Friday, 15 January 2010

Misogynist Writings and Religious Devotion

Today, during a discussion on feminist interpretations of Twilight as a disappointingly misogynist written piece of crap (Meyer is Bram Stoker with breasts) the discussion then turned onto the 'point in feminism'. Unfortunately, it was a girl who didn't see the point in feminism, and it makes me weep inside. 
As I said to the girl in question, I am *not* a ''burn your bra for the sake of liberty" sort of person - I rather like my bras, they're comfortable, and I'm grateful to the man that thought them up - but my god. Equality amongst human beings is something very much worth striving for. Women are entirely equal to men, and feminism (though perhaps to a less degree? it's debatable, as with anything) is still relevant in today's Western Society. (I choose to ignore the Eastern society in this discussion.)

Whilst I defined what feminism was to this girl, and then went on to suggest that it's entirely her right to live a Cinderella-style life, it actually struck me the enormous similarities between religious worship, and the messages sent out by (at least the Disney version) of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, The Goose Girl, and all the other ''scullery maid marries Prince Charming'' stories.

Let us look at Cinderella: She is a girl fallen from privilege, at the hands of her serpentine step-mother.
She lives a servile life, in her good, sweet, unquestioning way. She's not happy, but at the back of her mind, she dreamed (or prayed) that somehow her works and uncomplaining suffering would be noticed, and her just reward would come.
And so she goes on, going through her set life without changing a thing or questioning her unjustified treatment until she is noticed by a fairy godmother, and then subsequently, Prince Charming, who takes her to married bliss there ever after.

Yes, girls, all you have to do is keep pretty, nice, and do as your told, and eventually somebody will think you're ready to be introduced to a man as equally pathetic as you are.

Anyway. As I wrote the general gist of Cinderella, it struck me how like a devout religious belief it was.
Her dreams were prayers. Her life in servitude was a 'trial', after 'falling' from privilege (Adam and Eve) - The serpentine (used that word for a reason - think of Paradise Lost) Step-mother, was perhaps the devil. The fairy godmother was perhaps one of God's messenger angels, and the married bliss was the promise of eternal light and love in God's Kingdom.

It is the basic three-tier doctrine of the main religions of the world: We (man) fell, we live in trial, we get salvation.
Some religious orders in the world - whatever the religion - have been known to either lash themselves in penance, or to live a life of plain suffering, or do various unpleasant tasks (granted, often optionally, especially if they're men) in order to not only justify, but to secure their seat somewhere near God in Heaven.
It was almost, to me, as though these stories, along with many religious fanatics I've spoken to, were trying to justify living a determined life "just in case". There was no point in trying to make things happen or to question existence, even if you believe them absolutely to be right, since there was a small chance it could scupper any chances that might or might not be available later - such as had Cinderella have more gumption, she could have totally turned the Prince off, and ended up married to some sub-paid man in a small city house with too many children, still having to work. (Never mind whether she's actually happier that way or not.)

Now for the feminist bit. I don't believe this of all literature, but generally, I think that the people that we come across in lessons of English Literature have a point:

Since the dawn of time, it is quite clear that literature has been dominated by men. In the 'Canon' of Literature, there are 2.5 women - Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen and George Elliot (she took on a male pseudonym and so cuts her status as a woman by half).
The bible, and other such key texts, have determined the world view of how society, and people within it, should be: Mary, the virginal mother, to whom all women should aspire to be like, and Joseph, the morally upstanding male father figure, second only to God in the grand scheme of fatherhood.

In literature of old, women have always been marginalised - 'Eve' is the main focus of women in general, until innovative writers thought of other kinds of women, who are cleverer or shrewder, but still unable to do things, or weak but still sweet and even tempered.
The biblical world has set upon literature an enormous grounding for how women in literature and poetry and even in real society should behave.
They must do as their husbands or fathers tell them; they must not do this and this and this, and it is upon their behaviour that an entire family's honour depends. (Mary's ill-timed conception is a one-off, people.)
Women, as per the Bible, and other monumental religious texts, particularly that of mass-misogynist John Milton, Paradise Lost, are the weaker, stupider and more troublesome sex. Even before the bible, when women had a few more rights than they did post, they were considered by Aristotle and various others as somewhat confusing, alien and just plain suspicious. Hell, they bleed every 28 days, for crying out loud. From a supposedly important orifice. How is that normal!?!

It is up to the stronger - apparently mentally as well as physically - sex, the man, to keep them in check and out of trouble; something which Gabriel reprimands Adam for not doing after they have both eaten the apple (as well as loving her above God). [Paradise Lost, Book X]
Men are invariably, in folk tales, fairy tales and even modern literature (why kill a decent tradition? Feminists that enjoy a bit of old-fashioned romances don't mind it that much, really) the ones that women rely on to rescue them, to wake them up, or to pull them out of a spiral of poverty and ill-treatment:
Snow White [rescued by dwarves AND woken by a Prince], Sleeping Beauty [needs a Prince to break the spell, though she has the excuse of being asleep at least, so it's not her fault], The Goose Girl [She lets her ambitious servant blackmail her into switching places and bides her time till eventually through no grand scheme of her own, she is revealed as the true princess], Rumpelstiltskin [girl can't control her father's boasting and gets into trouble for it, and makes a deal which she then breaks (can't be trusted, like Eve) with a weird little goblin thing] all provide the base for a ''girl meets boy, boy saves her, boy and girl marry" storyline which has dominated plotlines for centuries.

