Is Raoule a Hysterical Woman or Lovelorn Man?

I wonder what kind of shot Raoule has fired into the canon when she enters readers’ minds as a female character unforgivably sexual and also willing to play with being both feminine and masculine. What are the repercussions of this shot? And why was it forgotten from the era of decadence?

To get at these questions, we could look at how Raoule adopts masculine gender roles and see if there’s anything in how she plays with masculinity that challenges or fails to challenge the canon. In the story, there are multiple places where Raoule openly rejects feminine convention, her treatment toward Jacques Silvert (peeking while he bathes), her demand to be called “Monsieur” and referring to herself as a man, and particularly the scene in which she berates herself for thinking like a girl in love (41). However, at the same time, these very scenes also seem to reveal how hysterical Raoule can be and how her behavior could be viewed by outsiders as a rich woman’s flight of fancy, not as behavior that could elevate unheard women’s voices.

In addition to her masculine behavior, Raoule still very much operates within the ‘sign’ of woman. She half-heartedly strings Raittolbe along, and easily dismisses his anger with her when she shows up nine hours late by saying, “Nothing ought to astonish you, since I’m a woman,” Raoule answered, laughing nervously. “I do the complete opposite of what I’ve promised. What could be more natural!” (64) But when her femininity and masculinity meet, during the vertiginous conversation between her and Raittolbe, Raoule is driven to delirium when she attempts to explain her situation to him. When she says that “I’m a man in love with a man, not with a woman!”, Raittolbe responds by saying his brain is collapsing (73). He can’t comprehend Raoule, as much as he tries to.

Maybe Raoule is operating within the role of the hysterical woman who can adopt masculine roles without seriousness, and her class and unique situation allow her the freedom to do so. She becomes someone not to be envied because of her diversity, but to horrified by because of her split personality. Because of her inability to pick a gender role, along with the implication that there are gender roles to pick in the first place, is she still stuck in the hegemony of canon? Moreover, Pollock says that this hegemony entices us to construct self-identities in relation to them (11). Does Raoule’s gender hysteria stem from attempting to construct opposing self-identities within the canon?

Institutions and the Lack of Great Women Artists

In their introduction, the Guerrilla Girls restate the question of “Why haven’t there been more great women artists throughout Western history?” into “Why haven’t more women been considered great artists throughout Western history?” In doing so, the question implicitly also states that there have been great women artists and that they have been overlooked. Thus, it sets the stage for the Guerrilla Girls to showcase examples of forgotten or dismissed female artists.

However, Nochlin argues that this common response is the wrong way to go about promoting women’s equality in art, and in fact, could very well to be detrimental since the response does not address underlying assumptions within the question (24). For example, Nochlin believes that the question holds an implicit answer – that “there are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness”. Moreover, for the Guerrilla Girls’, I think another implicit answer for them is that because of barriers caused perhaps by men, by other women, or by institutions, female artists have not been able to be considered as great.

But for Nochlin, it’s not necessarily that women haven’t been considered great artists, but more that women have been unable to become great artists. Women have not been overlooked. They simply have not had as much opportunity as men to become great. Instead, her question is what are the concrete institutional support systems in place that prevent women from becoming ‘great’? And if there is not an essentialist difference between female and male greatness – like how Cixous might posit – since female artists seem to be more influenced by their contemporaries than by a thread of femininity, then what effects have institutions caused (24)?

I’m interested in how much blame we can place on institutional structures as the reason why women have not been able to ascend in Western art. Is it okay to say that women’s equality, not only in art but in any field, depends on institutions (25)? But aren’t the nature of these institutions shaped by men after all? I’m unsure of where the division between a group of men versus an institution formed by men lie. Does it even matter for women’s equality that we distinguish between men and an institution?

Glimpse of Post-Suffrage Future…

“I thought too, of the admirable smoke and drink and the deep armchairs and the pleasant carpets: of the urbanity, the geniality, the dignity which are the offspring of luxury and privacy and space.” — Woolf, page 23

I stumbled on these great cartoons from 1890s-1920s illustrating the horrors of women gaining the right to vote and was reminded of what we discussed in class, of women sitting around and smoking cigars. It’s funny that Woolf disliked the Suffrage Movement. While she blames the movement for making it difficult for women to write because of the self-consciousness that it aroused in men and women’s minds (pg 98 – 100), the cartoon is clearly illustrating that because of the Suffrage Movement, women might have the luxury to smoke their cigars (and write).

The above cartoon posits that gaining the same rights as men had, would result in women sinking — in imitation — to the moral character of men. Why Not Go the Limit?, by Harry Grant Dart, was published March 18th, 1908, in Puck magazine.

The above cartoon posits that gaining the same rights as men had, would result in women sinking — in imitation — to the moral character of men. Why Not Go the Limit?, by Harry Grant Dart, was published March 18th, 1908, in Puck magazine.

More cartoons!

