On Utopia and the loss of our privacy

I really can’t apologise enough on my appalling dedication to my blog recently. The usual justifications of job, exams, essays and just too much core reading has really eaten away at my time and I know they are not acceptable but I am truly sorry. Despite not posting anything I have been making notes on pieces of literature that I have studied that I have found particularly engaging and interesting so hopefully I will have quite a few posts to upload over the next couple of weeks – although, yes, I am sorry, I still have two essays and two presentations looming on the horizon, before March is out I should be liberated from work for a while.

In a Utopian world I would have all the time I could possibly desire to keep my blog updated and interesting, but sadly contemporary England is far from the case. Similarly the England Thomas More lived through with Henry VIII and his multitude of women is far from the Utopian one he has imagined in his pioneering book Utopia. 

What really took me back when I read this novel (if it can be classified as a novel I am not entirely sure; it seems to be a hybrid of the essay format that was popular in Fifteenth Century Europe and extended prose) was how distinctly modern More’s ideas are. Living in a post-Marxist and post-Communist world it is difficult to separate from our current mindset. Plans to educate women as well as men, the introduction of limited work time and leisure time to encourage the creation of moral citizens. The rotation of labour to ensure that nobody is left having to tend the fields their whole life while others sit and glory at their unjustly inherited wealth.

I don’t want this to turn into a discussion on inequality and poverty because although Utopia does raise substantial questions and problems on this topic I feel that it is not that interesting. Moreover it is also a subject that is so current and seems to underpin human nature that dwelling on it is only likely to inspire us to want to change the world, and then upon realising that this is unlikely to happen, to become depressed, demoralised and hate all of humanity.

Social media constitutes our private and public selves

Our private and public selves are constructed by social media

However, I would like to offer a comment on the treatment of gender in this fictional society. More has created a world in which gender is fairly imaginary and only recognised for practicality. For example, men and women are ordered to appear naked to each other before they consent to marriage to ensure that they are both satisfactorily pleased with their partner. Although this seems highly obtrusive to our modern ideas of physical privacy, in contemporary England this would have been practical. I guess it is comparable to the use of social media in our lives today, the role that instagram and tumblr play in keeping the world aware of their everyday activities act in a similar way to the penetrative communal society More has imagined. Not through the mediums that More would have predicted, but modern day society is effectively and rapidly reducing the scope of our inner lives by making it easier for us to display everything about ourselves. What is more, it is making it an inherent and compulsive element of our lives – if we don’t upload the latest photos from last nights dinner then the world will somehow cataclysmically implode from the lack of photos on instagram with the hashtag #food.

More’s penetrative society is entirely public, the separate spheres theory is rendered useless in Utopia because there is no sense of the domestic. Men and women are on display for their entire lives and they have no choice but to conform. The performative nature of our society is removed in More’s which is essentially what makes it equal and deserving of the name Utopian. Benjamin Richardson in 1876 claimed that “Utopia is nothing but another word for time,” perhaps at some point in the development of the world we will reach the stage in the fictional Utopia where everything is public that it no longer ceases to be public and the notion of public itself disappears. With the removal of the public is also the removal of the private, and perhaps this is the path we are already headed down…

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Feminism and The Yellow Wallpaper

Women. Females. Men. Males. What really is the difference between them. Gender and sex, another two words that seem to be pretty interchangeable in our society, and yet they both mean completely different things. But that one word, that word that has so much negativity attached to it, needs to be corrected.

Feminism.

A status was posted onto facebook about Angelina Jolie’s recent operation: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brad Pitt today after the news about Angelina Jolie”. I like to hope that this was just an inconsiderate and poorly worded post and that the painfully obvious sexist undertone was a mistake. Sadly, I doubt it. The double mastectomy was to decrease her risk in getting breast cancer. If anyone was able to prevent a potentially painful, horrific, upsetting and stressful event, they would. This post also follows on from the lecture by Jackson Katz I wrote a couple of weeks ago. What is the problem is that sexism is embedded so deeply within our society, due to years of patriarchy that it almost acts incognito. Often going unrecognised and with an invisibility cloak.

Feminism is not bad. It is not a movement of bra-burning, hairy misandristic’s who would do anything to see men pay for what they have made women suffer over the years. No. Simply no. Ok, that is a fairly exaggerated statement, and I am sure that most men understand that feminists just want equality. But what also seems apparent is that there are a lot of women who are unaware of what feminists want. That is the problem. A woman who is not a feminist is like saying they are happy to be second best. When in fact there is no best, because there is no competition. Or at least there should not be.

In Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ short story The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist, narrator (possibly called Jane, although it is not explicitly stated, so for all intents and purposes she is not given a name), is locked in the attic of her house as a treatment for her hysteria, which turns out to be nothing more than post-natal depression. She is prevented from writing because it tires her out too much, and so her only pleasure is taken away in order to help her recover. Her husband John is also her physician. He has prevented her from using her imagination as he fears that it will only cause her condition to deteriorate, but it does so because she is not allowed to use it, and so does it in secrecy. The story is written in the form of her diary entries and so skips around a bit, is rushed in places when she can hear her husband approaching.

To the kitchen.

To the kitchen.

To me, this novella is a criticism of the patriarchal society and the way it is organised. Jane, or the narrator, or just another Victorian woman notices a woman trapped in the yellow wallpaper that covers her room. It isn’t until she makes the connection between herself and the wallpaper woman that she realises that all women are trapped within their marriages and the societal conventions. That women have to creep around, avoid breaking the social rules, lurk in the corner. In order for the narrator to realise this, she has sadly lost herself. She no longer is just imagining these dark things, but is actually experiencing them, in some form of breakdown. She cannot return to the life she had before with her husband, she has noticed the cracks, the invisibility cloak has been removed.

Charlotte Gilman Perkins was a utopian feminist. Writing over 100 years ago she had her sights set high for the work that women could achieve. Granted there have been many improvements in most cultures around the world. But in no society has sexism been abolished, nowhere has sexual equality. Cultures have adapted to the reforms that feminists have pursued and forced into the public eye, but they are still very much controlled by men, for men.

Like the narrator in the novel, she was blind to the truth and then once it was discovered it completely altered the way she saw life. This is what we need. We all need the cloak to be revealed for us. Men and women together. Then we can deal with the changes together.