Feminism and its portrayal in some of the gretatest novels— Johan Alex 11J

Feminism, a word that has changed its meaning to me significantly over the past couple of years. Since I was a kid my mum has taught me about basic feminist ideologies and the issues that women go through due to patriarchal agendas. As I began to use my iPad to go on the internet my opinion began to change drastically. My mind began to get corrupted by the videos being recommended to me on youtube, which consisted of compilations such as “feminists being owned” in which these women were complaining about things such as manspreading or mansplaining. These videos began to skew my views on feminism by limiting it to such a small minority of women who find problems in these issues which hide from genuine misogynistic ideologies that are present in society. It was not until year 7 in which other girls in my class began to express their stance on feminism that I started to understand that not everyone was a “crazy feminist who hates men” but instead most feminists consist of just normal women who have decided to stand up against society’s mistreatment of women. As the years have gone by I have continued to learn about feminism more as I began to open my eyes to issues within society that I was so oblivious to previously due to my privilege of being born a male.

Feminism has been portrayed to me through various ways including; texts, tv, and the internet. The portrayal of feminism through media is extremely important in empowering women and creating a change. As a man myself I have viewed feminism differently through media portrayal and I can't even begin to imagine the impact the portrayal of feminism has on women themselves. Media is used to portray society, thus through the empowerment of women and depiction of their struggles represented through media, opinions can be spread to hundreds of millions which would help in making society a safer and more accepting place for women.

What is Feminism and what makes up a Feminist Text?

Feminism may be simply defined as a movement that aims to establish equal rights for women in all aspects of society. A feminist text is a form of promoting feminist beliefs through literature by discussing discrimination against women through male-created ideologies. These texts tend to not mitigate experiences and suffering that women go through as these issues still occur in society and can be quite personal for many women. Feminism however can be portrayed in various ways due to how feminism has impacted different groups of women. During the beginning of the feminist movement, we saw a lot of action being done for white women from higher classes, while on the other hand, groups of minorities such as trans women or women of color weren't treated equally as rich white women. The disparity made feminism mean different things for different groups of women, an issue that was mainly prominent during the second wave of feminism.

Feminism within Arcadia and the French Lieutenants Woman

Arcadia and The French Lieutenants’ Woman both depict feminist ideologies to some degree through the portrayal of female characters such as Thomasina Coverly and Sarah Woodruff who constantly reject patriarchal agendas. Stoppard’s Arcadia and Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman both portray the struggles of class disparity through issues that the female characters face, whether it be from how they are viewed in society by men or how they are treated by fellow women due to their ‘class’. Both texts also successfully portray a sense of independence and liberty for the female characters through the pursual of academia. However, the lack of voice given to the character Sarah in The French Lieutenants Woman leads readers to learn everything they know about Sarah through the male gaze from Charles, ‘the narrator’ and Fowles himself.

The Pursual for Academia

Stoppard’s Arcadia and Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman both depict several female characters such as Hannah Jarvis and Sarah Woodruff to be independent women who reject “the purpose for which women were brought into creating” by instead struggling to liberate themselves from patriarchal agendas that restrict their growth as women. Sarah and Hannah both pursue academia over marriage which is seen as going against societal norms, that were made due to the patriarchy which views women going into a marriage as part of the “natural law”. In Arcadia, Hannah is seen to constantly pursue academia over relationships as she claims she does not desire a “dancing partner”, a phrase used by her to represent the role of a man in her life to be nothing more significant than someone she dances with. “I don’t know a worse bargain. Available sex against not being allowed to fart in bed”. This was said by Hannah suggesting that relationships can be restricting and deciding to get into a relationship would mean she would lose the freedom of not conforming to gender norms on what women should act like, which includes farting in the bed as it isn’t seen to be feminine. This was a common belief expressed throughout both texts due to its prevalence in society itself. An ideology that most women uphold in which they believe marriages turn what is love into a restricting/male-powered relationship in which they are treated like an object that is used for reproduction and the for the pleasure of men. “I am nothing, I am hardly human anymore. I am the French Lieutenant’s Whore”. This was said by Sarah to portray the objectification of women in society in which the label of being the “French Lieutenant’s Whore” means she has lost “worth” and has tarnished her identity and status. In Fowles’ The French Lieutenants Woman we also see Sarah pursue academia over Charles as she rejects his proposal. This then leads to Charles claiming she has “ruined his life”. A quote that shows that men can tend to believe that women are doing “wrong” by not marrying them. Both Sarah and Hannah pursue their desires in academia instead of falling into society's archaic gender norms of getting married. This helps promote feminist agendas which show that women are just as and if not even better on their own and don’t need men to fulfill their ‘lives purpose’.

