Archive for the ‘Masculinity’ Category
The audience is left to believe certain conventions about the life of writers in films like John Madden?s Shakespeare in Love, James Lapine?s Impromptu and Brian Gilbert?s Wilde. There is often a love interest, one that inspires passion and thus story (or, as in the case of Oscar Wilde, self awareness), yet this passion tends to reside outside the institution of marriage. The writing is always done?following the passionate living that inspires it ?and this passion must include sex. We see art written for the solicitation of money rather the romantic notion of art for art?s sake. To be productive, a personal, quiet space (often in the country) is necessary but an artistic community is also essential for inspiration and critique. And, of course, every writer does the bulk of his or her writing through the far more boring process of revision, which is sometimes portrayed and sometimes simply referred to. Success comes when art imitates life and life is worthy of such imitation. Each of these conventions, or some variation on them, are also incorporated into the fictional authors in the Coen Brothers? 1991 film, Barton Fink.
The sequel to a previous post…
In?response to a classmate who believes that French author Madam George Sand (Judy Davis) in James Lapine’s 1991 film Impromptu, is?”attracted to Chopin [(Hugh Grant)] because she unconsciously learned to be more feminine like he was,” I’d like to respectfully disagree.
Prior to Sand’s pursuit of Chopin, she is already quite feminine as demonstrated through her clothing throughout the film. As a child, she wears a dress and has long hair. Sand’s bed clothes in the very first scene are traditionally frilly with ruffles, bows and layers. At the first party where she is to meet her publisher, Chopin’s presence yet unbeknownst to her, Sand wears a rather eccentric dress/pants combination, but somewhat of a silken embroidered dress with a bow in front all the same. When she visits her mother prior to engaging in her relationship with Chopin she wears a conservatively elegant cloak and, when her mother dies, Sand’s mourning dress is a traditional black gown and her hair is traditionally upswept. Perhaps Sand entertains the idea of being fit for a more traditional dress when in pursuit of Chopin, but she also tries moving in the opposite direction by buying men’s clothing. Overall, I’d say Sand is never portrayed as strictly masculine nor feminine, but rather the perfect embodiment of both at once.
My first introduction to Aurore “George” Sand, the French author, has come solely from my viewing of director James Lapine?s Impromptu. Having never read?Sand’s work, nor any form of a biography, I have come to the topic with no preconceived notions. This film’s limited window into Sand?s life provides the opportunity for an interesting experiment. I?d like to compare my first impression of Sand as directed by Lapine with that produced by acquiring additional information. Will my initial understanding be supported, contradicted or enhanced by some quick research? Let?s find out.
When Young Aurore (Lucy Speed) first appears, she is a child running through the wilderness away from an authoritative voice calling her name. She arrives at a self-made altar of stones among the ferns growing at the base of a tree. There she kneels and prays:
Hear me, O Corambe. Corambe, thou who art man, woman and god in one, hear me. I free this bird in thy name. Come to me, sublime being. I want to know the meaning of life. And I want to find perfect, perfect love. I free this lizard in thy name. [To lizard] Don?t be dead. Oh, balls.
This shot dissolves to reveal Madame ?George? Sand (Judy Davis) seated at a desk writing her memoirs.
Between the pages of 155 and 268, our narrator, Powers, and Dr. Lentz struggle with their traditional masculine roles, feeling that they must care for and protect their women. Lentz feels responsible for his wife Audrey?s stroke occuring directly after their argument while?he was intentionally unreachable.?Guilt ridden?for not taking enough care, he visits her waning consciousness with daily devotion at the Center. Powers also cares for his lost and confused C. but learns that:
The more care I took, the more I turned her into the needy one. And the more I did that, the needier she became. We construed her neediness between the two of us. And that was not care on my part. That was cowardice. (240)
Together, Powers and Lentz search for some sort of answer to the masculine condition through the production and training of Helen, the beloved and experimental neural net in Galatea 2.2. Lentz, although he can?t change the past, has the desire to change the future, developing a way to back up the brain in the case of memory failure. Powers interprets and mulls this goal:
We could eliminate death. That was the long-term idea. We might freeze the temperament of our choice. Suspend it painlessly above experience. Hold it forever at twenty-two. (170)
We have yet to learn what Powers gains from the experiment, but perhaps Donna Haraway might offer a clue.
