The Politics of Sex and Gender in Middlemarch, “The Goblin Market” and “A Castaway”

The Politics of Sex and Gender in Middlemarch, “The Goblin Market” and “A Castaway”
By Morgan Pinder

Discourse regarding gender in Victorian literature has its foundation in an entrenched, and for the most part unchallenged binary. Coming out of the Georgian and Regency eras the societal expectations placed upon a woman were very clearly those of subservience and benignity, whereas the man was able to execute a level of agency that, while limited by class restrictions, was far more liberal than that of their wives, mothers and daughters. Men had control over family wealth and power, whereas everything a woman had at her disposal was within her own person, that is her virtue, morality, intelligence and drive to survive or nurture. It would be all too easy to paint men as the oppressors, as the enemy of women, but the Victorian depiction of the relationship and the power dynamic between the genders is often complex. In this essay I will explore the primary texts Middlemarch (Eliot, 2015), “The Goblin Market” (Rossetti, 2017) and “A Castaway” (Webster, 2017) and how each depicts the complex interplay of gender relations and power.

Christina Rossetti

Central to Rosetti’s depiction of femininity is the idea of sisterhood and the relationships between women, particularly, but not exclusively those who are biologically related (Casey, 64). The sisters, Laura and Lizzie, live a very simple existence but derive strength comfort and warmth from their relationship with each other. As there is no mention of any other people in their home lives they seem to lead an isolated, but happy and safe existence (Rossetti, 184-198). It is only through the strength of their bond, and Lizzie’s sacrifice for her sister that they are able to overcome the goblins and their curse. The action Lizzie takes to save her sister from temptation and ruin makes her a Christ like figure in an era when men were commonly the redeemers. Lizzie as the figure of sisterly redemption echoes the notion of sisterhood that was gaining increasing traction, not only through religion but also through the more secular practice of nursing made prominent in the contemporary public consciousness (Casey, 64).

The projected image of masculinity in “The Goblin Market” is presented as a dichotomy of sorts; there are the goblins who would steal the morality and virtue of the sisters, and their eventual husbands with whom they are happily married in the conclusion (Rossetti, 544). The husbands and the situation of being married do not seem oppressive, or destructive as the Goblins did, providing evidence to suggest that Rossetti is not using the masculine as the enemy of the feminine, but rather that men have the potential to operate via trickery and vice can be deployed to enslave young women and girls (Casey, 67). In the end the weakness of the Goblin men is exposed by the redemptive sisterly love that Lizzie exhibits for her sister.

The potential toxicity of masculine is also explored in Webster’s “A Castaway”. Webster also presents us with two visions of masculinity; the men who have cast aside Eulalie and her clients. She asserts that she “hate[s] men” (Webster, 271) when expressing her need for a female redeemer rather than a male. She has fallen victim to a society that only affords men the privilege of education, adventure, and autonomy. As a result of being punished for not abiding by the rules of her preassigned role she has become resentful of the males whom the system directly benefits. She speaks of her brother who was given all the chances she lacked and from whom she has since become estranged. Unlike her brother she has been offered limited ways by which to ensure her survival, many of which are not guaranteed and force her to relinquish her autonomy (Webster, 264-269), whilst men who are more immoral than her are revered (Webster, 86-103).

Augusta Webster

Eulalie in “A Castaway” problematizes the othering of the fallen woman or prostitute in Victorian society. Unlike the sisterhood of the “Goblin Market”, the wives and other, reputable women stand in judgement of Eulalie treating her as a completely different creature from themselves (Sutphin, 520). She regards their disapproval and condemnation with disdain (Webster, 137-140), and thus this mutual resentment sets up a combative and vicious relationship between women as they scramble to make their way in a world where they are all subservient to men in some way. The othering of Eulalie is particularly difficult as she does not conform to the general image of the prostitute of the time; she is from a good family, she dresses well and does not make a spectacle of herself as other, less privileged and refined women do (Sutphin, 527). She is more like them than the society women and men would like to admit, and if they acknowledged this they would not be able to treat her as they do. The reader however is being forced into acknowledging her problematic status and as a result, Eulalie becomes a sympathetic and confronting figure of Victorian womanhood (Sutphin, 527).

