Mysogyny In British Literature Essay, Research Paper
Women Contribute to Their Own Misogyny
Although society has advanced dramatically technologically, I feel that we still have a long way to go when it comes to how we view one another. It amazes me that in a society such as ours, that bases its existence on the equality of all people, that misogyny (as it occurred in medieval times) still takes place. A timeless example of misogyny is the objectifying of women, which suggests that a woman’s sexual beauty is her only worth. In dealing with this misconstruction, some women, as in the case of Bercilak’s wife in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and Alisoun in “The Miller’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales, use their sex appeal to deceive, lure, and, manipulate men. A small part of me shamefully admits that I respect, and even appreciate, the way in which a woman can outsmart a man by entertaining his sexist views; however, as a whole, I strongly feel that if a woman uses her sexuality for her own advancement, then she is contributing to her own misogyny.
The misogyny towards Bercilak’s wife in “Sir Gawain and The Green Knight” is introduced by the speaker’s and Gawain’s depiction of her appearance. For one, the speaker points out that, “her body and her bearing were beyond praise (ll.944)…her bright throat and bosom fair to behold…”(ll.955), indicating from the beginning that Bercilak’s wife is sexually desirable. The speaker then continues describing how fresh and fair the ladies with “the two eyes and the nose, the naked lips” are (ll.962). By using the word “naked” just to illustrate her lips, the speaker is calling unnecessary attention to her sexuality. In addition, Gawain shows that he is aware of Bercilak’s wife’s sexual qualities admitting that, in comparison to the other ladies in the room, she is “more toothsome, to his taste” (ll.968). To just say that the lady is of exceptional beauty is not enough for Gawain; he must also emphasize how sexually desirable she is and, as a result, objectifies her character.
In order to use her sexuality against Gawain, Bercilak’s wife has to be aware of Gawain’s attraction to her. He draws direct attention to his desire for her when, after he had “gazed on that gay lady” and the lord had left, Gawain asks “’To be received as [the ladies’] servant, if they so desire’” and, with that, “They take him between them; with talking they bring him/ Beside a bright fire” (ll.970-1, 976-7). With this information, Bercilak’s wife is able to enter Gawain’s room with total confidence. As a result, the first morning she enters Gawain’s room, “bound for his bed” (ll. 1189), the speaker says that “abashed was the knight, / And laid his head low again in likeness off sleep”(ll.1189-90) while “Conning in his conscience what his case might/ Mean or amount to—a marvel he thought it”(ll.1196-97), demonstrating that the lady is using her sexual self-assurance to gain Gawain’s trust and use it to her advantage.
After Bercilak’s wife is aware of Gawain’s attraction to her, she uses her sex appeal to lure him and cause him to fall for her manipulative scheme. The speaker says that on her first visit to his bedroom she “stole to his bed,/ Cast aside the curtain and came within, / And set herself softly on the bed beside there” (ll.1190-2) and says, “My body is her at hand/ Your each wish to fulfill;/ Your servant to command/ I am and shall be still” (ll.1236-1240). From this scene and others where the lady pressures Gawain to kiss her, Gawain is led to believe that Bercilak’s wife does not have any control over her sexual desires and is the sexual women he thought she was based on his physical description of her. However, Bercilak’s wife is in total control of her encounters with Gawain. The speaker notes that, “The lady, with guile in heart, / Came early where he lay; / She was at him with all her art/ To turn his mind her way” (ll.1472-1475). From the context I gather “her art” to be the sex appeal Bercilak’s wife is using in order “to turn [Gawain’s] mind her way.” Due to Gawain’s physical attraction to the lady and his incorrect belief concerning her sexual intentions, Bercilak’s wife is able to fulfill her task “to assay, if such it were, the surfeit of pride/ That is rumored of the retinue of the Round Table” (ll.2458-2459) and prove that the knights of the Round Table are not as noble and truthful as they are believed to be.
Another example of misogyny is found in “The Miller’s Tale”, from The Canterbury Tales, with The Miller’s description of Alisoun:
“Fair was this yonge wif, and therwithal/ As any wesele hir body gent and small…. Upon hir lendes, ful of many a gore…She was ful more blissful on to see/ Than is the newe perejonette tree, / And softer than the wolle is of a wether…Ther nis no man so wis that coude thenche/So gay a popelote or swich a wenche…She was a primerole, a piggesnye, / For any lord to leggen in his bedde, / Or yit for any good yeman to wedde” (ll.125-162).
Here, The Miller is objectifying Alisoun by giving the impression that Alisoun’s desirability is not due to her personality but rather just her physical traits. Nicholas also has an objectifying view of Alisoun as seen by his action of grabbing Alisoun “by the quainte,/ And saide, ‘Ywis, but if ich have my wille,/ For derne love of thee, lemman, I spill.’/ And heeld hire heed harde by the haunche-bones”(ll.168-71). In addition, Alisoun’s husband also sees her as just an object. The Miller notes that, “This carpenter hadde wedded newe a wif/ Which that he loved more than his lif./ Of eighteen yeer she was of age;/ Jalous he was, and heeld hire nearwe in cage, / For she was wilde and yong…”(ll.113-117), indicating that the reason why the carpenter is so protective over Alisoun is because she is a young woman who is unable to control her sexual desires.
Just like Bercilak’s wife, Alisoun is also aware of the feelings men have about her and in turn uses them to her advantage. For instance, after Nicholas grabs her and begs her for a kiss, Alisoun first teasingly replies, “I wol nat kisse thee, by my fay, / Why, lat be…lat be, Nicholas!/ Or I wol crye ‘Out harrow, and allas!’/ Do way youre handes, for your curteisye” (ll.176-178). An instant later she replies, “Myn housband is so ful of jalousye/ That but ye waite wel and been privee/ I woot right wel I nam but deed, / Ye moste been ful dern as in this cas” (ll. 186-189). Alisoun’s solution and answer to Nicholas’s proposition indicates that she is using her sexuality, not only to have a love affair with Nicholas, but to also, more importantly, deceive her husband whose wild jealousy caused him to “heeld hire narwe in cage” (ll.116). Absolon also falls victim to Alisoun’s tendency to use her own misogyny to her advantage. His infatuation with her leads him to show up on her doorstep proclaiming, “Thanne kis me, sin that it may be no bet, / For Jesus love and for the love of me” (ll.608-609). In turn, Alisoun exploits her sexuality by allowing Absolon to believe that she will comply with his wishes, which, in turn, deceives Abolson and only satisfies her wish of sending him away.
In all, the misogyny presented in these two poems is not restricted to the time period they were written. Just as in medieval literature, it is still common for today’s woman to be recognized only for her physical attributes. I believe that in order to have equality of the sexes and to help overcome the objectifying of women, it is necessary for women not to use the misogynistic views placed against them to their advantage.