This series of blogs is born out of both love and anger. It is with the utmost tender love and precious care that I weave these stories, yet I am angered that I have to. Beginnings are hard for me. I want to jump right into the middle of the action and figure it out as I go, but I am constantly reminded that you cannot build a house starting with the windows; the foundation has to come first. An introduction to this problem comes down to my realization that nothing has changed in the way society views and oppresses women ever. You can make the argument that women have the right to vote, they can get divorced, they can legally drink, they can drive, they can hold jobs and public offices. But what that argument is missing is the foundation: the beginnings of femalehood. As Western society settled and congealed into some semblance of order, women were ordered to the bottom–subservient to their patriarchal figures. Patriarchy does a good job at justifying its positions, by producing literature and scholarly thought on how a woman’s constitution was best suited for domesticity. This is where an artificial value system comes into play that makes women believe in their domestic duties as the place where they can achieve what their men are achieving in the public sphere. The traditional thought being if women feel they are appreciated and needed, they won’t be tempted to step out of bounds. Men get the social mobility that their sex allows them, while women chafe against the stifling boundary of confinement. The difference of a few organs should not be the reason for oppression.
A proper lady, the specifics of which changes depending on the time, was meant to wait, be sedentary until the man told them to move. Daya’s song “Sit Still, Look Pretty” could have been sung by Roman women in 509 B.C. The rights of women could only rise when they started below the bottom. How have things not actually changed you may ask? Well while women may have more rights today than before, those rights are conditional as are the public roles women can hold. Women are held to an impossible standard where they have to be enough but not too much. Sure they can work in an office, but how often are female CEOs challenged and undermined? How often are the sexual exploits of a young woman ridiculed and judged, or the lack of sexual experience mocked? Yes, we can vote, but our bodily autonomy is always on the docket to be cut. It’s maddening. Where my thesis comes in is to act as a moderator, an observer of this trend, and narrate it to a broader audience. Things can change but more people need to be as maddened as I am if we are to ever be able to have an actual conversation about what needs to change.
I find that the words of Mary Wollstonecraft pioneer what contemporary scholar Sara Ahmed calls a feminist killjoy. Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, originally published in 1792, pointed out the ridiculousness of patriarchal oppression and called for actual education of women–not just in domestic duties. Wollstonecraft pointed out what I am arguing now in 2022 (230 years later), “I do frankly acknowledge the inferiority of woman according to the present appearance of things. And I insist that men have increased that inferiority until women are almost sunk below the standard of rational creatures”. Many can pretend that our society is equal now and we have come a long way, but until Mary Wollstonecraft’s novels stop relating to current attitudes, then we still have a long way to go.
I am not arguing that women have never had a voice or a sway when it comes to the way society works. I am arguing that those stories are often not telling the whole truth. Something happens between putting their pens down and someone else reading their words. For too long, their stories have been mitigated, translated, truncated, and censored, if they were even recorded at all before the world could hear them. What could women be writing that would be so threatening to incite such censorship? To a male-dominated world, anything that could disrupt their illusions of power is a threat. If a woman penned a narrative of her experiences in this world, or if she were to begin speaking on a new way of thinking that called for change, that must be stopped. The ultimate goal is to prevent women from writing or stepping out of their boxes before they even begin. This project could go on endlessly, but for the sake of the time I have between now and my graduation, I aim to focus on Western civilization and the dominant views of femininity and female gender roles. This will begin with some mythological beginnings and Christianity and then move through 19th-century literature where the madwoman had her heyday, into second-wave feminist theory and writers, and finishing with my contemporary observations and examples.
*picture courtesy of lavnatalia via Pixabay