Unlike the men in Eulalie’s story the men of Middlemarch are more nuanced in their good nature and villainy. Many powerful men in the text lose their power through their own machinations. The pious Mr. Casaubon wreaks havoc on his wife Dorethea from beyond the grave, judging her without cause. He not only implies Dorethea has feelings for Will, but his accusation sets in motion the events that he was trying to prevent in the first place (Eliot, 1141-1148). Similarly, Mr. Featherstone’s desire for power over his benefactors leads him to create two wills and then be deprived of the choice of which is executed by the principled Mary Garth who refuses to burn the most recent and vindictive will (Eliot,739-748). In this way the powerless servant girl Mary is suddenly put in a position of tremendous power despite the money and influence of the man who has been, until the final moments of his existence, dominant of her.

Young Fred’s form of weakness on the other hand is one of little thought and obligation. He is silly and frivolous as he has never had to be otherwise as a young man of means. The women around him and those who support him are left to deal with the fallout of his actions. Unlike the pride of Mr. Casaubon and Mr. Featherstone, whose devastation is wreaked when they are deceased, Fred is redeemable and it is through the hardship and forgiveness of Mary and her family that he begins to understand the impact his actions may have (Eliot, 581). The implication of the text seems to be that men of means who are not held accountable can be a destructive force that reverberates throughout their community, whereas a man who is held accountable, whether by others or his own morality and strength of character can be a force for good or at the least benignity. 

George Eliot

Women are ultimately reliant on men for survival in Middlemarch but the form their dependent relationship takes varies. Dorethea, Rosamond and Celia are aware of the need for them to marry well in order to be respectable prosperous women. Their beauty and refinement are emphasized as they are the key assets in ensuring they can maintain their luxurious lifestyle (Waddle 19). However, the “dreadful plain” Mary Garth (Eliot, 240) defies this convention, choosing, of her own volition instead to marry Fred who is not the best match available to her (Waddle 22). Dorethea in her marriage is entirely subservient to Mr. Casaubon and Rosamond is completely infantilized, whereas Mary and Fred have a much more equal dynamic as demonstrated by her ability to admonish him without fear and their mutual respect for one another (Waddle, 21). The only power available to many of the women in Middlemarch is wielded through influencing their husbands. The women, often have limited impact outside the domestic sphere and as a result are often confined to it. It is the men of Middlemarch who are the ones who are held in high esteem for their works and are able to avoid obligation should they choose. The contribution of women is less valued and they are heavily restricted by social constructs and domestic obligation.

These texts highlight the degree to which women are often utterly without independent power in Victorian society. Whether she is a woman of means or poor she is able to escape the limitations faced by her within society. Unlike men she has limited established protections and is often unable to defend herself against injustice. However, she is demonstrated as being in every part the equal of a man within her character and if banded together in sisterhood with other women may overcome men that wish to enslave her. She has the potential to save, condemn, manipulate and do great good on the occasion that she is afforded the opportunity. The downfall of the woman is her lack of power within social structures designed to further the ambitions of men and protect them from their own weakness. The men of these texts are diverse but all share reasonable access to power and autonomy. The entirety of the male gender is not painted as monstrous, rather these texts show examples that prove the male gender to be just as corruptible, redeemable, well-meaning and fallible as the female. 

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References

Casey, Janet Galligani. “The Potential of Sisterhood: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’” Victorian Poetry, vol. 29, no. 1, 1991, pp. 63–78. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40002055.

Eliot, G. (2015). Middlemarch. 2nd ed. [ebook] Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/145 [Accessed 1 Sep. 2017].

Rossetti, Christina. “The Goblin Market” Course Reader, 2017, ENGX314 iLearn site.  

Sutphin, Christine. “Human Tigresses, Fractious Angels, and Nursery Saints: Augusta Webster’s ‘A Castaway’ and Victorian Discourses on Prostitution and Women’s Sexuality.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 38, no. 4, 2000, pp. 511–532. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40002498.

Waddle, Keith A. “Mary Garth, The Wollstonecraftian Feminist of ‘Middlemarch.’ “George Eliot – George Henry Lewes Studies, no. 28/29, 1995, pp. 16–29.JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43595509. 

Webster, Augusta. “A Castaway” Course Reader, 2017, ENGX314 iLearn site.