Pulling out the ol’ Norton, I brushed up on Donna Haraway?s ?A Manifesto for Cyborgs?, several quotes of which were rather pertinent to Helen. First off, ?a cyborg is a cybernetic organism? a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction? (2269). Already, in this one definition, the cyborg blurs the boundaries of human, animal?and machine as well as reality and fiction.
Since?Helen is essentially a new ?other,? her existence could be constued as?a cultural encounter similar to, for example, that of Europeans and Native Americans. It is assumed from the ideology at hand that one must dominate the other. That said, how is it possible to avoid the dominant/male and submissive/female trap that haunts the majority of historical human existence? According to Haraway, the power lies within the technology.
The cyborg has no origin story? they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential. (2270-2271)
According to Haraway, Powers and Lentz are “inessential” as fathers.?Once they load the data, Helen thinks on her own. Although Powers has coded Helen with gender, it is within the power of the cyborg to blur the boundaries of such a dichotomy as the masculine and feminine. Once blurred, perhaps some revelation will be made to both about the roles of men and women in society.
While this unique?lesson of love?between man and machine has yet to be revealed , one thing is certain. Helen has already invoked much discussion about what constitutes human intelligence, blurring the distinction between true knowledge and switch flipping. Are we nothing more than weighted switches constantly back-feeding input through our neural nets, or is there something inherently human that sets us apart from a machine?
I’ll be turning pages rapidly to?find out?
So far this?semester, our class?has covered:
- John Barth’s short story, “Lost in the Fun House”
- Jeannette Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body
- and Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club.?
To help define what postmodern means we have explored excerpts from:
- Simon Malpas’ book, The Postmodern (2005)
- H?l?ne Cixous? critique “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays” (1975)
- Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979)
- Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991).
- and Linda Hutcheon’s Poetics of Postmodernism (1988)
How?do I cohesively make sense of all this????Having drank fully from the fire hose for weeks on end, I wonder… Will I digest or?blow??This post?is where?I just vomit in my mouth a little.
As Malpas explains, “at the heart of identity there is a ?thinking I? that experiences, conceptualizes and interacts with the world” (Malpas, 57). Consequently, running rampant throughout postmodern fiction is the question of this subject’s reliability as an authority?representing truth.
- Barth’s narrator, Ambrose,?is at once a child and an adult, interweaving the blind?experience of?”living in the moment”?with 20/20 hindsight?and calling attention, through various narrative devices, to the limitations of the narrating subject both as child and adult, in other words, as narrator looking in at the main character and main character being himself.
- Winterson complicates her narrator by creating a nongender-specific bisexual who objectifies?the beloved, Louise, pitting the power of subject?vs. object, one against the other, both creating and destroying the linguistic barrier to?fully realizing true love.
- Palahniuk splits?his narrator’s identity into two dueling?subjects within the same body who both objectify not only Marla, but each other, creating a power triangle rather than a single identifiable?power source.
By complicating?the subject, these authors use fiction?to turn?the subject?in on itself and reveal it’s limitations. The point for the reader is that perspective and?representation are not natural ways of reaching some sort of truth, but are cultural devices?that, until postmodernism hit the stage, were accepted?as natural. The most we can hope for, as Stephen Colbert often points out, is mere “truthiness” (or “falsiness” as the following parody explains), which is called into question each time subjectivity becomes decentered by an alternate?version of the?traditional subject. (Hello, Derrida!)
Sexuality is also addressed in each piece, not just in terms of masculinity or femininity, but where the two overlap. According to theorist H?l?ne Cixous:
Traditionally, the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition ? a culture?s values are premised on an organisation of thought in which descriptions of the feminine are determined by masculine categories of order, opposition and hierarchy. (Malpas, 72)
Lyotard says that metanarratives order the world for a particular culture and not all cultures order the world in the same way. Because of this he believes reality is not real, that it is rather ?simplicity, communicability? (75) in the name of the ?unity of experience? (72) and that the postmodern ?puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself? (81).
- Barth calls masculinity into question by addressing the subservience of women in the ’50s and how that defines the angered narrator’s role as he matures socially in contrast with what he feels differently internally.?
- Winterson’s non-specifically gendered and bisexual narrator?draws attention to the?dysfunction of defining through opposition, creating a world of confusion for the reader while, at the same time, pointing out the problem.