It is also women that have their reputation as a metaphor for the fragility of their own personal virtue, and subsequently their lives. In Much Ado About Nothing, Hero's reputation is scarred by Don Juan, the villain of the piece, and it (supposedly) costs her her life. Fortunately, Shakespeare has a lovely habit of creating equally pathetic men for his pathetic women, so at least it's Claudio that is marrying her, not Benedick. But what is striking is the massive deal made out of the fact that Hero had had sex, and the utter deafness to the idea that the man she was with was also being sexually promiscuous.
It's always the same: A woman has a one night stand, and is labelled a slag, whilst men that do it repeatedly and even brag about such things get applauded (though there are those that consider them "man-whores") by their fellows.

Romeo and Juliet, are other examples - they allow things to happen to them, and I personally take the whole fluffing up of the otherwise brilliant plan to run away together as a message from Mr Shakespeare to lovers everywhere: Love is not important in the face of family honour and their subsequent feuds.
Whilst there were women in these plays, they were, of course, played by boys, or castrated men, so in society and in the larger canvas of the period, they were still more marginalised than women like Scarlett O'Hara, or Grace Treverton, or, even, Elizabeth Bennet and Fanny Price, who were created either in the last 80 years, or at the start of a new world of women-authored 'chick flick novels'.

The main focus for feminists at the moment is of course the genre that has been forced into the limelight by a Stephanie Meyers, the Twilight saga. Apart from my immense dislike for what she has done to the vampire world (they apparently glitter during the day, and eat garlic as though it weren't harmful), she has been described, as I said, but in not so few words, as 'Bram Stoker with breasts'. Yes, she has once again created a girl who does not really have the power to maintain her own identity without an alpha male (preferably a vampire) asserting one for her. She is the modern day, teen version of Mia and Lucy, from Bram Stoker's important novel, Dracula. Now, I say it is an important novel, because it was the start of a brand new fiction (aparently) and was the basis of most vampire romance/horror/fan fiction stories today, as well as an embodiment of long-held mythological folktales of vampiric beings in Eastern Europe. There are other themes to Dracula, of course; Xenophobia/Fear of the Other, Religion and the Supernatural, the development of Gothic literature etc.

However Dracula, apart from (according to my A-level teacher) being a massive metaphor of illicit sex [neck is the vagina, teeth are the penis blah blah blah], is a novel that encompasses the view of the world by the society of Bram Stoker at that time. Personally, I think that the male protagonists in the book couldn't have done a LOT without Mia, but then she counteracts my admiration by willingly subjecting herself to the life of a wife-secretary.

A friend of mine linked me this today, which I think is a very interesting piece of writing, that would have been quite useful (if Twilight had been written then) for my AS English Literature essay, but never mind. It is written by a graduate that apparently can't stop her love for analysis (good on her) and has written a review of Twilight in relation to Dracula, which, even if you don't wholly agree, you should agree has an interesting take, which I confess I have ended up paraphrasing a little bit two paragraphs up: Feminism and the Vampire Novel

So really, the question at the start, "What is the point in feminism" shouldn't be related only to the feminist essays written on literary texts or films, but also the wider idea: Equality. The equality denied to human beings since before Jesus apparently came along and saved us (making living certain lives "just in case" a bit invalid, to a point).
White men have always been put above every other organism on the planet. They weren't closely followed by white women, and very much beneath them came the separate gender black counterparts.

What disturbed me most about the conversation with the ''what's the point'' girl was her denial of feminism as anything other than a literary theory, and saying that feminism hasn't done anything good to society. (Apparently she's not heard of the Suffragists and Suffragettes, and the general movement to provide her with the rights she's living with today.)
Feminism isn't about tearing apart a book [fun though it can be - doesn't have to b e serious, you know!], it's about correcting the state of society; to allow women the right to do with their bodies as they choose, to live un-possessed by somebody else, to be able to stand up and speak out against atrocities committed on their bodies by "men" that can't control their tempers, desires or drink (sometimes all three).  Women were jailed, because they saw that the long tradition of male authority over things that they had no right to, and fought for the very much taken for granted privileges that girls live with today; the right to education, to a job, a job AND a family, the right to legal protection, inheritance and most of all: Independence. An identity formed by themselves: a choice in what they wear, what they do, what they think.
Women should choose to be a housewife (an honourable profession, still, in my opinion - and you can still expand your mind doing so with an open university degree or hobbies etc), not be one just because no other options have been allowed to them.

I apologise for this entry being a long, and more serious than is normal for a blog, but I had a sudden burst of ideas and had to write it down for I would not have the opportunity in an essay, since I no longer take English Literature. (Too much reading on top of History.)

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