds Gigi a suitor and who tries to teach Gigi the lessons that an Arab mother "ought" to teach her daughter. Gigi rarely discusses life-changing decisions with her mother, such as divorce or remarriage, because "confiding in Mama, Gigi had learnt, was a risky proposition. She always seemed [... ] either quick to blame or, sometimes to worse effect, quick to defend with immoderate, mother-tigerish loyalty. 4 1 Gigi's lack of communication with her mother, and her mother's inadequacy in nurturing Gigi can be viewed as literary conventions which allow more character development. Phillips says, 38

Serageldin, The Cairo House, 132. Ibid., 132. 40 Ibid., 132. 41 Ibid., 97. 39


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"When mothers are dead or absent and unable to shield their daughters from the trials of attaining adulthood, then their daughters are obliged to develop some self-assertion and independence." 42 Gigi is able to obtain just that, and she despises other women who are dependant on their mothers for such things, "I was willing to wager that Mirvat was one of those married women who called her mother every single day to discuss strategy." 43 From the helplessness of the biological mother springs the need for the surrogate mother-figure, another recurring phenomenon in Arab Feminist writing. In Sadawi's Woman at Point Zero, Firdaus loses both her parents at a young age. She is then taken to Cairo to live with her uncle, whose wife dislikes Firdaus. She forces Firdaus to marry a man in his fifties. After Firdaus runs away, is found by a prostitute, called Sharifa, who adopts her as an underling. Thus, Firdaus is reborn, she says: "I realised now that I was being born again with a new body." 44 In her book The Mother/Daughter Plot, Marriane Hirsch states that "surrogate mothers [... ] are better able, at least in fictional representation, to help daughters avoid the traditional temptations of romantic love [and] of marriage.',4 5 And so it is with Sharifa and Firdaus. Sharifa opens Firdaus's reluctant eyes and discards any remaining naivete or romantic notions by saying, "[ none of the men] realised your worth, because you failed to value yourself highly enough. "46 Finally, after a life of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and poverty, Firdaus can eat, sleep, and live safely under the supervision of her surrogate mother Sharifa. She becomes a prostitute, and this new life is the opposite of how it was with her real mother in her childhood home: "sometimes when there was no food at home we would all go to bed with empty stomachs. But [my father] would never fail to have a meal. My mother would hide his food from us." 47 Firdaus, being an orphan, fits the profile that Hirsch has analysed, where the heroine "is an orphan attempting to cut herself off from a constraining past, to invent a new story, her own story, and eager to avoid the typically devastating fate of her mother. "48 By doing her best to avoid the fate of her mother she chooses an entirely different path, the path of prostitution, but she ends up 42

Ibid., 253. Ibid., 253. 44 Sadawi, Woman at Point Zero, 53. 45 Hirsch, The Mother/Daughter Plot, 43. 46 El Saadawi, Searching, 53. 47 Sadawi, Woman at Point Zero, 18. 48 Hirsch, The Mother/Daughter Plot, 46. 43

The Arab Mother


being exactly like her mother, dedicating her life to pleasing men. Firdaus's becoming a prostitute is a metaphor that aims to magnify the standpoint of the majority of Arab women: the conception is that if a woman is respectable, she will belong to one man only. If she chooses not to live a "respectable" life, then she is a prostitute, whether literally or figuratively. Both Maha and Salma are absent mothers who long for their children. They both unknowingly end up following their mothers' fate in becoming helpless in relation to their children. Gigi and Mariam are also absent mothers through their own choice. Both get abandoned by their mothers for choosing the unconventional; in Gigi's case it was more disapproval rather than abandonment for divorcing her husband, leaving her son and marrying a French journalist. In Mariam's case the abandonment was more pronounced because her "crime" was unthinkable-getting seduced by a Muslim, having a child out of wedlock and then joining a convent. Both Gigi and Mariam choose the unconventional "Other" and both fight and choose their paths in order to escape the oppression of the patriarchal society. Both end up strong independent women who make their own choices, each pays the price of losing her children. These are two tragic patterns in Arab fiction writing: one "modifying reality" by emancipating the heroine from the restrictions of the patriarchal Arab society, but at the cost of the heroine's freedom. This leaves her child is left a helpless victim who has to fend for her/himself The other plot, where fiction reflects reality, ends with the mother neither emancipated nor able to care for her child. In the Greater Syrian and Egyptian contemporary feminist plot, the heroines who fight to emancipate themselves and whose conscious or unconscious goals are to not follow in their feeble mothers' footsteps end up doing just that-detouring but eventually inheriting their mothers' inability to change society.

Works Cited Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots o f a Modern Debate. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992. El Saadawi, Nawal. Searching. London: Zed Books Ltd, 1991. - . Woman at Point Zero. London: Zed Books, 2001. Faqir, Fadia My Name is Sa/ma. London: Doubleday, 2007. - . Pillars o f Salt. Canada: Interlink Books, 2007. Hirsch, Marianne. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989.


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Khalifeh Sahar. The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant. Cairo: Interlink World Fiction, 2007. Phillips, Shelly. Beyond the Myths: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Psychology, History, Literature and Everyday Life. London: Penguin Books, 1991. Rich, Adrienne, O f Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. London: Virago, 1977. Said, Edward W. Beginnings: Intentions and Method. London: Granta Publications, 1997. Serageldin, Samia. The Cairo House. London: Harper Perennial, 2004.