- Palahniuk’s split identity, one masculinized and one feminized, are?embodied within one male person which shows that neither masculinity nor femininity encompass fully what comprises the essence of a human being.
These narrators struggle with the idea?that identity is formed through the constriction of language and social mapping?according to opposing?genders. Each illustrates that society provides no useful language or ordering of our world to address these grey areas. Postmodern work obviously strives to draw attention to the gap between the grand narrative and what actually exists.
And, although there are many more threads to follow, the HUGE question of history (revered by Jameson as fact of lived experience) versus historicity (truthiness and the closest we can get to truth) is the last item I have time to duscuss. Jameson argues that the democratization of art subjects it?to the corruption of marketing and capitalism. They are inseparable?to the detriment of?world cultures and history through?depthless representation and pastiche unless we map how the depthless came to be, “in which we may again begin to grasp our new positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spacial as well as our social confusion” (54). SOOO, the question of historical validity appears repeatedly in our fiction selections.
- Barth criticizes history by describing the role of generations of copulation in constructing social understanding of sexuality.
- Winterson explores the narrator’s serial monogamy and only in breaking the tradition does he/she find love.
- Palahniuk creates Tyler Durden who desperately wants to break free from history to redefine it from his point of view.
According to Malpas, Hutcheon?argues that parody is not dead, it is now focused to use form?to reveal a failure of form. She also finds great value studying?the unrepresentable in fiction, as?much as that?which has been represented as “history,” because both employ the same narrative devices (Malpas, 25-26). In the fiction we have read, we can see this parody in action, where our authors provide recognition of the power forms hold, and turn around to employ these forms to point out the flaws within them. We’ll talk more about this next week when we read more of Hutcheon.
Other pan drippings, grey in color, that deserve to make it into the gravy bowl are
- body/soul connections
- bodily parts in gender definition,
- disease: death in life and life in death
- and many, many more.
Sadly, the repair man is here and I have to supervise the fixing of shit.
Watching movies for class rocks.?
From the opening credits, Fight Club alludes to the unrepresentable. As the names spin off into gaseous clouds, what appears to be the universe swirls within the biologic make-up of Edward Norton’s character, yet one would think that the character would exist somewhere within the Universe. So, where does the Universe begin or end? Does it start with human perception or is human perception a byproduct of the Universe? Ooooh, the questions stew already.
In the opening scene, perspective shifts from within Norton?s character?s body, through the gun, and into Pitt?s character?s point of view. Perspective then leaves both characters (or halves of one character) and the camera travels out of body altogether. Now the point of view becomes that of the movie viewers? as we get a voyeuristic view of the explosives below the city. Throughout the morphing POV, we never fully know where one begins and another ends.
Cut to Bob?s boobs. Is he still a man with no balls and full breasts? What essentially makes a man ?manly? if not the biological pieces and parts? Can comfort be derived from any breasts but a mother?s or lover?s? Norton says yes.
Then we back up. The beginning of the movie isn?t the beginning as we traditionally know it. ?Nothing is real? Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.? And here, Baudrillard. Really, need I say more? Norton is a copy of himself on many levels. Stuck in the marketing galaxy, ?What kind of dining set defines me as a person?? What else does?
Playing Cornelius and other ?characters? so he can cry and sleep like a baby, where does Norton?s character end and his others begin? He dies and is reborn with each new meeting. But who dies and who is reborn? Cornelius, Tyler Durden?
Pitt’s image flashes in several scenes, spliced into a single frame at the hospital, the testicular cancer meeting, when Marla walks off supposedly forever. Later, we learn that Tyler splices frames between reels at the theater. Does he create himself then? Has Norton’s character created him?
Do events shape us or do we shape them? Do we own things or do they own us? Half asleep, half awake? Reality enters dreams, dream enters reality? Half alive, half dead? Not quite whole but not fully cleaved in half? Somewhere between life and death lies meaning.
?It was on the tip of everyone?s tongue. Tyler and I just gave it a name.?
?First rule of Fight Club? You do not talk about Fight Club.?
Coincidentally, that’s the second rule too.
?It wasn?t about words.?
We’re back to the failure of language again. Instead, the sublime is the pleasure derived from the pain of pummeling and being pummeled.
?Nothing was solved when the fight was over, but nothing mattered.?
?This was freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.?