​The Language of Resistance

Power, Language and Protective Confinement in The Handmaid’s Tale and selected poems of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton
Virginia Woolf argues that “in a hundred years…women will have ceased to be the 

protected sex”, suggesting that women would have power in their own right by the twenty-

first century. How do three texts we’ve studied in this unit represent women’s power, or lack of it?

When Virginia Woolf referred to Women as the “protected sex” (Woolf, 2014) she alluded to a future reality that holds the potential for both the empowerment and the victimization of women when they lose their protected and shelter status, but she also paints a picture of the stranglehold this protection has on the liberty of women still under the rule of protective restrictions. “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Atwood, 2017) defies Woolf’s vision of the future by taking the protected status of women to an extreme state, depriving women of knowledge, language and self determination under the guise of protection of both the “handmaids” themselves and the future sustainability of a semi-fertile society. The protected and confined status of the women at risk is also demonstrated in the poem “Tulip” by Sylvia Plath (2015) in which she is entombed within the sterile walls of a hospital, and “Self in 1958” and “Honour and Obey” by Anne Sexton (2015) in which she depicts the domestic sphere as the place of imprisonment. An adjacent  theme to protection as a form of forced confinement is the lack of access to language, and the restriction of access as a mode of control as highlighted in the works of Atwood, Sexton and Plath previously referenced but also explored in the harsh light of historical atrocity in Plath’s poem “Daddy”(2015). 

When tracing the thread of power through the works of these three authors it is necessary to acknowledge the unique relationships each text has with the notion of power and by extension the notion of freedom and self determination. All of the discussed texts show the narrator deprived of their freedom or autonomy in some way or another. Starting with perhaps the most obvious; The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood, 2017) shows very real and overt methods of control exercised over Offred, the narrator, who is entirely restricted and watched in her life as one of the fertile handmaidens. She is protected to the extent that not only does she not have the power of self governance but the government of Gilead has effectively deprived her of selfhood and identity as demonstrated by her removal of her real name and her new label, which will serve as a name while she is in the commander’s household;

My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. 

-Atwood, 94

The totalitarianism of the government of Gilead and the dystopian nightmare that Atwood has created, in which women are so inherently focused on survival that it might “preclude resistance”, has the opposite effect meaning that the mere act of resistance makes the practicalities of survival bearable (Hansot, 56). The link between power and resistance in The Handmaid’s Tale is undeniable, with Offred acknowledging that oppression necessitates rebellion, “I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.” (Atwood, 115). Offred’s helplessness in the face of the patriarchal regime, and the reality that meaningful lasting resistance necessitates the help of sympathetic men, is a result of the dystopian environment in which women have become lower class, moving the progress of feminism back to a pre-second wave state, where women are no longer able to focus on micro or macro level oppression, but are simply preoccupied with getting through the next day (Harnois, 135). There is hope for the plight of the handmaid’s as implied by the “historical notes” section of the novel, a time when being treated as a walking womb to be discarded when no longer useful is again an absurd notion, indicating that perhaps patriarchal tyranny is unsustainable and doomed to failure (Ketterer, 212).

By contrast the threat to Sexton’s selfhood is more difficult to pinpoint, but it has the same sense of the woman as just the sum of her biological and domestic functions. She is forcefully confined to the domestic and deprived of any power, including the power of language, in order to voice her resistance. In “Self in 1958” (Sexton, 2000)  the narrator is so subject to the will and power of others that she is an inanimate doll (Sexton, 2). In her allusions to women’s role as the protected, fragile, infantilized automaton of the 1950’s Sexton pre-empts second wave feminism views of macro oppression at play in everyday society (Waters, 383). The narrator describes herself as “walled in” (Sexton, 23), imprisoned by the artificial expectations and demands of domestic oppression, constructed by Sexton with the use of appliances (Sexton,22), advertisements (Sexton, 10), nylon stockings (Sexton, 9) and most importantly the entirely idealistic doll house (Sexton, 11). She is kept isolated in this artificial space for fear that her actions, if left to her own devices might run contrary to the societal ideal of the 1950’s housewife (Waters 383). This confinement to, and imprisonment in, the doll house or domestic sphere as a theme is also key to Sexton’s “Honor and Obey” (Sexton, 2000).