Zora Neale Hurston's position within the Harlem Renaissance' was discreet and marginal. While important critics such as R. Bone praise Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God as "possibly the best novel of the period," there are other factors that mark her humble reception. 2 To start with, her work is not extensive-four novels, autobiography, two books of folklore, numerous short stories, essays and articles-and, as I argue in a previous chapter, she deliberately chose not to focus exclusively on the "Race Problem," a popular topic during the 1930s. 3 She occupied an in-between position, clearly interested to display the black folklore that she knew well in the all-black community of Eatonville-and she had an amazing ability to capture the idiosyncratic


Intellectual movement that emerged in the African American community of Harlem (New York) and brought new attention to African American Literature. It dates back to the publication of the article "Negro Writers" (1920) and the collection of writing The Survey Graphic (March 1925), dedicated to Harlem with the inclusion of an influential essay by Alain Locke, "The New Negro." Due to an immediate success, Locke enlarged the collection under the title The New Negro: An Interpretation. Some of its most influential members were Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, or Dorothy West. 2 Bone, The Negro Novel in America, 127. 3 See also: Rodriguez Salas, '"The beginning of this was a woman': Gender vs. race in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God."


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discourse of that community-but was ultimately devoted to transcend the race issue, as she herself stated: Negroes were supposed to write about the Race Problem. I was and am thoroughly sick o f the subject. My interest lies in what makes a man or a woman do such-and-so, regardless o f his color ... Different idioms, yes. Circumstances and conditions having power to influence, yes. Inherent difference, no. 4

Probably this lack of radicalism in the "Race Problem" together with the ubiquitous presence of male writers in the Harlem Renaissance contributed to Hurston's ostracism-we cannot forget that her writing was forsaken for years until Alice Walker rediscovered it in the 1970s. Hurston might have detected this animosity of black male writers against her as a woman, and she thus realised that gender was a more important issue to her than race. In "Sweat," one of her most well-known and thoroughly anthologised stories, race occupies an undeniable place, but Hurston's ultimate focus is marital abuse and the subversion of gender roles through a strategic use of religion. It is a harsh story about a coloured woman, Delia, who works for the white community by washing their clothes, while her husband, Sykes, idles around in the house, keeps an affair with another woman, and abuses his wife both physically and psychologically. When analysing the role of religion in the story, many critics only manage to see the dichotomy of good vs. evil, or God vs. Satan, the former represented by Delia and her virginal, passive role and the latter represented by her wicked husband, and his indirect association with the snake with which he scares his wife. This is Heather McVicker's opinion when she speaks about Delia's passive role in her husband's death or Eric Moran, who concludes: "While Sykes is physically strong and has no virtue or faith in God, Delia's strength lies in her religion and humble tolerance of her husband which proves, in the end, prevalent over his brute strength and abusive attitude." 5 The implication of this quote is that Delia represents the prototypical Virgin and her passive stoicism, which is finally rewarded with the liberation from her husband, something that Elaine Pagels corroborates when she considers that "[w]hen Sykes is dead, the sun has finally risen, representing how the light of goodness shines the celebration of evil's death." 6 This image closely resembles that of a Black 4

Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road, 214. Mc Vicker, "The Treatment o f Women in 'Sweat'," n. p. 6 Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, 70. 5

Paradise Regained


Madonna. 7 However, in my opinion, Hurston's intention is to show the protagonist's evolution from this socially imposed role of the Virgin to that of a New Eve, capable of breaking religious tenets to attain her selffulfilment beyond the traditional conception of the First Woman as a selfish and wicked character. The explanation provided by critics like McVicker or Moran fails to detect Hurston's rebellious intention - w h i c h is not surprising, when other critics such as Sterling Brown, Benjamin Brawley, Hugh Gloster, and Nick Aaron Ford speak about "Hurston's 'whitewashed' treatment of black life" 8- and therefore this image propagates the idea that Hurston is a placid mirror for a pious black community. Indeed, our first impression in reading the story is that the good-evil dichotomy is prevalent. Many critics have commented upon Hurston's presentation of Delia as a pure, passive character close to the Virgin Mary, especially through her washing of white people's clothes. 9 This is part ofHurston's strategy, as I see it: to show Delia's evolution from the gender role expected from her, mainly through religion, to a position of power inverting the religious discourse that has created her. At the beginning of the story she performs the passive role expected from her as a Christian woman who must be subjected to her husband. There is constant reference to God in the story: "God knows it's a sin;" "Oh, Jesus, have mussy!" 10 She is presented as a pacifist and devout Christian, with the patience and passivity we would expect from the Virgin Mary. After Sykes kicks all her clothes: "She walked calmly around him and commenced to re-sort the things," and she states: "Ah aint for no fuss t'night Sykes. Ah just come from taking the sacrament at the church house."" Her image of servility is also indicated by this physical description: "her thin, stooped shoulders sagged further." 12 Her husband, Sykes, in turn, is associated with a snake, and therefore, with the Devil. He knows Delia is scared of insects, and especially of snakes, so he proves his sadistic nature when he laughs out of scaring his wife to death. First, we have the big bull whip episode, where she confuses this weapon with a snake. Some critics have already pointed at the phallic connotations of the whip as a way to compensate for Sykes's lack of 7

McLaughlin, "Good vs. Evil in 'Sweat'," n. p.; Wallace, "Real Negro People," n. p. Other critics who insist upon Hurston's presentation o f Delia as a pious, religious, passive woman are McLaughin and Wallace. 8 Quoted in Howard, Zora Neale Hurston, 171. 9 Moran, McLaughlin, and Seidel (1991: 117). 10 Hurston, "Sweat," 1672; 1676. 11 Ibid., 1673. 12 Ibid., 1673.