The car wreck: All I could think of were the Futurists. Historically, not just in the movie, a car launches into a ditch and?gives birth to four survivors who create a Modern movement infatuated with technology, speed and chaos.
“Let go of everything you?think you know?about life…”
You can?t explain the unexplainable, sublime. Familiar themes?akin to?Wnnterson’s Written on the Body… Marla: Love as invasive. Love as pure desire. Love as a bridesmaid dress loved for only one day and then thrown aside. Narrating organs in books?left by a recluse. Cancer of the prostrate will kill. Combination of form: Movie – documentary – porn – and back again. Characters talk to themselves on screen, then they turn to the audience and talk to … ME! I have just become the object of two subjects. How beautifully postmodern.
Capitalism: The democratization of art?becomes public taste governed by money. To?free our identity from?being defined by our stuff and our menial jobs that make us slaves?to purchasing?more stuff, Capitalism must be destroyed.
Then the biggie: Dualing subjects. One fights the other for power. Can there ever be two, particularly when they share one body? According to the smoking gun, the answer is no.
I could continue with the play-by-play but we?re all watching the same thing. Suffice it to say, I loved this movie the first two times I saw it. I have a renewed appreciation this third time. Now excuse me while I retire the keyboard and get back to the milk and cookies.
In The Postmodern, Malpas says:
at the heart of identity there is a ‘thinking I’ that experiences, conceptualises and interacts with the world … This ‘I’ has been questioned, challanged and problematised by more recent modern and postmodern theorists. (57)
This ‘thinking I’ is certainly problematised by Jeannette Winterson in Written on the Body. By withholding the gender of the narrator and writing that narrator into numerous sexual experiences, the reader is left to his or her own devices in decoding the mystery. Faced with two choices, the reader can insert the association of his or her choice and move on or allow shifting assumptions to wash over the conscious mind.
As Malpas explains, according to theorist H?l?ne Cixous’ in her critique of modern subjectivity “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays”:
Traditionally, the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition … a culture’s values are premised on an organisation of thought in which descriptions of the feminine are determined by masculine categories of order, opposition and heirarchy. (72)
To consider Winterson’s audience, reader reactions within our class seem fraught with desire to code the narrator’s gender. Some folks are downright frustrated and?combing sentences?for any?give-away. Obviously to reveal the strength of this?desire is important, but why? Without a gender definition,?is it?impossible to contextualize the significance of the novel’s events?
Having read the?book’s back cover, I knew that the narrator’s gender would never be revealed. This could be why I never grew frustrated. Certainly it was an odd experience seeing my perceptions slip from one gender to another. I became increasingly aware that situations and characteristics attributed to the same character conjured different results. By no means did I “get” what was happening?to me, but the following passage by Malpas outlines that experience rather well:
One is not simply a woman or man, with all of the cultural coding that goes along with this. Instead, Cixous argues that a feminist criticism must explore the ways in which differences within a subject can be continually opened up to new forms of exploration and challenge. To this end she presents the idea of a feminist writing, an ?criture f?minine, that is able to affirm these differences, resist the closure of a male-oriented logic, and present subjectivity as a structure of continual renegotiations that transform the categories of patriarchy. (73)
Allowing myself to ride the gender wave with fluidity, I found what Winterson hasn’t written is most important. Where power?exists and determines what is “acceptable,? or at least “attributable,” lies in our perception of how?the masculine and feminine are defined by language. (Hello Saussure, my old friend.)?Winterson’s brilliance?demonstrates the subversive by using that very device.?The notion of the free-’thinking I’?is exposed for?all its cultural baggage. The reader? is offered an opportunity to see?how their own assumptions?are based on linguistic code, the power of Western culture’s structure of ordering.?Within the story, while the narrator is?able to?convert Russian to English as a professional translator, he or she is also ?betrayed by the failings of language as it applies to the?properties of love.?The resulting?awareness of linguistic confines illuminates the more naturally occurring bisexuality or grey areas within?the gender dichotomy, i.e. recognizing in masculinity the presence of sensitivity, or within?feminity an ambitious determination. (73)
The questions now is, what do we do with our new awareness??Do we get all radical and create?an entirely new?language, or do we collectively assign new meaning to old words? Before answering, maybe we should read “Is There Anything Good About Men?” by Roy F. Baumeister, Professor of Psychology & Head of Social Psychology Area, Florida State University. As he argues, if men are perceived to occupy?positions of power, it must also be recognized that they?occupy the majority of prison cells, make up the greater portion of the homeless population, and are often portrayed by the media as buffoons. Culture is a?tool employed by all for daily understanding. It is not necessarily bad in its limitation, if only we take the time to study what it reveals about our thoughts and motivations.
