Is this the liberated woman?

Raoule’s character and evolving identity are fascinating, but I’m struggling with what she is in the context of women’s liberation and the liberation of women’s artistic/creative production. After scanning Rachilde’s wikipedia page, I get the feeling that Raoule is a kind of blueprint or exploration of an alternative woman, possibly one that Rachilde identified with to a certain extent. She has all the resources, confidence, privacy, and creative force of will that Woolf wanted women to achieve for themselves, and was even raised primarily by a female figure. I think the first clue that Raoule is not Woolf’s or Walker’s heroine is that the female figure that passes on her wealth and knowledge is largely impotent and ignorant, detached from the reality of Raoule’s lifestyle.

On another level, Raoule seems to be grappling with the role of women in the world she lives in, and what it means for her to transcend that. For her, this means taking on the role of a man; at least, she uses maleness and male identifiers in order to communicate her feeling of power. Perhaps this gender fluidity is symptomatic of a flaw in the dichotomy between male and female? That she must become masculine in order to understand her power relationship with Jacques would indicate something to that effect, unless we take her gender expression as a question of identity rather than metaphor. This conflict calls to mind several things: DeBeavoir’s admonition of women who renounce their femininity to gain validation from the male world, the illustration that was posted on the blog earlier of women smoking and drinking in a bar, and the theme of sexual power relationships used as metaphors in other areas (ie. the rape of Africa). I guess I am wondering what implications these perspectives have for the character that Rachilde is portraying, and for Rachilde’s project, whatever that may be.

Is this the sumptuousness and luxury that Woolf positioned as so important to female agency and production? Can we understand sexuality and indulgence of desire as a part of that excess? And is Raoule merely taking on the male role and transforming it, a la Judith Butler’s drag, or is she transcending gender/unmasking the power relationships that it actually represents?

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4 thoughts on “Is this the liberated woman?

  1. I also am having trouble with Raoule’s character. The thing that originally threw me off was the description of her personality as cold and unfeeling – men are classically stereotyped as more distant from their emotions, but Raoule’s normal state of being seems to be so cold as to appear non-human. Also, I think it’s really interesting that Raoule herself isn’t really producing any art; in this instance, she’s the patron of the hapless Jacques, who, it turns out, actually kind of sucks at art. Raoule mentions that she could draw a figure in the same time that he could produce a similar work of art, but I got the impression that her artistic background was just another one of those skills that well-bred women attempt to become well-rounded (even if Raoule’s pursuits like fencing and painting are considered masculine by her aunt). In my mind, there hasn’t really been a big focus on art at all thus far – it’s only served as a mechanism to further Jacques and Raoule’s relationship. I think this contrasts the Pollock really interestingly, as it is now the female benefactress that allows art to be created through a male progeny.

    • Taking today’s discussion into account, I wonder how the production/performance of self and other can count as art. Granted, this is not a literal production of art, but there is a similar sense of creation (and the power that comes from it). I agree that literal art hasn’t had a big role so far, but art as a broader metaphor has been much more influential.

      Re: Raoule’s coldness, I think it’s especially interesting to view the moments where that character breaks and she expresses emotions. These bursts are unwilling and she views them as a flaw in her nature, places where she acts “as weak as a girl” (41). I take this as an announcement that masculinity is prized and femininity is scorned, regardless of the sex of the person. With that, it’s hard to see how this can be a feminist text if it promotes the same gendered notions of power that we’re evidently supposed to be fighting.

  2. I think the key to understanding Raoule has got to lie in contextualizing her within the society Rachilde lays out for us (after all, Raoule as a character is really just a tool to comment on that society). There is definitely a feeling of disenchantment among the women of the novel — Marie was a briefly a prostitute and recognizes how sex can be used as a means of trade. Raoule’s aunt was about to become a nun when she took on guardianship of Raoule, and she seems hyper-sensitive to sex, perhaps because she understands the myriad of ways Raoule could have been taken advantage of. Is it possible that Raoule doesn’t identify as masculine to understand or explain her relationship with Jacques, but rather to fortify and empower herself to keep control over him? That is, perhaps she identifies in order to manipulate (as opposed to identifying because she’s manipulating).

  3. I think Raoule is taking the the male role and transforming it, like Judith Butler’s drag. As Judith Butler explains drag: “There is no “proper” gender…drag constitutes the mundane way in which genders are appropriated, theatricalized, worn and done; it implies that all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation” (21). Considering Monsieur Venus with Butler in mind, I very much think both her and Jacques are reshaping gender roles for self-empowerment. I don’t think it is as much to do with their relationship to each other–I don’t think Raoule is just doing it to have control over Jacques, but I think that is part of it. i think she’s exerting her control, something considered masculine, by acting masculine and is taking power over this gendered trait by saying that she, as a woman, can do this “masculine” thing and have dominance.

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