Feminism Themes and Issues
Feminism is a term that is widely used to describe the various efforts that are directed at advocating for the rights of women to bring about the equality between men and women. In many aspects of the society, women have always been subordinated and considered to be the lesser beings when compared to men. Although feminism has achieved tremendous successes since its outburst in the1960s, the society still experiences, gender inequality in areas where some achievements have already been made. For instance, gender inequality is still evident in politics, the workplace, pay, higher education, and household labor, despite the efforts of women to infiltrate the previously held, men dominated fields. This essay explores feminism themes and issues as revealed in Rhys and Allison's novels.
Male chauvinism is a theme that is well developed in the novel Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys has developed the character of Mr. Rochester to represent male chauvinism in a patriarchal society where women are supposed to remain subordinate to men in critical issues that are affecting the society. Christophine says that Antoinette ought to speak to her husband “calm and cool,” she is not supposed to get annoyed or cry before her husband (Rhys 89). For instance, Rochester has been portrayed to guide the conversations with his wife by determining when they should start, continue or end (Rhys 101). Allison says that she was not allowed to be beautiful, female, sex and sexual (32). Allison goes further to state that her grandfather, uncles, cousins used insulting words such as ugly old, ugly bitch and ugly thing to refer to the female companions in their family. The use of demeaning words while referring to women is meant to make them feel less significant and useful in presence of their male counterparts.
The economic inequality between male and female members of the society is evident in both Rhys and Allison novels. For example, Rhys has revealed the high level of poverty in Antoinette’s life which is partly blamed on the culture that considers women as homemakers while men as breadwinners. Antoinette describes the life of her mother as someone who was rescued from poverty when she married Mr. Mason; since their economic situation improved, they were hated by their fellow Black people (Roper 26). Mr. Mason has been characterized as a rich person who owned estates, while women, such as Antoinette and her mother, are described as people who languished in poverty (Rhys 13). Similarly, Allison describes her poverty by saying that I made them ugly because they were subjected to harsh environment in an effort to find their daily bread; they had no time of beautifying themselves (32, 33).
Rhys portrays women as people who have lost their identity once they enter into marriage; they cannot own property, or retain their original names; they are considered to be the property of their husbands (107). For example, Rochester has managed to take away the identity of Antoinette by taking away her property, and referring to her as “Bertha” a name that Antoinette does not like but Rochester imposes it on her; he also makes all the decisions in her life and even keeps her in a room as part of his possession (87). Despite Antoinette’s resistance to her new name, she does not succeed in preventing her husband’s motives. Allison describes her life as being inspired by people whom she does not want to emulate; she does not want to become them because she feels that they have lost their identity (38). Similarly, the loss of identity has also been explored by Plath who depicts Esther as a woman who is trying to find her lost identity while struggling to keep up with the demands of her school work (18). Esther and other girls were taking physics and chemistry, courses that were considered to be in the field of “men.”
The perceptions of men are that women are inferior. Rochester represents the views of a patriarchal society; he compares his wife to a child when he expresses his sentiments that his wife cannot understand him because she has a fixed mind on issues (Rhys 69). Despite viewing his wife a stubborn child, he feels that his wife cannot comprehend the reality. Again, Rochester says that Antoinette had “marionette quality” when she threatened him with a bottle; when she was on the bed, he saw her stretched and still like a doll (120). Rochester wants her wife to subdue to his power and control by continuously referring to her marionette (124). Allison was clear that his grandfather, uncle and cousins, use insulting words to refer to women as an indication that they are lesser beings to men (36). Similarly, Plath shows that Esther, together with other girls were reading a book designed specifically for women to show that although they attend the same classes with men, they were not equal to them (19).
Another theme is that men use culture to subordinate women. In Wide Sargasso Sea, culture is used as a tool to elevate the powers of men while suppressing those of women. For example, culture allowed Rochester to take all the possessions of Antoinette; Rochester was ready to protect the cultural values that promote his power; similarly, he was ready to refute any cultural practices that threatened his position in the society. Rochester felt vulnerable to Antoinette; he employed various strategies such as calling her names that were infuriating and ensuring that he controls everything that she did despite being locked up in a room (Rhys 120,124). In this perspective, culture is used to protect the interests of male gender while undermining the progress of the female gender. According to Lorber (67) gender as a structure divides work where women become homemakers and responsible for upbringing of children whose psychological development is highly influenced by women. Allison describes some incidences when she was required to engage in the same activities with boys such as running and studying karate, since they were usually done by men and boys she found it difficult to adjust (62-65). Plath also demonstrates how the role of a woman as a ‘child bearer” is a demanding task that always leads them to the “torture chamber” (24). Unlike men, women cannot escape their role as natural mothe...