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power in the house, 13 as it is Delia who earns the money. 14 Later, he brings a box with a rattlesnake to keep it at home and its ironic foreshadow: "Ah aint got tuh do nothin' but die" - " h e ' s gointer stay right heah tell he die." 15 As we know, Sykes is the one who finally dies. Another anticipation happens when Delia compares her husband with the Devil: "Oh, well, whatever goes over the Devil's back, is got to come under his belly. Sometime or ruther, Sykes, like everybody else, is gointer reap his sowing." 16 At this point of the story, it sounds more like Delia's desired revenge rather than its factual realisation. Sykes kicks Delia's clothes and steps upon them, so that the contrast between his dirt and her cleanliness becomes more apparent. He brutally beats her and has been doing it since two months after the wedding and has been unfaithful to her, not only with his mistress Bertha, but he has also tried with every other woman. These hints are enough to see Sykes as close to the Devil figure. However, this Manichean dichotomy proves too simplistic in Hurston's story and microcosm, and Delia starts to change after the following image: "Delia's habitual meekness seemed to slip from her shoulders like a blown scar£" 17 Her "habitual meekness" could represent the delicate feminine role that she has been brainwashed to perform, just like a woman's scarf that slips from her shoulders to leave them bare and shiny and reveal her nature as a flesh and bone woman. Although she has been connected with the white clothes of white people-and their association with purity-this servile, acquiescent attitude of the Virgin does not apply to her. By washing white people's clothes, Hurston suggests that Delia is a slave of race, domesticity and her husband. However, there is an exit beyond that, indicated by the fact that she is not even a prototypical white Virgin but a black Madonna. This religious discourse proves to fail her accommodation into a system that does not recognise her real identity, so that she needs to subvert the feminine, virginal image that encloses her in a prison.

13 Meisenhelder, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, 44; Mason, '"Sykes' Struggle for Manhood." 14 Walker, "Zora Neale Hurston," 241. Some critics consider Sykes's emasculation together with his racial oppression as the motor for his marital abuse: and S. Jay Walker, who concludes: "Zora Neale Hurston had the opinion that the struggle with racism is enough for blacks' energies to the belief that the last thing needed by black men at this time is being put down by the black women." 15 Hurston, "Sweat," 1676. 16 Ibid., 1674. 17 Ibid., 1673.

Paradise Regained


Her name is another indication of her rebellious nature. Rosalie Murphy Baum associates the name with the Biblical Delilah who emasculated her Samson, just like Delia supports Sykes economicallycuriously enough, Samson and Sykes start with an "s." 18 The physical contrast between Delia and Sykes closely resembles that between Delilah and Samson, and so does the triumph of her intelligence over the man's physical strength: "[her] poor little body, her bare knuckly hands bravely defying the strapping hulk before her." 19 Delia's change can be observed when, referred to as "this new Delia," she "seised the iron skillet from the stove and struck a defensive pose," showing how she uses a traditional utensil of domesticity as a weapon to defend herself. 20 Furthermore, she expresses her own view instead of remaining silent when she does not want Sykes's mistress to take advantage of her money and home and there is a categorical conclusion when we are told that she showed "[a] triumphant indifference to all that he was or did." 21 The home becomes a traditional symbol of the self. Here Delia has paid for her home and has grown her own garden: "Too late for everything except her little home. She had built it for her old days, and planted one by one the trees and flowers there. It was lovely to her, lovely." 22 There seems to be some hope, as it is not late to recover herself and escape from the prison of her husband. The rest is destroyed. By using a fantastic image, her marriage is presented as shattered: "the debris that cluttered their matrimonial trail [... ] . Anything like flowers had long ago been drowned in the salty stream that had been pressed from her heart. Her tears, her sweat, her blood." 23 Hurston insists upon Delia's insignificance as a woman and a human being against the immensity of marriage as an institution: "[she] drew herself up into an unhappy little ball in the middle of the big feather bed. "24 The Biblical allusions are pervasive in the story with the intention to subvert them and offer an alternative view of women. Delia is a hard working woman who uses her faith in God to guide and protect her from her husband's physical and emotional abuse. However, there is a reaction against Christianity that condemns women to a subservient role to men. Delia's salvation comes from the serpent. As in Milton's Paradise Lost, where we find a rebellious Satan against God's strict power, here we find 18 19

Baum, "The Shape ofHurton's Fiction," 106. Hurston, "Sweat," 1673. 20 Ibid., 1673. 21 Ibid., 1674. 22 Ibid., 1674. 23 Ibid., 1674. 24 Ibid., 1674.


