Wednesday, October 29, 2014

They've Always Wanted Control

They.... you know who they are... they are the ones who disagree with you.  Doesn't matter what that topic is, they are on the other side.  You try to get along with them, but it's hard because they are so obviously, fundamentally, incontrovertibly wrong.  For this post, they are men who want to control women's bodies. 

I'm reading Classic Tragi-Comedies for my Humanities Seminar this semester.  We started with Plautus's Amphytrion.  Jupiter impersonates the husband, impregnates the unknowing, already-pregnant-by-her-husband wife, convinces the returned-from-the-war husband that it is a great honor to have his offspring share the womb with the child of a god, and the fact that he didn't trust his wife when she swore she had been true is never dealt with to my satisfaction.

The husband's honor was restored.  The god had the sex he desired.  The woman, carrying her rapist's child, is merely a foil to the men's wants and desires.  She is less human than chattel.

We moved on to All's Well That Ends Well, with Shakespeare's mix of mismatched suitors and wanton desires and pure maidens and scheming of all kinds. Bertram's right to attempt the seduction of the Widow's Daughter goes unchallenged by his friends, his servants, and even the maiden herself.  It is understood that his need to conquer her is part of being a manly man. She must protect her chastity so that she will be worthy in the eyes of the world; he must rob her of her most precious possession ... because he can?... because he must?.... because he really really wants to?

It seemed to me that the answer was All of the Above.

Fuenteovejuna was written in Spain by Lope de Vega, a contemporary of Shakespeare.  Once again, a woman's virtue is the nexus of the plot.  How, the potential victim rails, can her father and her uncle and her town stand by as she is dragged off to be violated?  She, with cunning similar to Bertram's Helena, engineers her own salvation. Still, at the end we are left to wonder why, exactly, her menfolk were reluctant to deny the Commandant his right to their women's bodies? 

I began to wonder if they didn't really care about the women as humans to be cherished, but saw them only as collateral damage, like higher taxes and torture.

It all came to a head for me in Moliere's Tartuffe.  Dad decides that his daughter should marry the hateful charlatan instead of her beloved.  The girl sighs.  She whines. Her maid speaks with a 21st century voice, whittling away at her Master and her Mistress with all the reasons you or I would summon if we were confronted with the situation today. 

She's a comic character.

I was thinking these deep thoughts as I drove home this morning.  I was thinking about reproductive freedoms and how little has changed since early Rome.  Women still bear the stigma for rape and the burden of unwanted pregnancy.  Men are still lauded for their sexual prowess and women face slut shaming for similar behaviors.  Only the annoying feminist, the one who speaks up and demands a reality check, only she raises her voice, it seems. 

And she's played for laughs.


  1. It's a sad commentary on our society when women are treated how they were treated thousands of years ago. You have pointed out, painfully, that we are still treated as objects. Just when I think we are making strides, someone comes along to squash that illusion. BUT... I'm a feminist and I will continue to scream that women should treated like men. Even if it means I'm a caricature. Eventually, someone will listen.

    Megan xxx

    1. And even if They don't listen, your daughters will!


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