The confinement of the narrator in “Honor and Obey” by her role as a wife is highlighted by the urgency with which she flees from the stranglehold of matrimony. The power the husband has over the narrator is likened to the servitude of a farm horse with terms such as “bind” (Sexton, 1), “fettered” (Sexton, 2) and “harness and yoke” (Sexton, 12) peppered throughout her description of the conditions of her marriage at the beginning and conclusion of the poem. In this poem her treatment as a work horse deprives her of all autonomy and it is her escape from servitude that provides her with the ability to regain selfhood and humanity, tying into Atwood’s symbiotic relationship between resistance and power.  Without the initial oppression of her situation she would not experience the frantic escape and subsequent blissful anonymity (Sexton, 10). There are also references to confinement, imprisonment and institutionalization with the use of “the lunatic, screaming in her cell” (Sexton, 12). Sexton’s uses her newly liberated prisoner to challenge the boundaries of what is palatable in the conventional social circles of her time, in a society still struggling to come to terms with the idea of women’s empowerment in a post war environment (Gill, 425).

In “Tulips” by Plath (2015) the narrator is also confined and powerless, but instead of being powerless to a husband figure Plath’s narrator is powerless when confronted with the faceless medical institution in which she is confined. The only semblance of humanity being the nurses who “pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps” (Plath, 12), they are there to observe, not engage. She is prevented from experiencing external stimuli as she is forced to learn “peacefulness” (Plath, 3). It’s not an unwelcome seclusion, in fact Plath refers to it’s soothing qualities, but she finds her sense of self slipping (Plath, 22) lost in the protection and powerlessness of her role as patient in the institution. Willingly giving up her identity and freeing herself of the inevitable accountability that comes with the power of self determination she is no longer a mother or a wife (Plath, 20) but a passive faceless patient (Plath, 48). Unlike the narrators of the other texts she finds peace in becoming a mere “pebble” being smoothed an manipulated (Plath, 15) by the institution as it tries to guard her from further harm. Plath’s narrator is confined and protected from her own mental illness, she lies vulnerable and exposed (Waters, 386), reminiscent of Offred’s situation in the conception ceremony of The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood, 104-106) reminding the reader of the role of female sexual vulnerability in the masculine and institutional assertion of power (Harnois, 136-137).

In “Daddy” (Plath, 2015), however, Plath has an individual being to resist against, albeit one who has long since past. The spectre of the narrator’s father is tied to the Third Reich lending it an air of power, totalitarianism and brutality. There is no passive powerlessness in “Daddy” rather a reclamation of lost power and selfhood. She talks of his death depriving her the power of realising his fallibility and culpability (Plath, 7). She is deprived of communication with him, deprived of the use of his language (Plath, 26-30) with which to assert to him her identity and empowerment from his legacy. Her father’s power over her is based in fear and a lack of linguistic understanding (Plath, 24), with his German nationality not just creating a language barrier but also carrying with it the fear associated with fascism, including intimidating uniforms in the form of the “boot in the face” (Plath, 49), symbology in the form of the swastika (Plath, 46) and atrocities (Plath, 16-20). Whilst it fear and language hold the key to her father’s power over her,  it is her anger and language that is the key to her resistance. The language she uses to reclaim her autonomy includes ascribing a series of negative labels to really drive the point home that she is rejecting the hold that her father has over her; “fascist” (Plath, 48),”brute”(Plath, 49- 50), “bastard: (Plath, 80),  “devil” (Plath, 54) and paints to him as vampiric with her allusions to a vampire “who said he was you” (Plath, 72-73) and the “stake in your fat black heart” (Plath, 76). She associates herself with what he hates (Plath, 31-35) allying herself with the victims of his war crimes, she rejoices with the villagers (Plath, 77-79) at her father’s loss of power over them. She positions herself as the murderer rather than her previous status as victim (Gerbig & Müller-Wood, 84) overcoming his domineering legacy and rejecting her role as the inadequate and adoring daughter of a war criminal and establishing her individualism and self determination (Strangeways & Plath, 373).

The power of language features heavily in the works of these three authors and whether it is through the spoken or the written word suppression of language leads to the loss of autonomy, and a devastating power imbalance. The governing body of Gilead use the power of language to further define and separate class, with those confined to the lower classes, such as the handmaids, completely isolated from the written word. Offred and the other handmaids regain some of their lost power with secret usage of the spoken word; “There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power” (Atwood, 222), echoing “Daddy” (Plath 48-54) in their use of insults to resist the restrictions and controls imposed upon them. Offred’s retelling of her own story in itself is an act of defiance observing that “If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending…” (Atwood, 49). She has the ability to tell the truth or lie as she sees fit and the Republic of Gilead has no control or censorship over her words. She is muted like the “plaster doll” (Sexton, 1) of “Self in 1958”, unable to resist verbally, textually or physically. 