Jeanette Winterson, in her?novel Written on the Body, recycles?the narrator’s conversation?with two different partners.
With Inge, the anarcha-feminist who hates to blow up beautiful things:
She said, ‘Don’t you know that Renoir claimed he painted with his penis?’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘He did. When he died they found nothing between his balls but an old brush.’
‘You’re making it up.’
Am I? (22)
And?again with Catherine, the writer, who feels?that writers don’t?make?great companions:
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Do you know why Henry Miller said “I write with my prick”?’
‘Because he did. When he died they found nothing between his legs but a ball point pen.’
‘You’re making that up,’ she said.
Am I? (60)
Why does Winterson do this? I think there are several things going on here.
The repetition moves beyond reinforcing the narrator’s?serial monogamy. It seems to say that the?interactions within?each?relationship are as?worn out?as the dating pattern itself.
To repeat the?reference to male genitalia?in regard to both art and literature speaks to the inequality of masculine and feminine influence in the canonical world. Women are often the subjects of art, but not?equally and?respectfully acknowledged as creators of that same art. (According to this article, “of the approximately 25,000 artists working between 1880-1930, probably forty percent were women, but fewer than five percent were shown in museums.”)
In addition to Winterson’s reference to clich?s, quotes and?previously designed literary styles, she?incorporates this device to?demonstrate?that people are not original from day to day within their own consciousness, let alone in the scheme of humanity – whether from person to person or age to age.
The question of reality comes up here too. The conversation, in single quotes, shows each partner questioning the veracity of the narrator’s story. ‘You’re making that up.’ The reply from the narrator is never spoken aloud. The words Am I? are asked as if to say, “Its been said before. Does that make it true? What is real anyway?”
Do you have?any more connections to throw into the mix?
For our final presentation, our group filmed our own docu-parody wherein characters dressed as one theorist speak lines reflecting the viewpoint of another. Essentially, they all bumble around?being ridiculous, acting out parts we think will produce sufficient commentary.
MY CHARACTER SUMMARY
While it is difficult to comment on a film you have yet to see, I can tell you that?the character I created is?a woman pimped out against her will. She eventually becomes?a cyborg with found parts and learns that she is with child, MiniBorg. Dreaming of?the child’s future, she?spouts off some Derridian dissallusionment?about the failure of?merriment when it is created from broken toys, planning to circumvent this for the sake of her child.
Haraway with a dash of Derrida
My interpretation of the text is obviously influenced by Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs.” To focus first on the character of Oppressed Woman, she is?nameless and only called “baby.” It is?as though her own identity is something she cannot claim, yet her body is taken. She is pimped out, a slave to the male dominated power stucture the likes of which Haraway seeks to escape. Haraway believes that the cyborg can exist?outside the confines of Western duality. As new beings, they can be recoded. In the film, once Oppressed Woman becomes Cyborg, she is empowered and moves on.
MiniBorg, the bastard child of Oppressed Woman and Mickey Mouse, is a genderless zygote bridging the gap between male/female, physical/non-physical, human/machine… and cyborg/mouse. This last lovely twist?joins humans?and machines with animals at once, breaking down all the barriers. Because cyborgs have no origin story, no dominating patriarchal tradition or otherwise, there exists possibility for freedom from Western dualisms which Haraway names as:
?Self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resource, maker/made, active/passive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man? (Haraway 2296).
Haraway?also says that?”social and historical constitution, gender, race, and class cannot provide the basis for belief in ?essential? unity” (2275). We must deconstruct the labels, the sense of other, and in turn?deconstruct oppression.
?The conception of MiniBorg, the little “hu-mouse-chine,” demonstrates Derrida’s?decentering as he says:
Ethnology could have been born as a science only at the moment when European culture . . . had been dislocated . . . forced to stop considering itself as the culture of reference?? (Derrida 918).
The same holds true for a male dominant culture. In the film, the Marxist Pimp is the obvious power center, but not for long. Hope lies with the MiniBorg Messiah who will?dislocate Marxist Pimp?power and create a new center. As Haraway says, illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. In this case, that’s a good thing.
