Gender: Society’s Restraint


ENGL494-024


May 9, 2002


Time and time again gender-conflict is brought to the attention of the public in various forms. In our time someone who wants to make a point about gender-conflict and the inequality that is present will be more likely to use television or song to reach their audience. This however is a fairly new technology. Books or some form of writing on the other hand have been around for thousands of years. Gender-conflict is nothing new. It is not as though one day it just came out of no where. It has been around since the dawn of time. What is a man’s place and what is a woman’s place in society or is there really a specific place at all; further more are we even really that different to begin with? Two classic novels To the Lighthouse and Lady Oracle are perfect examples of how gender-conflict is viewed and present in our society, but what is it that they are trying to teach us?


One of the central motif’s in To the Lighthouse is the conflict between the feminine and masculine principles at work in pretty much the entire universe. Mrs. Ramsay, with her emotional, poetical frame of mind, represents the female principle, while Mr. Ramsay, a self-centered philosopher, expresses the male principle in his rational point of view. Both of which are flawed by their restricted and somewhat ignorant perspectives. A painter and friend of the family, Lily Briscoe, is Woolf\'s vision of the “androgynous artist” who personifies the ideal blending of male and female qualities. When looked at more deeply Lily does not only personify the ideal male/female role in society but she is also representation of Woolf herself.


Growing up as a female little alone trying to fit into the stereotypical role a women is expected to fill in a male dominated society can be a trying experience for any woman if not all women. Joan, the main character in Lady Oracle, is no exception from this. Joan is able to provide the reader with a vivid description of the anxieties and ordeals of being a female throughout childhood and adolescence. She starts out with the simple desire to love and be loved, to find acceptance. These desires are not gender specific, as both males and females strive to be love and be loved and find acceptance. The difference is how women and men actually find these. Due to constant victimization by others a pattern of outsiders becomes Joan’s defense and revenge. Joan\'s early misery and resentment causes her to see life as her adversary. Because she is made to feel like an object, as many women in her time felt, Joan learns to use embodiment as a weapon that will reach her emotionally inaccessible mother: "By this time I was eating steadily, doggedly, stubbornly, anything I could get. The war between myself and my mother was on in earnest; the disputed territory was my body" (65). Joan claims to resist every effort to make her reduce out of a fear of assimilation and loss of autonomy: "I wasn\'t going to let myself be diminished, neutralized. I wouldn\'t ever let her make me over in her image, thin and beautiful" (85-6). This in her mind would be surcoming to the gender stereotype that woman not only should fit into, but had to fit into. It was her own way of rebelling against what a woman should be and being herself. Whether this was the correct way to go about it, her reasons were her reasons and that is what is important to her. Unfortunately this only caused a vicious circle. The more she rebelled against the gender norm for her society the more she was ostracized and ridiculed, and the more intense the pressure became to fit into society.


Men though out history have always had “the power” over women. This sort of patriarchal society has existed long before recorded history. Another one of Woof’s main theme in the novel To the Lighthouse is the effects of patriarchy on the creative lives of women. Instead of centering her novel around the violent abuses of power in a patriarchal society or the effects on social life of prohibiting middle-and upper-class women from education or employment, Woolf centers her