Power is depicted in the texts as wielded ruthlessly by the German father in “Daddy”, the religious oligarchy of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale and the husband in “Honor and Obey”, however they are overthrown from their brutal reign over their victims, with resistance playing a key role in the power dynamics at play within the texts. Under the guise of protection Offred (Atwood, 2017), “Self in 1958” and the narrator of “Tulips” are confined and kept from exercising their autonomy for fear that their action will run contrary to the societal narrative.  In order to further restrict women in “Daddy”, “Self in 1958” and The Handmaid’s Tale the lack of access to language is key to the oppression of victims. However, language, in it’s role as a tool of resistance, allows the narrators in “Daddy” and The Handmaid’s Tale to shed their victimhood in some way. The power to withhold language and text and the isolation of confinement conspire to further subjugate victims of patriarchal control. Granting these narrators the means to access language and freedom leads to a disruption of the power structure in place and is key to feminine resistance.

References

Change

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Random House UK, 2017. Print.

Gerbig, Andrea, and Anja Müller-Wood. “Trapped in Language: Aspects of Ambiguity and Intertextuality in Selected Poetry and Prose by Sylvia Plath.” Style, vol. 36, no. 1, 2002, pp. 76–92. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.36.1.76.

Gill, Jo. “Anne Sexton and Confessional Poetics.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 55, no. 220, 2004, pp. 425–445. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3661307.

Hansot, Elisabeth. “Selves, Survival, and Resistance in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Utopian Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 1994, pp. 56–69. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20719313.

Harnois, Catherine. “Re-Presenting Feminisms: Past, Present, and Future.” NWSA Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 2008, pp. 120–145. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40071255.

Ketterer, David. “Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: A Contextual Dystopia (‘La Servante Écarlate’ De Margaret Atwood: Une Dystopie Contextuelle).” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 1989, pp. 209–217. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4239936.

Plath, Sylvia. Collected Poems. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Faber & Faber, 2015. Print.

Sexton, Anne, Diane Wood Middlebrook, and Diana Hume George. Selected Poems Of Anne Sexton. 1st ed. Boston: Mariner Books, 2000. Print.

Strangeways, Al, and Sylvia Plath. “‘The Boot in the Face’: The Problem of the Holocaust in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 37, no. 3, 1996, pp. 370–390., http://www.jstor.org/stable/1208714.

Waters, Melanie. “Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry.” The Cambridge Companion to American Poets. Ed. Mark Richardson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015. 366-78. Print. Cambridge Companions to Literature.

Woolf, V. (2014). A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. 1st ed. London: Harper Collins UK, pp.10-99.

How do Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in A Room Of One’s Own and The Yellow Wallpaper, use physical space to examine the position of women within society?

The issue of the personal and physical space of women looms large in A Room Of One’s Own (Woolf, 2014) and The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman, 2013). Woolf emphasises the need for seclusion, whilst Gilman rallies against it when it is enforced. The key to this issue of space in these texts is the notion of control and autonomy; the relationship between the space accessible by the narrator’s in these texts is symptomatic of the social, legislative and economic structures that confine and prescribe their movement throughout their environment, and the kind of environments to which they are permitted access.

To establish the relationship between space and societal positioning in The Yellow Wallpaper and A Room of One’s Own it is important to highlight the social controls that can be directly linked to the use of space within these texts. Patriarchal control of education and finances relies on the isolation of women from places which would allow them to procure the means to self sufficiency and by result self determination.

The use of domestic space and room furnishings or decor as a focal point for the protagonists psychosis in The Yellow Wallpaper enter the realm of domestic coding in women’s literature (Radner and Lanser, 414) which follows in the tradition of women in literature being acutely aware of their domestic space due to the cultural conventions and roles they are expected to fulfil. It is a secret knowledge of the domestic that subverts the patriarchal control of information and power. In the case of The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman’s narrator has an acute, painful and maddening obsession with the pattern in the wallpaper of her domestic prison, and whilst this obsession takes a delusional turn her initial dislike of the wallpaper is firmly rooted in the domestic, with the discussion of aesthetics and practicalities, but combined with her confinement grows into something much darker. Gilman reveals this progression gradually through the increasingly agitated reflections of the narrator; 

It is the strangest yellow, that wallpaper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw-not beautiful ones like buttercups but old foul, bad yellow things.