In both our docu-parody and our commentary, the characters and presenters have been incorporated onto disc. They/we are now cyborgs as technology is part of us/them. This is one more way of merging with and educating through communications machines, recoding meaning for ourselves. Of course, Haraway would say the we are all cyborgs already, with or without the disc.
Challenging the Reproduction of Gender Inequality in Anne Bront??s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
In Anne Bront?’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, ideological apparatuses, as defined by Marxist theorist Louis Althusser, work to mold and sustain vast differences between men and women in the early nineteenth century. Each gender is groomed to occupy a separate societal sphere, men as master of the public realm and women as mistress of the domestic. These distinctions foster inequality and oppression of women, yet they are consistently reinforced by both genders within the patriarchal system. The danger of such inequality, at worst, allows for the abuse and silent oppression of women while, at the very least, it reproduces the same oppressive social system from generation to generation. Helen Huntingdon, the novel?s heroine, is the tool by which Bront? experiments with an alternate existence. Helen challenges the traditional role of motherhood by raising her son Arthur differently than a more traditional mother, Mrs. Markham. She also takes issue with the oppressive nature of marriage for women. By examining the cycle in which inequality of gender is enforced and reproduced, Bront? successfully confronts the traditional Victorian ideals which foster inequality, vice and abuse.
Bront??s Markham family is the epitome of late nineteenth century societal views. The topics that Mrs. Markham, as an authority on traditional Victorian motherhood, uses to reprimand Helen are telling of the general opinion of her day. Her first criticism is of Helen?s wine restriction for her young son, Arthur, which in turn leads to a critique of Helen?s child rearing practices in general. “If you would have your son walk honourably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them — not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone” (Bront? 28). Mrs. Markham is arguing that a young boy?s education requires experience, not shelter, and that a mother?s role is to be unobtrusive, not overbearing. Mrs. Markham undermines her own authority by requiring a man with religious authority, the vicar, to validate her claim on this tradition. ?[M. Millward will] tell you the consequences; ?he?ll set it before you as plain as day, ?and tell you what you ought to do? (Bront? 30). In doing so, Mrs. Markham maintains a discriminatory stance for herself and broadcasts it among her parlor. In the vicar?s absence, Gilbert defends the veracity of his mother’s words, unaware of his own role in reinforcing the societal precedent. He reiterates what his mother had said, that Helen must not shelter her son like a hot-house plant. “Shielding it from every breath of wind, you could not expect it to become a hardy tree, like that which has grown up on a mountain-side, exposed to all the action of the elements” (Bront? 30). Laura Berry?s scholarly article, ?Acts of Custody and Incarceration in Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,? addresses this ideology:
Bront??s fictions deny the idea of sentimentalized motherhood as a potential haven from imprisoning or torturous anti-familial or institutional structures. If homes imprison, mothers do not, in this novel, liberate ? The family then is the place where gender difference is created. It is by ?protection? and ?influence? that a mother forms a daughter; but ?making a man? of a boy is achieved in giving him a liberal hand. (Berry )
Essentially, as is evident within the previous passages, mothers are expected to remain in the domestic realm and to mature their sons through the freedom of experience, an effort championed by free men and sanctioned by the church. Interestingly, both genders within the same family share this male-centric point of view, one perpetuated unawares until Helen challenges the requirements of motherhood.
Mrs. Markham is not without defiance within her own household. Her daughter Rose naturally opposes her mother?s reverence toward her brothers, sensing through her societal innocence, the disparity between herself and them. She complains to Gilbert when asked to make him tea once tea time is over, ?you?we can?t do too much for you ? I?m nothing at all ? I?m told not to think of myself? (Bront? 53). Rose is young and still in training. Her burning opposition is repeatedly snuffed out by her mother’s constant discipline in accordance with the laws of gender. ?You know, Rose, in all household matters, we have only two things to consider, first, what?s proper to be done, and secondly, what?s most agreeable to the gentlemen of the house?anything will do for the ladies? (Bront? 53). According to feminist theorist Judith Butler in her essay ?Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,? the body becomes a cultural sign:
Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis; the tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of those productions?and the punishments that attend not agreeing to believe in them; the construction ?compels? our belief in its necessity and naturalness. (Butler 2500)
Rose doesn?t naturally understand the distinction between genders because it doesn?t naturally exist. Mrs. Markham, having fully absorbed gender ideology, believes that not only must she conform, she must teach Rose to conform as well; to submit to the rules of difference is preferable to the punishment offered if either one of them does not.