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Delia's rebellion to achieve freedom and happiness, not only her own, but also of all married women in her situation. Her link with Delilah has been previously mentioned, as well as her bonding with another traditionally wicked woman (Eve) with whom Delia becomes associated towards the end of the story. Her connection with religious leaders who were appointed from above to perform Messianic roles becomes evident in the story. To start with, she is closely and indirectly linked with Christ as a figure of salvation for all those women in the same condition: "Delia's work-worn knees crawled over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary many, many times during these months." 25 She is also equated to Joshua when she sings the song about crossing the Jordan - " A h wantah cross Jurden in uh calm time," 26- Joshua being the figure who led the nation oflsrael across the river, so that indirectly Delia is presented in the role of leading her people to a new destiny, either as a warrior or as a martyr, more as a warrior, since we have seen her evolution towards acquiring a voice and her own power. Glenda B. Weathers (2005) clarifies the importance of the Promise Land metaphor in African American writing: "Enslaved by law or custom, African Americans have found the Promise Land metaphor an apt vehicle for describing the epic proportion of their suffering. Using this metaphor, they can identify with the Old Testament Israelites who were under God's special providence." 27 Weathers illustrates this trope in such writers as Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Larson, Lemann, and particularly Morrison and Hurston. Weather's conclusion is that "Profoundly inspired by trees of knowledge," Janie in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Sethe in Morrison's Beloved "could painfully but productively 'find out about livin' fuh theyselves,' seek deliverance and discoveries in the stories they inhabit." 28 This is precisely what happens to Delia in "Sweat:" her metaphorical access to the tree of knowledge leads to her salvation rather than condemnation. 29 As a Virgin Mary figure-who does not fit into this category as she is more of a Black Madonna-Delia evolves in the story towards a New Eve who uses her wicked rebellion to her profit and to find 25

Ibid., 1676. Ibid., 1678. 27 Weathers, "Biblical Trees, Biblical Deliverance," 201. 28 Ibid., 209. 29 Williams, "Fall From Eden: God's Judgment in Hurston's 'Sweat'," n. p. Barbara L. Williams mentions the very title o f the story as an initial reference to God's punishment as a result o f eating from the forbidden tree o f knowledge. 26

Paradise Regained


a place and a voice of her own. The Genesis story is inverted and the Lost Paradise of Eden is regained by the female character in a new space of her own, without the masculine principle, an action that brings her back peace, freedom and emotional stability. Although Delia hates snakes, there is a progressive identification with the one that Sykes brings home. At the beginning of the story she is scared of snakes and Sykes considers himself an expert in this reptile, so that he is labelled a "snake charmer" and speaks of them with a "superior tone of voice. "30 However, there is an image that is repeated to mark the identification of the snake and Delia: "Two or three days later it had digested its meal of frogs and literally came to life. It rattled at every movement in the kitchen or the yard."31 The moment when the snake comes to life coincides with the moment Delia reveals her husband that she hates him: '" Ah hates you, Sykes,' she said calmly. 'Ah hates you tuh de same degree dat Ah useter love yuh. Ah done took an' took till mah belly is full up tuh mah neck'."32 We find the same image, linked to the feeding of the snake. However, in Delia's case, she is not filled with food, but with hatred that has been accumulated in her "belly." Right after, Sykes compares his wife with "a devvul's dollbaby,"33 a clear link with the snake and its association with "ol' satan."34 From this moment on, the Devil is no longer Sykes, but Delia. There is a process in the story until Delia finally accepts her evil side for her own salvation. When the snake escapes, she describes it as "pouring his awful beauty[ ... ] There for an hour or more she lay sprawled upon the hay a gibbering wreck."35 But then a radical change is observed: "Finally, she grew quiet, and after that, coherent thought. With this, stalked through her a cold, bloody rage. A period of introspection, a space of retrospection, then a mixture of both. Out of this an awful calm."36 After this process of introspection, the reader understands that she is going to subvert Christian tenets since she finds no other exit for her. And here the moral debate is open: "Well, Ah done de bes' Ah could. If things aint right, Gawd knows taint mah fault."37 Suddenly the story becomes Adam and Eve's story in reverse: a very unblissful garden which is made peaceful when the snake bites the man. She stops at the Chinaberry tree, 30Hurston, "Sweat," 1677. 31Ibid., 1677. 32Ibid., 1677. 33Ibid., 1677. 34Ibid., 1678. 35Ibid., 1678. 36Ibid., 1678-9. 37Ibid., 1679.


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which stands for the tree of knowledge, but a tree that this time involves her own salvation rather than her fall, mainly because it is her own creation as opposed to the biblical one created by God. Even the setting is a metaphorical hell, perfect for the serpent to do its job: "It was a hot, hot day near the end ofJuly;" "the heat ... We'se all sufferin' wid de heat;" "The sun had burned July to August. The heat streamed down like a million hot arrows, smiting all things living upon the earth. Grass withered, leaves browned, snakes went blind in shedding and men and dogs went mad. Dog days." 38 This is a perfect picture of hell, with a reference to snakes and their shedding, an image that matches Delia's change into a snake, also shedding her skin to a new, free, rebellious self. When Sykes is dying, it seems that the metaphorical hell gives way to warmth and a peaceful situation, implying that Delia's evilness is temporary and instrumental: "letting in the red dawn," "the sun crept on up," "and the sun kept rising," "The sun was growing warm," "the growing heat." 39

Conclusion Delia's liberation comes along by subverting Christian tenets. Nevertheless, Hurston works carefully so as not to present Delia as the obvious source of this liberation. Although she becomes a powerful contestant to her husband's abuse, she is not the active force that kills him; there is an external element, the snake, that carries out the vengeful action, and even though it is identified with her, it is not her. Some critics like Harold Bloom have misread the ending when they assert: "The story has an ending that can only be described as self-indulgent. In the episode depicting Sykes' ordeal, Hurston loses her composure and rejoices in the torture of her villain. 'Sweat' is thus reduced to a revenge fantasy." 40 Others try to justify Delia's temporary wickedness: "Even though Delia symbolizes Christ, her actions at the end of the story are devil-like in that she desires revenge for Sykes, who relentlessly torments her. It is almost as if Sykes or the devil takes over Delia, the good Christian woman, for a moment before his death.',4 1 It is true that Delia lets Sykes die in complete silence without helping him, making the excuse that the doctor is too far away and letting him die in isolation. But then we are informed that "a 38

