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.

 

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Gendering in our society: Violence and Silence

I am honestly nearly finished reading the book. Some reason I just haven’t been able to find the time just to sit down and read for hours – I blame exams and revision for this. Whenever I begin reading All Change Please or my recent choice Birdsong, I feel immensely guilty and stop after 20 minutes or so because I should be re-reading Gatsby or Eliot in preparation for exam season.

But yet again in another attempt to procrastinate (and if I am brutally honest, I am pretty sure I should be classified as a professional procrastinator. I mean, the amount of stuff I am able to get done whilst not doing the stuff I should get done is impressive. I mean I watched all of Seasons one and two of Game of Thrones in anticipation of Season three in 3 days. I know, I understand your jealousy…) and prolong judgement day, I found myself on TED Talks earlier.

I came across Jackson Katz and his Violence and Silence talk. It focussed on the culture of our society where violence is such a prominent issue and yet gender violence prevention is still almost a taboo. He argued that gender violence is lexically viewed as a feminine one. Men seem rarely to get involved, they are women’s issues that from time to time receive help from a few good men. And that this needs to be changed – it is a male problem. Gender is not synonymous to women.

Now I understand that not all violent relationships are the fault of the male. In fact depending on the nature of the relationship, men may not even be present at all. But Katz’s talk focuses on the attitude of society and the attitude men take. And this really got me thinking about our society, not just from a feminist stand-point, but in general. Patriarchy is still such a dominant force that if you look closely enough, it appears in the most unlikely places. In the lecture, Katz gives an example of the nature of sentence structures and how in relation to domestic violence there is a tendency to focus on why the victim became the victim, rather than why the person who did it, did it. (Starts around 4 minutes) This completely altered my attitude towards literature. The active and the passive role that words play in sentences had never really been drawn to my attention before, other than in French grammar lessons.

Fun Home: A family tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

But also, if you think about it on a much larger scale, the sheer number of books, poems, plays, text, fiction and non tend to be patriarchal. It is almost like it is inherent in out being. The way we construct out views on Gender and the roles that specific genders play. The relationship between gender and sex. Is there even a difference? Do people recognise how important it is to differentiate between the two and that they are not just synonymous? A really interesting piece of literature that touches upon this is Fun Home  by Alison Bechdel, which I will review soon. By writing in the format of a graphic novel and not a traditional, archetypal novel she even does something to undermine the conventions of authority.

I also saw this status not long after watching this talk and although funny, and I can laugh about the casual sexism, there is still something prevalent within our society that makes it acceptable for such a statement to be classified as humour and not abuse:

BBQ RULES:

We are about to enter the BBQ season. Therefore it is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity . When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:

(1) The woman buys the food.

(2) The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.

(3) The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill – beer in hand.

(4) The woman remains outside the compulsory three meter exclusion zone where the exuberance of testosterone and other manly bonding activities can take place without the interference of the woman.

Here comes the important part:
(5) THE MAN PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL.

(6) The woman goes inside to organise the plates and cutlery.

(7) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is looking great. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he flips the meat

Important again:
(8) THE MAN TAKES THE MEAT OFF THE GRILL AND HANDS IT TO THE WOMAN.

(9) The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.

(10) After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes

And most important of all:
(11) Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.

(12) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed ‘ her night off ‘, and, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there’s just no pleasing some women.

 

So whilst feeling bad about finding the humour funny after being inspired to such a degree I decided to write about it, I couldn’t help but think back to the video. I am sure that it will linger with any of you that watch it for quite sometime because I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

To see the entire video click here.