This snapshot of Victorian life demonstrates that religion, motherhood and education are the vehicles which perpetuate rather than challenge the rule of inequality. According to Marxist theorist Louis Althusser in ?Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,? an imaginary social construct is used to coerce submission to and reproduction of the labor condition. This ensures the power of the ruling class:
Of course many ? contrasting Virtues (modesty, resignation, submissiveness on the one hand, cynicism, contempt, arrogance, confidence, self importance, even smooth talk and cunning on the other) are ? taught in the Family, in the Church ?in a variety of know-how wrapped up in the massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class that the ? relations of exploited to exploiters, and exploiters to exploited are largely reproduced. (Althusser 1495)
The domestic realm espouses the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA), particularly as it functions within the previously mentioned private, rather than governmental, realms of religion, family and education. In addition to class division, this enforced separateness also applies to gender, illustrating the masculine social power driving women into submission. Within Helen?s first marriage to Huntingdon, she has assumed the role of modesty and submission in response to his self importance, smooth talk and cunning. Helen understands the failure of this system for women and seeks an escape from its grasp.
Bront? intentionally creates the Markham setting ripe for Helen’s retort, allowing her to challenge not only the way in which men are socially groomed, but to rebuke the male dominant religious authority over the subject. ?Mr. Markham here, thinks his powers of conviction at least equal to Mr. Millward?s. If I hear not him, neither should I be convinced though one rose from the dead? (Bront? 30). Holding fast to her spirituality while simultaneously rejecting the domination of religion, Helen directs her rebuttal to Gilbert, specifically challenging the unseeing portion of his male point of view. She asks how he would raise a girl as compared to a boy:
You affirm that virtue is only elicited by temptation; — and you think that a woman cannot be too little exposed to temptation … It must be, either, that you think she is essentially so vicious, or so feeble-minded that she cannot withstand temptation ? whereas, in the nobler sex, … exercised by trial and dangers, is only further developed. (Bront? 30-31)
By exposing the duplicity between the rearing of young men and women, Helen logically questions whether or not Gilbert believes feminine character and virtue is inherently fallible. Gilbert trapped within the machine of a defunct society, objects. ?Heaven forbid that I should think so!? (Bront? 31). Herein lies exposed a great contradiction between the practice of a disguised lack of faith in women and the heralded ideal of the virtuous “angel in the house.”
Seeking balance and equality, Helen defends her practice as a mother with a strong presence in her son?s life. She breaks from prevalent expectations saying:
You would have us encourage our sons to prove all things by their own experience, while our daughters must not even profit by the experience of others. Now I would have both so to benefit by the experience of others, and the precepts of a higher authority, that they should know beforehand to refuse evil and choose the good, and require no experimental proofs to teach them the evil of transgression. (Bront? 31)
According to Helen’s declaration, Bront? rejects the idea that such freedom afforded young men should be fully experienced only to later be reigned in through marriage. She also rejects the opposite extreme of sheltering young girls to the point where they have no self-actuated sense of wisdom and virtue, ill preparing them for independence and strength in difficult times. Scholar Elizabeth Gruner, in her essay ?Plotting the Mother: Caroline Norton, Helen Huntingdon and Isabel Vane,? says of the same passage quoted above:
Helen?s argument here neatly defends the novel, as teaching by others? experience, and her own maternal practice, while simultaneously undercutting any conception of an essential gender identity. Masculinity and Femininity are taught in this novel and can be played, revised, changed?as Gilbert himself learns. (Gruner 312)
A compromise must be met. The possibility exists, for which Helen is an example, where each gender benefits from preparedness to function in all aspects of society rather than to perform supplementary roles from separate spheres of a distinct division.
