Home > culture, feminism, literature, media misogyny, showbiz, showbiz misogyny > Chauvinistic Stowaways in Cultural Icons – I

Chauvinistic Stowaways in Cultural Icons – I

That’s as drab a title I could think of. None but the most, most intrepid of you, the most zealously feministic of you, or the most bored of you would go much further. Come to think of it, it’s like an entrance exam. Or a moat to a castle. A moat-title.

This is a vagina-monologue-ish rant against deep-rooted male chauvinism. In the most liberal of cultural icons, the books/movies/songs/characters that are veritable flag-bearers of feminism, you see the most incongruous of stereotypes, attitudes you thought would be ‘anywhere but here’.

The Tenant at Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte, possibly the least known of the three literary sisters) is a lovely story about the attempts of a woman to flee domestic abuse. Set sometime in the 1840s, where women were ladies and men were real gentlemen. *spoiler* A young woman falls in love with a handsome, charming young man and marries him against the wishes and good counsel of her guardians. Soon after the marriage begins a saga of neglect (he leaves her for long months of shenanigans) and verbal abuse and co-dependency. Soon he has an open extra-marital affair, and she runs away from him, taking their son with her. Alas, her chosen place of refuge is not very comforting, because her new neighbours, busybodies (painfully familiar to any single woman in Mumbai), want to know what a single woman is doing, earning her own money. Why is she not dependant upon them for company, protection, social activity: how unnaturally, un-womanly-ly self-sufficient does she think – dare – she can become?

The story apparently raised huge feministic questions, for that must’ve been the most provocative issue then. The cool part is that it talks not of the obvious physical abuse, but makes a case for women’s rights against not just abuse that is obvious and blatant, but also the variety that is verbal, emotional, if not subtle. To me, the story was not just man vs. woman but also the old Greek pleasure-seeking vs. abstinence and religious vs. atheism (more like believer of religious texts in the literal sense vs. someone who believes in the Bible as a guide to virtue but not as literally as ‘hell is very hot’ and ‘Mary was a virgin’ etc.)

Anyway, the stowaway turncoat in this was the continual references to evil spinsters. All the scheming women, the vamps, were women who had been rejected in love or never wanted by good men – the classic frustrated spinsters. Much like our saas-bahu serials today. The good women were those who kept quiet and eventually women over their husbands with their patience, forbearance, hard work. In fact, the end has a particularly well-qualified woman ‘justly punished’ for her sin of not retuning the attention heaped on her by a grumbly village bumpkin who marries our heroine. The man she was wooing never married her, and she remained a ‘bitter spinster’ till the end.

What gives, Anne Bronte?

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