Gilman, 18

On the other hand Woolf’s insight into this preoccupation with the physical and domestic sphere allows her to reflect on the familial and household considerations that lie between women and academic or creative endeavours in a way that the student, Shakespeare and the gentlemen at the university can never properly fathom due to their limited exposure and negligible responsibilities in this field at this time. 

Woolf goes into great detail about the importance of personal space for expression (Neely, 318) when any individual is endeavouring to create, most famously positing that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (Woolf, 11).

But the dominion that men hold over financial matters, both in Woolf’s time and, in particular, the times of her mother and her maternal ancestors (Woolf, 24) means that they also control access to space, making it near impossible for a woman to carve out a space for herself without the sanction or patronage of male benefactors. The academic and literary space that Woolf craves for women is expressed through the imagery of the simple room, she does not demand a luxurious space but a space free from the domestic subjugation of her foremothers and from the patronizing, sensational judgement of her gender by the scores of male authors whose works she notes in the library (Woolf, 31). Woolf in her perusal of these library shelves finds and absence of space for women; the judgement of women by men was well represented, but women authors had not even been allowed a small space upon a shelf purporting to be full of the most pertinent information about them. The male academic construction of woman as domestic, exotic or dangerous is made evident through the disappointing results of the narrator’s research and places women in society in roles entirely defined by the male perception of them. Masculine constructed views of women dominate the shelf space, in this library as they do outside it’s walls (Rosenman, 645).

This masculine control of space is also evident in The Yellow Wallpaper in which the husband controls the space his wife may inhabit, even within the boundaries of her own home (Ford, 309). John, her husband controls her physical space and her contact with the outside world, confining her to extended and enforced bedrest, despite her instincts to and desires that drive her, at least initially, to seek out life beyond her room;

I sometimes fancy that in my condition, if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus…

– Gilman, 5

Gilman’s narrator experiences a world full of barriers and segmentation in which people are divided inextricably into their allowed spaces, excepting white men of means who are able to come and go as they please, noted by John’s continued absence (Gilman, 11) and symbolic view the narrator has of the outside world;

There are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people

– Gilman, 5

In this passage she observes the segregation of gender and class that allows those in positions of power to maintain their superior status. 

The use of the nursery in The Yellow Wallpaper as the place of the narrators confinement points to the infantilization of women in society, with her husband restricting her and enforcing rules in a parental fashion (MacPike, 287). She is also imprisoned using bars, not dissimilar to the bars she begins to see restraining the women in the patterns of the wallpaper. Her room is also symptomatic of her complete lack of control in the face of her husband’s authority; She does not choose the room and she does not choose her space in life (MacPike, 288). She expresses her desire to leave, she expresses her desire to be away from the wallpaper, but her simple request is greeted with a patronizing rejection and a reminder that she has to defer to her more educated and authoritative doctor husband (Gilman, 15).

Woolf also explores the infantilizing of women as she is shoed off the grass by the bursar and the confining of women to the home and domesticity. It is also a theme that is evident as she theorises about what will happen if the power imbalance is rectified and women are no longer shielded like children; “Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.” (Woolf, 40)

By placing women in the home and likening them to children, they are denied adult autonomy and sexuality. The fear and fetish that lies at the heart of the masculine construction of women found in A Room of One’s Own, with the scholarly works she touches on “[enshrining] male prejudices against women” using their sexuality as weapons against them or denying feminine sexuality almost entirely (Rosenman, 645).

The protection and infantilization of women also extends to access to information and education. Woolf demonstrates the of the denial of education, particularly higher education (Wall, 189) to women in the barring of Woolf’s framing narrator to the space within the university. The lack of access to coveted and traditionally male domains in the framing narrative of A Room of One’s Own reflects the rejection of women from places and positions of power and access to important resources that would allow an meaningful feminine impact on society, art and culture. To emphasize these barriers Woolf invokes imagery of locked doors; a motif that also appears in Gilman’s text. 