As Rose requires constant reminders to conform to her feminine identity, Gilbert also requires more than one lesson in his education to break free from engrained gender perspective, demonstrating how deeply entrenched the importance of gender identity is to the commonwealth. The town gossip darkens Helen?s true virtue because, as a wife who left her husband regardless of his abuse, she no longer fits within the ideal of ?angel in the house.? Here the machine manipulates Gilbert once more. Performing his gender duty, he avoids Helen, punishing her for doing her gender wrong (Butler 2500). Silence aggrieves the lovers, and Gilbert finds himself ?deceived, duped, hopeless, my afflictions trampled on, my angel not an angel, and my friend a fiend incarnate? (Bront? 102). Not until Helen offers her journal, appointing a witness for her story, does Gilbert escape his torment. While he does loosen his grip on the feminine definition, the reader is left to wonder if this change is binding. Scholar Russell Poole, in his article ?Cultural Reformation and Cultural Reproduction in Anne Bront?’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,? argues:
Helen?s diary is often identified as the means of instruction ? but we should not exaggerate its effect ? A few of [Gilbert?s] comments as a narrator suggest that a mitigation of his more aggressive traits has occurred subsequent to marriage rather than before it and certainly not as a precondition of it. (Poole 863)
Gilbert is like a child under the instruction of Helen, one in constant need of a reminder not to fall into old habits, learning who Helen is as a person, not as a misunderstood cog in the gender hierarchy. Regardless of Gilbert?s retention level, more importantly demonstrated is the fact that silence must be broken by women and their stories acknowledged by men before change can occur.
Bront? appears to fall short under the contemporary lens of feminism when Helen?s relationship flourishes with Gilbert and their wedding merely reinserts her into the same system from which she fled. Her property becomes Gilbert?s; it is he who must grant permission for Helen?s aunt to stay in the home that was once hers; and Arthur ?he was my own Helen?s son, and therefore mine? (Bront? 469). Gilbert makes a statement of claim on both mother and son, as if they are property to be owned. This reads as if Bront? could envision no practical solution for the plight of women. Although she is not able to write Helen out of society?s grasp, all is not lost. Rather than becoming an example by which women may redeem their power, Helen, more realistically for Bront??s time becomes the subject for discourse among Bront??s readership. Scholar Carol Senf, in her essay ?The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Narrative Silences and Questions of Gender,? explores the value in Bront??s delineated story telling technique, one by which Helen?s tale is both divulged edited through Gilbert:
Like the unique narrative structure, the wife?s story framed by that of her husband, this emphasis on domestic life?especially on the relationships of men and women during courtship and marriage?encourages the reader to focus on questions of gender, especially to see the way that nineteenth-century notions of marriage consigned women to silence. (Senf 450)
As Helen?s full story unfolds, Gilbert and the audience of the novel learn of the horrors that can exist when expectations of women remain unchallenged. Beyond that initial lesson, a more subtle lesson is also divulged. Helen?s experience of oppression and abuse, that which had been locked within the confines of her journal until shared with Gilbert, becomes the property of Gilbert once they marry. Personal expression is no longer her own. Bront?, may not have had the vision to free Helen from the stranglehold of mastership without denying her love, yet she offers this subjection up to all of society to reform as a whole.
These social values and customs of the early nineteenth century are of importance to study because remains of those gender imbalances are still present in society today. To understand where gender inequality fails and reproduces oppression of women can help to pinpoint ways in which it can be remedied. Historic trends provide commentary through literature, allowing for study of the causes and effects within this division. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in particular, provides a most valuable social commentary as it is the first novel of its kind to reveal the harsh reality of those women who suffered the worst of oppression of the time. Without discussion of the process by which women perpetuate their oppression, the importance of the challenge posed by Bront? is unable to be fully appreciated for the impact it has had in liberating the minds of women and imparting change upon a nation.
Althusser, Louis. ?Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.? The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 1476-1508.
Berry, Laura C. ?Acts of Custody and Incarceration in Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.? NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 30.1. (1996): 32-55. JSTOR. 4 April 2007
Bront?, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992
Butler, Judith. ?Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.? The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 2488-2501.
Gruner, Elisabeth Rose. ?Plotting the Mother: Caroline Norton, Helen Huntingdon, and Isabel Vane.? Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. 16. 2. (1997): 303-325. JSTOR. 4 April 2007
Poole, Russell. ?Cultural Reformation and Cultural Reproduction in Anne Bront?’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.? Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 33.4 (1993): 859-873. JSTOR. 28 March 2007
Senf, Carol A. ?The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Narrative Silences and Questions of Gender? College English. 52.4 (1990): 446-456. JSTOR. 28 March 2007