Ibid., 1674; 46; 1676. Ibid., 1679; 1680. 40 Bloom, Black American Women Fiction Writers, 56. 41 McLaughlin, "Good vs. Evil in 'Sweat'," n. p. 39

Paradise Regained


surge of pity too strong to support bore her away." 42 Delia is never wicked: there is a progressive identification with the snake that leads finally to her salvation and she shows a surge of pity that redeems her to the eyes of the reader. This is how Hurston deals with the moral debate and encourages women's action against abuse. Delia ends the story as a fully human character, a flesh and bone Eve who only calls for some welldeserved dignity and peace of mind. Hurston leaves the judgement of Delia in the hands of the reader.

Works Cited Baum, Rosalie Murphy. "The Shape of Hurton's Fiction." In Zora in Florida, ed. by Steve Glassman and Kathryn Lee Seidel, 94-109. Orlando: University of Central Florida Press, 1991. Bloom, Harold. Black American Women Fiction Writers. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997. Bone, Robert. The Negro Novel in America. New Haven: Yale UP, 1958. Howard, L. P. Zora Neale Hurston. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980. Hurston, Zora Neale. (1942). Dust Tracks on a Road. New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1971. - . (1985). "Sweat." In The Norton Anthology o f Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. 2nd edition, ed. by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, 1672-1680. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1996. Mason, Julie. '"Sykes' Struggle for Manhood." In The Making o f a Southerner and Other Essays, ed. by Connie Bellamy, n. p. Norfolk: Virginia Wesleyan College, 2004. McLaughlin, Emily. "Good vs. Evil in 'Sweat'." . McVicker, Heather. "The Treatment of Women in 'Sweat'." . Meisenhelder, Susan Edwards. Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1999. Moran, Eric. "Religious Symbolism in Zora Neale Hurston's 'Sweat'." . Pagels, Elaine. 1988. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. New York, New York: Random House Publishers. 42 Hurston, "Sweat," 1680.


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Rodriguez Salas, Gerardo. '"The beginning of this was a woman': Gender vs. race in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God." In Entre la creaci6n y el au/a. Estudios en homenaje a Manuel Villar Raso, ed. by Rosa Morillas Sanchez, Mauricio D. Aguilera Linde and Pilar Villar Argaiz, 107-116. Granada: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Granada, 2007. Seidel, Kathryn Lee. "The Artist in the Kitchen: The Economics of Creativity in Hurston's 'Sweat."' In Zora in Florida, ed. by Steve Glassman and Kathryn Lee Seidel, 110-120. Orlando: University of Central Florida Press, 1991. Walker, S. Jay. "Zora Neale Hurston." In Contemporary Literary Criticism: Excerpts from Criticism o f the Works o f Today's Novelists, Poets, Playwrights, Short Story Writers, Scriptwriters, ed. by Roger Matuz et al., 240-244. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990. Wallace, Margaret. (1934). "Real Negro People." Rpt. in American Women Fiction Writers, ed. by Harold Bloom, 13. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997 Weathers, Glenda B. 2005. "Biblical Trees, Biblical Deliverance: Literary Landscapes of Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison." African American Review 39.1/2: 201-212. Williams, Barbara L. 1996. "Fall From Eden: God's Judgment in Hurston's 'Sweat'." .


The search for wholeness through spirituality becomes a way of living that deeply affects characterisation in the works of fiction by contemporary Afro-Hispanic and African American women writers. The functionality and instrumentality of wholeness (or rather the search for it) is a key theoretical concept that reflects in the characterisation strategies of contemporary novels by women writers of the African Diaspora. This paper investigates the shaping of wholeness in three novels by women writers of the African Diaspora: Guinean writer Maria Nsue Angiie and her novel Ekomo (1985), African American writer Paule Marshall's novel Daughters (1991), and Haitian writer Micheline Dusseck and her novel Echoes o f the Caribbean (1996). Thus, through the study ofan African, an African American and a Caribbean writer, the literary connection of the African continuum in its Diaspora is established, full of dynamism in their construction of gendered identities. As writers of the African Diaspora these three women's texts share same aspects such as the presence of orality, they claim the influence of literary foremothers and their visibility in literary history, they pay homage to the ancestors, and they claim a deep sense of spirituality rooted in their search for wholeness both through agency and the building of an individual identity as well as through their connection to their collective memory as a people of African descent. The search for wholeness is tightly linked to the search for freedom and agency. Ever since the nineteenth century writers of the African Diaspora have given expression to an African self that functions in western civilisation simultaneously as a "colonised" other and an assertive "self." Due to the continuous ordeal of the African Diaspora, this self is