What is classism/class disparity and how is it portrayed in these two novels?

Systematic classism is the oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups. Class disparity has always been an issue in feminism as the origins of the movement itself was heavily criticized due to its ideologies being biased towards white women compared to trans or even colored women. The mistreatment of women from lower classes was portrayed in The French Lieutenants Woman through the characters of Sarah and Ms. Poultney. Throughout the entirety of the novel, Sarah is constantly mistreated and viewed as less due to her status. Ms. Poultney refers to Sarah as a “cunning, wicked individual” who is a “poor tragedy”. The phrases Ms. Poultney uses to refer to her servant Sarah is extremely disgusting. Ms. Poultney is constantly seen to tell Sarah to conform to her religious views to become more “pure”. A statement that is extremely ironic due to Ms. Poultney's excessive usage of opium. This was used to show how blinded women of higher classes are of their own actions and their beliefs that they are greater than women from lower classes even if they partake in the same things they preach against. The lack of consequences suffered by Ms. Poultney after her actions also depicts class disparity itself as it portrays how women of higher classes can get away with mistreating women of lower classes due to systematic classism which treats richer women with much more empathy. In Arcadia, we don't see women of different classes being treated differently but we do see women with higher powers taking control of women with less. This is seen through the actions of Lady Croom in her extreme control of her daughter's life leaving her to have no free will. While her actions can be seen as motherly and of good intentions it is instead manipulative and too controlling. She promotes patriarchal beliefs that Thomasina “must be married” which believe that marriage is the main part of a woman’s life and needs to be completed to be seen as a “successful” woman. To do this, Lady Croom manipulates Septimus to reveal his love to Thomasina earlier than he would have desired which messes with Thomasina's mind. Thomasina is seen to constantly critique Cleopatra as “everything is about love with her” and classes her as a depticiton of a woman due to her constant pursual for love and marriage. Thomasian is portrayed to be completely opposite of this with her continually pursuing her passion for academia instead of love and romance. Her beliefs could mean that without the manipulation of her mother she would've been unlikely to have married Septimus. Both Arcadia and The French Lieutenant's Woman depict systematic classism through characters such as Ms.Poulteny and Lady Croom and their actions against women of less power including Sarah and Thomasina. Both Stoppard and Folwes portray this well to help shed light on these issues by edcauting readers on the struggles women face from other women. Both novels also successfully depict the misuse of class and power by certain women to oppress others just “cause they can”. The depiction of class disparity in both The French Lieutenant's Woman and Arcadia helps to make these novels be classified as a feminist text.

How are the female characters portrayed?

While The French Lieutenant’s Woman attempts to cover feminist ideologies through independent characters we are still left with a rather male-orientated novel. Sarah Woodruff remains objectified throughout the entirety of the novel as we never get to see her perspective of the story but instead, we see the male perspectives of what happens from characters including Charles, ‘the narrator’ and Fowles. The novel's failure to depict Sarah as a human being herself is due to Fowles exclusively using male views to help readers judge her character. Fowles’ novel can be classified as a feminist text because the novel attempts to describe a sexually liberated character in Sarah. Sarah chooses to cast off the archaic norms which guard females against their own sexuality. While this may be the idea that Fowles attempts to convey, it doesn't help to resolve the issue of Sarah remaining a character without perspective.

In conclusion, both texts explore feminist agendas and can be considered feminist texts to an extent as the attempt to question traditional patriarchal cultural expectations. Through the use of strong female characters such as Hannah, Thomasina, and Sarah both texts explored several feminist agendas. The portrayal of class disparity and societal standards shaming women who pursue passions over marriage both texts helped to depict the issues women face due to gender norms. However, The French Lieutenants Woman can only be considered a feminist text to an extent as Fowles fails to give Sarah a perspective thus giving us a novel entirely from the male gaze.

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Johan Alex

Johan Alex

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