Gilman’s narrator, as the narrative progresses and her psychological break begins to reveal itself, not only begins to see women trapped beneath the wallpaper as she is in the room but eventually recognises herself as being one of the women trapped in the wallpaper, making a space for herself and other trapped women in a space where she is confined unwillingly;

I don’t like to look out of the windows even–there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.

I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did? 

Gilman, 23

The relationship between the access the women of these texts have to space is tied to the methods of control used to keep women out of the establishments and dominions of men, whether on a conscious or subconscious level. The results of the suppression of feminine influences outside the home is detailed within these texts; from the mediocrity of Mrs Seton and the disappointments of Mary Shakespeare in Woolf’s essay, to the imprisonment and psychotic meltdown of the narrator in   Gilman’s short story. The limiting and restricting of feminine space in these texts allows a glimpse into the importance of both literary and real world space in the maintenance of masculine power and social control. 

 Written by Morgan Pinder

References

Ford, Karen. “‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Women’s Discourse.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 4, no. 2, 1985, pp. 309–314., http://www.jstor.org/stable/463709.

Gilman, C. (2013). The Yellow Wallpaper. 1st ed. London: Harper Collins.

MacPike, Loralee. “Environment as Psychopathological Symbolism in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” American Literary Realism, 1870-1910, vol. 8, no. 3, 1975, pp. 286–288., http://www.jstor.org/stable/27747980.

Neely, Carol Thomas. “Alternative Women’s Discourse.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 4, no. 2, 1985, pp. 315–322., http://www.jstor.org/stable/463710.

Radner, Joan N., and Susan S. Lanser. “The Feminist Voice: Strategies of Coding in Folklore and Literature.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 100, no. 398, 1987, pp. 412–425., http://www.jstor.org/stable/540901.

Rosenman, Ellen Bayuk. “Sexual Identity and ‘A Room of One’s Own’: ‘Secret Economies’ in Virginia Woolf’s Feminist Discourse.” Signs, vol. 14, no. 3, 1989, pp. 634–650., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3174405.

Wall, Kathleen. “Frame Narratives and Unresolved Contradictions in Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own.’”Journal of Narrative Theory, vol. 29, no. 2, 1999, pp. 184–207., http://www.jstor.org/stable/30225727.

Woolf, V. (2014). A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. 1st ed. London: Harper Collins UK, pp.10-99.

​How do Sarah Scott and Mary Wollstonecraft represent marriage in Millenium Hall and Maria, and how might this representation relate to their broader political concerns?

Millenium Hall (Wollstonecraft, 2011) and Maria (Scott, 1767) are texts that show marriage as the ultimate or inevitable goal of the conventional lives of women at this time. The female character either “Marries happily or dies tragically” (Rabb, 8) in the typically accepted narratives of the 1700s, and both Scott and Wollstonecraft critique this narrow view of womanhood through their very different explorations of the feminine experience. Whilst Wollstonecraft lays bare the injustices made possible by marriage, Scott envisions a place free of marriage and masculine control.
Maria is forced in to increasingly constrained circumstances by the cruelty of her husband, who was able to deceive Maria and those around her due to the legal and social constructs of marriage. Wollstonecraft’s bleak and inhumane depiction of the ills that could befall a woman who enters into marriage is not only a critique of the institution of marriage itself but also serves as a wider condemnation of the servitude in which women were forced into, granted to varying degrees based on class, due to the inherent patriarchal hegemony built almost inextricably into every aspect of a women’s life (Mackenzie, 36). Wollstonecraft is vocal in both Maria and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Wollstonecraft, 2010) about the importance of education in the process of liberation and empowerment, positing that women are doomed to uneducated servitude through a lack of access to academic opportunities and condemnation of those women who pursue them.  

The withholding of education and money from women, with men as the initial gatekeepers to these means of independence in both texts, serves as a method of control, effectively indenturing women to men. Maria in particular paints a picture of men being the trustees of these means, not by virtue of their superior judgement but by virtue of their gender alone with Maria’s husband squandering their money and making other poor choices, whilst all she can do is watch helplessly a solicit assistance from her uncle.