Article: Sex vs. Gender perception

I saw this article and was reminded of our discussions on separating gender from sex. Reading the first line was a bizarre mental backtrack:

“Gender is no longer determined solely by biological factors, according to a new study by a Grand Valley State University researcher whose article, “Doing Gender, Determining Gender: Transgender People, Gender Panics, and the Maintenance of the Sex/Gender/Sexuality System,” was recently published in Gender & Society.

Laurel Westbrook, assistant professor of sociology at Grand Valley State, and Kristen Schilt, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, examined various case studies and found that , such as genitals and chromosomes, used to be the ultimate determiner of , but that is slowly changing….”

Study on gender: Who counts as a man and who counts as a woman – Phys.org

 

Marriage in P+P and Bedouin polygyny

The question I’m interested in is why were Pride and Prejudice and an account of Bedouin polygyny grouped together? I’ll try to explore this question by examining marriage and the role of kinship in shaping marriages for both stories.

In the section where Sagr talks about the benefits of marrying relatives (91), he explains the story of his marriage to his first cousin and possibly favorite wife Gafeeta. At the end of the section, he has a moment of seeming helplessness. On the accusation that Sagr brought trouble to their lives after marrying Azza, he says “What am I supposed to do? it’s not just me — everyone has two or three wives” (interesting that everyone implies every man) (95). However, from Gafeeta’s perspective, she seems to believe that Sagr was blinded by Azza’s townsperson aura and attractiveness, that “[Sagr] had seemed to judge his wives not by their virtues and their actions but by their looks and the life-style they represented” (108). Sagr had the agency for choosing his wife and he choose wrong, but Sagr was also under pressure to choose another wife. Because of this, Sagr believes that because his marriage with Gafeeta has turned out well on his side of things and that his marriage to outsiders has not, that it is beneficial to marry a relative.

In the case of Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine seems to believe similarly. In the scene where Lady Catherine attempts to extract a promise from Elizabeth that she will never accept a proposal from Mr. Darcy, her argument is that Mr. Darcy and Miss de Bourgh have been created for each other (272), “They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses….”. She accuses Elizabeth of disrupting a sort of ‘fated marriage’. In this instance, Elizabeth seems to occupy the role of Azza, Miss de Bourgh as Gafeeta, and Darcy as Sagr.

What would happen if in the world of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy could marry multiple wives? So much of Pride and Prejudice stresses the importance of choosing the right wife, a decision that can only happen once and cannot be retracted. Bedouin polygyny, on the other hand, appears much more flexible – maybe because of the ability to choose multiple wives? Sagr threatens many times, “I’ll divorce you.”

What exactly are the elements that cause Sagr to approve of marrying relatives and Mr. Darcy to be impartial to it? It can’t only be that Miss de Bourgh is sickly. There seems to be this importance of identity and personality that plays into Mr. Darcy’s marriage choices, whereas Sagr doesn’t seem to know Gafeeta that well (122).

I suppose I end with the same question – what exactly is it that make the conceptions of marriage so wildly different between Pride and Prejudice and Bedouin polygyny?

Murngin and Genesis: How is Woman Derived?

While the Murngin tells the origin of rites from myth and Genesis tells the origin of humankind, both describe similar narratives on the power relationship between females and males, a dynamic revealed in how they rely heavily on placing certain symbolic weights on the female gaining and losing power and the snake figure.

For the Murngin, the Wawilak sisters’ have gained autonomy through wrongful sexuality and can go about the country turning food into ceremonial artifacts through naming power: “You will be maraiin by and by” (180). But the very fact that they have gained autonomy has put them on a fated path toward destruction – “If they hadn’t done wrong in their own country this would not have happened” (184). The snake – “the masculine principle in a pre-social “animal” form (181) – consumes them, internalizing their power, and through a series of gastric maneuvers, releases the power for men to utilize through ritual. On the other hand, in Genesis, woman gains power by being tricked into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and transfers that knowledge onto man by sharing the fruit (15). Both times, it is the woman who gains knowledge/autonomy/power (?) and transfers it onto man. However, the snake figure for the Murngin represents a noncensensual tunnel of power transfer while for Genesis, the snake figure gives the woman two options – consent to eating the fruit or not (an interesting question is whether or not woman is in the position to even give consent…).

Furthermore, both myths rely on the priority of man over woman. It’s not the clansman that’s banished, but the woman; it’s not Adam created from Eve’s rib but vice versa. I don’t understand the original reason(s) for placing woman as the derivative of man, but it seems that because of this derivation, their status as a reproduction allows them a certain ability to disobey laws (one Wawilak sister is banished after having incestuous relations, p180; Eve eats from the tree of knowledge, p15). By breaking law, they trigger some sort of destruction phenomenon (“woman’s sexuality generates the mortal cycle of generation and decay” p186; “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” p16) in which humans become mortals. Interestingly enough, a Greek equivalent myth is Pandora’s box.

Thus, in both myths, there exists a causal relationship: woman sins which leads to humans becoming subject to decay. I don’t want to put too much weight on this causality, but I can’t help but extrapolate that there seems to be a primordial point in myth-making at the beginning of many major civilizations where there comes into being a narrative in which women are deprived of power. Why is that? How is that? What does that mean and how can it be challenged?