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caught between the binaries proposed by the material and the spiritual world, seeking a balance where the person can become whole. My paper will investigate the cultural roots that inform the search for wholeness within the scope of the African Diaspora. The search for wholeness feeds from cultural roots that imply the presence of ancestral spiritualism, 1 rememory, and double consciousness. Rememory as the vehicle for dialogue with the past in relation to the present; double consciousness, as the cultural and psychological reflection of blackness and its adventure with Westem culture; and wholeness, the continuous dialogic process of comprehending and engaging the world from the vantage point of agency, are essential theoretical concepts in African American literary theory.2 As expressed in the contemporary literature of black women writers, starting in the 1980s, (writers such as Morrison, Naylor, Marshall and Dash among others) the search for wholeness reflects a beauty realised through the healing of the spirit and the body, and is a process that takes on dimensions of reconciling the past and the present, the mythic and the real, the spiritual and the physical-all in a context of an emerging world view that welcomes synthesis and simultaneously expects both synthesis and generative contradictions. The quest for wholeness involves a change of world view that is invigorated by the ancestors, that informs human life socially and culturally through affirming the connections among past, present, and an imaginable positive future. This world-view explores and engages the links and mergers between the spiritual and the physical worlds through the principle of polarity, recognised by ancient societies. This principle of polarity argues that opposites are only opposite according to degree, and it holds the possibility for one to be simultaneously an individual and a part of the community. One's community, consequently, includes the ancestors, the past, and the present and the imagined future. This context, however, cannot be realised without considering Nommo, the life force. As both Paul Carter Harrison and Molefi Kete Asante explain, Nommo involves the generative tensions between matter and spirit, good and evil, male and female, etc., and suggests the existence of a state in which the physical and spiritual fuse. This state corresponds to the time when gods walked the earth, when people had divine knowledge, and in African American folklore, when people could fly. Tricksters, Conjurers, ancestors, and the 1 It signifies the connection o f past, present and future, and the life force that makes it possible for the physical and spiritual worlds to be one. 2 Butler, "African American Literature and Realist Theory: Seeking the 'TrueTrue' ," 172-192. This theoretical approach to African American literature follows the proposal of Professor Johnnella E. Butler in her article.

Cultural Roots, Wholeness and the African Diaspora


power of myths in African American tradition are all very much part of the everyday cosmology in which the spiritual world interacts with the real world. The novel Ekomo is a Bildungsroman. It explores the process by which the protagonist, Nnanga Sara, frees herself from the traditional tribal rites of her culture, to find out the path towards freedom and self-realisation. As Kusbitschek points out, in the novels of black women writers, the protagonist enters on a quest, be it physical or spiritual, that leads her to "the development of identity, particularly in relationship to community." 3 This getting rid of the chains of tradition is a difficult task for Nnanga, but her life, and her spiritual wholeness are at stake if she does not do it. Her nickname as a dancer gives us an idea of her inner strength and possibilities: Dove of Fire Standing on a Steel Pole. Dove, because she is soothing, meek and innocent, Fire because, inside, she is strong and powerful. The sustenance of her life and her values are strongly African, thus, made out of steel. On the one hand she is Nnanga, the African, a dancer, a wife, and later, a widow. All this aspects of her life provide the protagonist with an unquestionable African identity. On the other hand, she is Sara, because she has been baptised in the faith of Christian Protestantism. It is her father, and his strong situation within their tribe, and the opinion of the Protestant priest, who finally save Nnanga from dying. Thus, the presence of religious syncretism functions as a cohesive element in the novel, and as part of the reality of postcolonial Africa. Christian faith coexists in the novel with Vudu beliefs, sacred dancing, and secret herbs administered by powerful men witches. Subjects in postcolonial narratives search for their own identity this is why the identity of Nnanga is defined through a rejection towards the Hispanic tradition as a way to create and identity on her own. There are several ways by which the identity ofNnganga Sara is defined through the traditions of her fang tribe. Besides her role as a dancer, Nnanga or Dove of Fire defines herself through her marriage to Ekomo, and later, as a widow. In each of these stages of her life the marked African tradition enters in conflict with the rebellious character of Nnanga. The last pages of the novel are a tribute to the African woman, obliged by her circumstances to choose between her costumes and taboos, and the more liberal norms of the Christian church. A profound syncretism invades the novel, and the protagonist undergoes an internal fight between her faith in the ancestors, and her faith in God. The result is a state of confusion that tears her apart, a feeling that permeates in the tone and the style of the 3

Kusbitschek, Claiming the Heritage, 9.


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whole novel. The intimacy of the style is relevant, as well as the psychological introspection of the main character. Ekomo is a novel of intense internal growth through the process of the construction of the identity of an African woman projecting towards assertiveness, and ideological independence on the one hand, and spiritual wholeness on the other. Nnanga Sara's identity is not only feminine within the patriarchal parameters of traditional African culture and society, but it is also black, vernacular, African. Her development towards wholeness however, does not get easily resolved. At the end, Nnanga Sara remains in conflict, and the result is pain, distress, and confusion, but not chaos. Nsue's novel belongs to the Equatorial-Guinean literature and its tradition, not to Spanish literature. As such the novel is part of the literary world of the African novel, the novel of the African Diaspora. Women writers of the African Diaspora recognise the importance of storytelling and oratory no just as a way of preserving those native stories passed down in their cultures but also in order to review their past, both historically and personally, redefining in this way their culture by legitimising their collective memory. Haitian writer Micheline Dusseck, speaker of both French and Creole, writes in Spanish her first novel, entitled Echoes o f the Caribbean. This novel, that tells about the destiny of three generations of Haitian women, who little by little abandon their native, indigenous way of life on behalf of the colonial presence of North Americans in Haiti. This is how people from the villages see whites: Whites... these are people of white skin, just like a chicken without feathers. Their eyes are like marbles, bright and o f different colours, grey, green, blue. I wonder i f they see anything with those strange eyes. Their hair is like corncobs or like horsetails. They look like bland, fragile toys. They smell like raw meat. .. they say they have come to bring progress and prosperity to our country. Every child is going to go to school to get educated and to learn their language. 4

With the arrival of the North American troops a long history of cultural imperialism starts bringing the loss of freedom, economic and social status, due to the presence of the multinational companies that take away the lands and properties of countrymen. Men abandon their wives to participate in "guerrillas" and women must enter domestic service in order to support their families, with the subsequent migration from the country and into the cities. Migration is considered as a way out from misery. 4

Dusseck, Ecoes o f the Caribbean, 33, my own translation.

