Sex vs Gender and the Female Body
Sex is a biological determination of male or female, whereas gender is socially constructed, and designates the roles and responsibilities of woman and man. The body is a way in which gender is established, and the stereotypes that define a body confine gender within certain social norms. Ideas of what a ‘real’ woman should look like and how she should dress for her husband to please him confine women to a certain type, and if we fall short of these images we are not good enough or we do not fit the female gender norm. “The female body is inscribed socially, and most often, individually experienced as a lacking, incomplete or inadequate body… Women’s oppression is generated in part by these systems of patriarchal morphological inscription- that is, by a patriarchal symbolic order- or part by internalised, psychic representations of this inscribed body, and in part as a result of the different behaviours, values and norms that result from these different morphologies and psychologies.” (Riley 106-107) In other words, women have used feminism to advance within the public sphere, but we are now faced with a new challenge. “Moll Flanders,” “Penelope” and Goblin Market are literary works that I have analyzed to find the feminist features in each. After analyzing each work I found that the authors worked to write “New” woman and most importantly REAL woman into being, and we can see that these texts are a guide for the women of the present and future, but the women of the 21st century are now faced with the patriarchal view of women, one that we often fall short of attaining.
Everywhere you turn women are bombarded by images of what a woman in the 21st century looks like and how she should behave. And many of these images are untrue definitions of woman.
MANY women, including myself, are physically incapable of looking like a Victoria’s Secret model, what is more important is that very FEW women want to even look like a Victoria’s Secret model. There is reality and there is fantasy, and many women like the look of reality over the look of fantasy. Take Tara Lynn for example, a french model who is the embodiment of the definition of real woman. But, western society is very much a patriarchal society still and women’s bodies are repressed because our society only shows certain images that are unattainable, leaving women to feel inadequate in comparison. However, there are still women and adolescents who are unhappy with their body images and desire to look like the fantasy woman that the media portrays us to be. THIS is a major problem, because this fantasy woman is everywhere, she sells us lingerie and states that if we buy this lingerie we will look like her, when the reality is we won’t, “what has always been lacking is a due recognition of the specificity of women’s bodies” (Riley 101). We need media to portray a proper body image that is more like reality than fantasy. More women like Adele need to be in commercials and need to be seen as proper role models. Adele believes her value is in her talent not her body and she says on multiple occasions that she’d rather be larger with an amazing album, than be skinny with nothing to show for her life.
Recently a Victoria’s Secret model was interviewed and in her interview she states that she feels guilt over the fact that she promotes a body image that is, for the most part unattainable. For the most part I like what she has to say, but she does say that some women are lucky to win the genetic lottery that makes them look like Victoria’s Secret models. I understand what she’s trying to say, but I wouldn’t say that having a body like that makes people lucky. This word implies that women who do not fit the Victoria’s Secret body type category are unlucky and again inadequate.
This inadequacy is present in current events and popular culture and we need to change this. In the 20th century we had Buffy the Vampire Slayer a show that’s protagonist is a female hero who is physically stronger than men, but more importantly this strength is symbolic of ‘New’ woman’s strength in all spheres of life. Buffy is a 90s feminist, whereas, in the the 2000s teens are given Bella Swan as a role model.
Buffy vs. Bella
Like “Moll Flanders” and “Penelope” Buffy is the ‘New’ woman who is written into being by a male author, whereas Bella is written by a woman who believes herself to be a feminist. HOWEVER, Bella is far from being a feminist, she is weak and incapable of caring for herself, and her life revolves around the two men who are fighting over her. Further, the woman who wrote Bella proclaims to be a feminist, not only is this untrue but it is fatale to the teens who read her works. Bella is not a role model who should be looked up to, but she is. Instead we need to look to such heroines in our popular culture like Katniss Evedeen, Princess Leah and Hermione, just to name a few others.
We also need more women who are forward thinking like this annonymous woman who responded to a gym ad that is the basis of women’s oppression in society. When a gym posted an ad for their summer memberships they used this idea to push women into buying their memberships, “This summer, would you rather be a whale or a mermaid”.
The story is that an anonymous woman of unknown clothing size responded to the gym ad and said this:
Whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans). They are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness. They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia.
They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on CDs. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defend and admires.
Mermaids do not exist.
But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish?
They would have no sex life and could not bear children. Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad. And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?
Without a doubt, I’d rather be a whale.
At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.
We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn’t enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies.
We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated.
Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: “How amazing am I?!””
I for one, would like to see gym advertisements that don’t attack women’s body image in order to sell their memberships. Instead they need address the issue of health, and make that their greatest concern. As long as you are healthy, no one should be judged for their body image.
That’s a Wrap
Throughout this blog I have looked at different literary works, scholarly essays, other blogs, popular culture and the media, to illustrate the representation of a true woman in literature. And I have found her, I have mapped her journey through time to demonstrate where a true female identity started to the present. What I have found is that authors started writing woman into being in order to properly represent women of the early 18th century and on. This representation is first seen in “Penelope” with a woman who is narrating her entire day, this representtion is of the real woman, one who is extremely different from the woman of the early 20th century. She shows the reader that she does enjoy sexual pleasures, is human (ie., she urinates, menstruates and passes gas like the rest of us!) and believes that women are more than just images of beauty, that we have a greater purpose than to just please our male counterparts. Rewind to the 18th century and Daniel Dafoe writes into being Miss Moll Flanders, another woman who also professes a desire for sexual relations, is not the typical maternal figure, and a woman who can take on the role of the head of the family and strives to make a place for herself within a male dominant society. Then there is Goblin Market a poem that illustrates that female sexual desire should not limit women or repress them within a society. It is through sexual pleasure that Lizzie is able to save her ‘sister’ Laura from death. In the present there are a lot of examples in literature and popular culture of a true female identity, but there is also an equal amount of literature and popular culture that writes the ‘Old’ woman into being. A woman that restricts women from moving forward in society, and one that is unattainable in this patriarchal society that we live in.