Cultural Roots, Wholeness and the African Diaspora


These people have lost touch with their ancestral roots, being absorbed by a western, monotonous way of life. As this novel reminds us, in order to achieve personal wholeness, characters need to be in touch with their inner selves, and their ancestral, cultural heritage. In this way, Olivia starts to live with a certain degree of agency when she realises that: It was about time to discard the mask and let herself be to the fullest with her wishes an desires: to forget Tchaikovski and Boudelaire together with many other symbols, from her mistress' house and allow space for the "tam-tam" rhythm of her African blood, remembering her Caribbean childhood stories, forgetting her affairs with her boss, and allowing that tenderness that her lover had instilled in her. 5 The search for wholeness through spirituality involves keeping a tight relationship to oneself, family, and community in order to obtain a true sense of identity: to reclaim her African part. Dusseck's narrative relies on traditional storytelling as a characterisation device, emphasising its healing potential by contextualising rituals and ceremonies and exploring the social dimensions of cultural dis-ease. 6 Another character that undergoes the journey from fragmentation and self-denial through independence and wholeness is Ursa Mackenzie, from Marshall's novel, Daughters. Ursa's process of emotional growth-from anger to understanding and forgiveness, implies her own recognition and conscious acceptance of her true feelings. She undergoes a process of search and discovery through which she is able to grasp a firm sense of agency and wholeness. This is the end of her journey, towards selfacceptance and her search for a true identity, one that does not lean on what her mother's experience had been or in what her mother's spirit demands of her. Ursa's underdeveloped body: "that short, shapeless block from her neck to below her navel that looks as if it's still waiting for the laws of puberty to catch up with it. No waistline or hips to speak of; no trace of the high, rounded ass that should have been her birthright; and two nubs for breasts," suggests her underdeveloped self in terms of independency and agency-her need for it. 7 This is one of the reasons why Ursa is not ready emotionally to have Lowell's baby, and explains why she has an abortion-the outside, the shell evokes the inside, her 5


Ibid., 163. This is a concept brought forward by Gay Wilentz in her book entitled Healing

Narratives: Women Writers Curing Cultural Dis-ease. 7 Marshall, Daughters, 406-407.


Chapter Sixteen

emotional and psychological state. Ursa's search for wholeness involves coming back to Triunion, to the Caribbean island where her father, a politician lives, in order to come to terms with her own diasporic and family inheritance. There, she will be able to help her mother to put an end to this man's obsessive behaviour that will betray the confidence the islanders have put on him. Are these daughters betraying their parents? Ursa hands in the project development brochure to her father's opponent, and in doing so she saves the island and its people from imperialistic development, preventing her father's re-election for parliament. These young women are not traitors, they are women in need for agency and selfreliance. The novel stresses the need for egalitarian relationships between black women and men, as represented for instance, by the legendary couple of maroons in Daughters: Will Cudjoe and Congo Jane. Their historical role as lovers, co-leaders, and co-workers is only suggested in the young teacher-Justin Beaufils and his wife who represent the only valid option for a possible future that there is for Triunion and its people since the PM (as Ursa's father is known in the island) has given in to the corrupted business-market interests of his American fellows. As Coser has pointed out: "fighting side by side, Jane and Will Cudjoe remind readers that goals can be accomplished if men and women support each other and unite for a common cause on equal footing, as they did in slave times." 8 This argument in fact, becomes pivotal in the life of Ursa because if affects directly that aspect of physical and psychological underdevelopment that we mentioned above: twelve years ago when Ursa was in college, she wanted to write her senior paper about Congo Jane and Will Cudjoe, "coleaders, coconspirators, consorts, lovers, friends." Inspired by her childhood memories of Will and Jane's statue in her native Triunion, Ursa wanted to investigate "the general nature of gender roles and relationships ... " examining "the relatively egalitarian, mutually supportive relations that existed between the bondsmen and women and their significance for and contribution to the various forms of resistance to enslavement found in the US and the Caribbean." 9 Professor Crowder rejected the proposal informing her it was ''unacceptable" and historically inconsistent. Ursa is given silence and indifference for all her excitement about her work, because Prof Crowder had been unable to accept the fact that notwithstanding slavery and all its horrors, black women and men "had it together, were together, stood together" 10 "a version of history that 8

Coser, Bridging the Americas, 67. Marshall, Daughters, 11. 10 Ibid., 94.


Cultural Roots, Wholeness and the African Diaspora

21 7

emphasizes the strength and determination of slaves under oppression and assigns central roles to black people." 1 1 This points out one of Marshall's favourite theme: the rewriting and reinventing of history. Like Ursa, Marshall is interested in "discovering and in unearthing what was positive and inspiring about black experience in the hemisphere." 12 This approach to romance and relationships is what she had in mind six years ago when she started dating Lowell, and they both played and loved each other in the "free zone" of his apartment. However, the impact of racism has eroded Lowell's soul across the years-just like Jay Johnson in Praisesong, mining his dreams, his life projects, his expectations for the future, and his sense of humour. Ursa leaves him in the end, focusing on her own search for ''unity and wholeness." Ursa decides to go back to college for graduate work and has decided that her Master's thesis "will be an expanded version of the senior paper she was forced to abandon." 13 Ursa's search for independence and self-affirmation becomes a metaphor for Triunion's strive for independence from the Big Brother. Ursa knows that strength and power comes from union "all o' we one!" between women and men as well as for "the African descendants on Triunion and the harmonious combination of colours, languages, and cultures in one same society." 14 By praising and practicing the rhetoric of inclusion, these novels negotiate within an ever changing reality that demands connectedness as a way of exploring the possibilities for harmony, transforming ways of being and world views that originally were at odds with Western interpretations of life and death. The ancestral traditions of the spiritual past, together with the material circumstances of the present, foreground the message of the human healing potential that African American women's writings offer. Through the transformation and re-creation of female identity based on female agency, these narratives find sustenance in the idea that the movement towards wholeness involves change. The possibilities for growth, healing, and the journeys towards wholeness that black women writers represent, neither assume nor guarantee perfection. Rather, they only suggest directions for future work and future connectedness within the dialectic continuum of individual and cultural community. The spiritual wholeness embedded in these narratives broadens the arena for participation in personal and communal 11

12 13 14

Coser, Bridging the Americas, 70. Warren, "Paule Marshall Visits, n. p. Marshall, Daughters, 41. Coser, Bridging the Americas, 67.


Chapter Sixteen

relationships because an essential identity grounded in cultural knowledge is secured.

Works Cited Asante, Molefi Kete. The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1998. Butler, Johnnella E. "African American Literature and Realist Theory: Seeking the 'True-True'." In Identity Politics Reconsidered, ed. by Satya Mohanty, Linda Alcoff-Martin et al., 171-192. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006. Broad, Robert L. "Giving Blood to the Scraps: Haints, History, and Hosea in Beloved." African American Review. 28.2 (1994): 189-196. Coser, Stellamaris. Bridging the Americas: The Literature o f Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, and Gay/ Jones. Philadelphia: Temple U. 1995. Dussek, Micheline. Ecos de/ Caribe. Barcelona: Lumen, 1996. Kubitschek, Missy Dehn. Claiming the Heritage. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1991. Harrison, Paul Carter. The Drama o f Nommo. New York: Grove Press, 1972. Marshall, Paule. Daughters. New York: Plume, 1991. -.Praisesongfor the Widow. New York: Plume, 1983. Mbiti, John. Introduction to African Religion. Oxford: Heinemann, 1991. Mohanty Satya. "The Epistemic Status of Cultural Identity. On Beloved and the Postcolonial Condition." In Realist Theory and the Predicament o f Postmodernism, ed. by Paula Moya and M. HamesGarcia, 29-66. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Scheman, Naomi. "Anger and the Politics of Naming." In Women and Language in Literature and Society, ed. by Sally McConnell-Ginet et al., 174-187. New York: Praeger, 1980. Wilentz, Gay. Healing Narratives: Women Writers Curing Cultural Disease. Chapel Hill, NC: Rutgers UP, 2000.



In this last section of the collection, the theme of gender identities is explored through several narrative texts. Alba de Bejar selects Larissa Lai's work as the focus of her analysis in "Border Transgressions and Bodily Mutations in Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl: A Feminist Dystopia." At the core of her argument lie the concepts of the body and the border, which are extensively imbricated and rearticulated by Lai in this dystopian text. With the subversion of several myths of origin not only is patriarchal hegemony dismantled but also, as de Bejar maintains, the transformative power of female fluids and smells is emphasised. For her, the body becomes an instrument of otherness and a site for political contestation, which shows the many prevalent prejudices in relation to origins, power and personal relations. The next chapter, written by Ifakat Banu Akcesme, is entitled "Science Fiction as a New Discursive Space for Multiple Gender Constructions in Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand o f Darkness and Joana Russ' The Female Man." It begins by offering an overview of the different subversive approaches to gender and sexuality in the 1960s and 1970s, when the novels are set, respectively. The analysis then moves to an exploration of the role of science fiction for the articulation of non-normative modes of gender, in which the traditional heterosexual categories are challenged. For Akcesme, the two writers create alternative textual spaces whereby issues like androgyny, multiplicity and gender performance, as discussed by critic Judith Butler, are brought to the fore through the main characters and their stories. Thus, she concludes her essay by stressing the authors' creation of plural forms of gender identity that transcend the typical dualistic models and hierarchies. In "Kept: A Victorian Mystery and In the Red Kitchen: Wrongful Confinement Revisited in Neo-Victorian Fiction," Salma Benyaich begins her analysis by defining the terms "neo-Victorian fiction" and "neoVictorianism" and tracing the most important texts and authors of this narrative subgenre. Particularly, Benyaich focuses on two novels that explore the effects of patriarchal tenets and the Victorian medical discourse of insanity upon women characters, who manifest a common uneasiness about the possibility of suffering "wrongful confinement." This plot demonstrates that reclusion was widely used as a form of