Men as the arbitrary fiscal gatekeepers is also explored in Millenium Hall, in which the women are more that capable of managing their own affairs but a masculine benefactor is still the catalyst for Scott’s feminist utopia. The lack of autonomy afforded the women outside the bounds of Millenium Hall is demonstrated through the lens of marriage, for example Sarah’s potential marriage is viewed in purely financial terms by her father (Scott, 21) and is frequently represented as a transaction with the woman used as a bargaining chip between a male relative and a potential suitor. Marriage is also presented as an obstacle to education and enlightenment with those who are married distracted by domestic concerns, whilst those who are not are free to develop their own minds. 

Scott and Wollstonecraft both point to the indentured servitude of the wife as an obstacle to the financial, legal and intellectual freedom of women. Marriage in these texts is indicative of the greater imbalances in power at work in society. The state of gender politics within this domestic setting lays bare the way that women at this time were utterly dependent, willingly or unwillingly, on men both in their immediate family sphere and in society at large.

References

MacKenzie, Catriona. “Reason and Sensibility: The Ideal of Women’s Self-Governance in the Writings of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Hypatia, vol. 8, no. 4, 1993, pp. 35–55., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3810368.

Rabb, Melinda Alliker. “Making and Rethinking the Canon: General Introduction and the Case of ‘Millenium Hall.’” Modern Language Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1988, pp. 3–16., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3194697.

Scott, Sarah. A Description Of Millenium Hall … By A Gentleman On His Travels [Or Rather By Sarah Scott]. The Third Edition. 1st ed., J. Newbery, London, 1767. 

Wollstonecraft, Mary. Maria, Or The Wrongs Of Woman. 1st ed., Hamburg, Tredition, Project Gutenburg, 2011.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman. 1st ed., [Auckland, N.Z.], Floating Press, 2010,.

Call out to clever cloggs

Got an idea you want to chat about?

Obsessed with something niche?

Are people tired of hearing about it?

Do they get that glazed over look in their eyes?

Do they sigh loudly when you mention it?

Do they cross the street when they see you coming?

Do they start screaming when you open your mouth?

Don’t stress we’ve got your back!

Starting this May our podcast gives a voice to the obsessed, the fanatical and the heartbreakingly earnest. We want to hear what you’ve got to say and if you can say it in 2 minutes we can give you the proverbial floor to convince us all that we should care about your thing.

What we need from you:

  • A 2 minute “pitch” for your idea, cause or obsession explaining why we should care about it too.  You can mention a specific project if you like  before your 2 minutes but it isn’t an ad so we can’t really take pitches that are just promotional.
  • 10 minutes of your time
  • A photo of you and/or the thing you care about

OR

If you are a performer you can share a song, poem, play or short story.

So if I can’t promote my stuff what can I talk about?

Well you can expand it to talk more generally. For example, if you have a podcast about true crime you can promote it before your 2 minutes, but in your 2 minutes you might talk about why people should care about wrongful convictions. Or if you have a small business you might want to talk about the importance of shopping local or buying handmade instead of mass produced. We are totally happy to plug your stuff, but the point of the 2 minute pitch is to squash as much information about the stuff you care about into it, your promotional message can be given pride of place before or after it when listeners will have time to process it.

No matter what you love we want to hear from you

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Or message this blog!

 

The Changing Face of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein GEN110

How do changing attitudes towards femininity effect academic readings of “Frankenstein or the Modern Day Prometheus” by Mary Shelley?

When commenting on the gender implications of “Frankenstein” academic thought appears to vary considerably about what, if any, social commentary Mary Shelley was trying to make, and if her links to some of the most notorious and infamous men and women of 18th and 19th century literature had an y bearing on how she presented the gender of the creature, and the creator himself, Victor Frankenstein. Sussman (2004) separates interpretations of this iconic Gothic novella into 3 distinct groups based on the implied perception of Shelley as either; 1) the wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, 2) A mourning mother and finally 3) the daughter of revolutionary writers; William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. As this grouping shows the interpretation of the tale of Victor Frankenstein and the rejection of the monster he created varies according the focus on the role of Shelley as a woman, and our views of her most important social and family function as a feminine being.

The interpretation, which was most common before the arrival of second wave feminism was that Mary, wrote “Frankenstein” with either the aid of, or, in response to, her more famous husband, the romantic poetic, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Societal attitudes to the legitimacy of female writers are scarcely more clearly illustrated than the subsequent negative change of critical thinking when it was revealed that the author of “Frankenstein” was a woman (Gordon 2015). Another clear indicator of the value placed on male creativity and intellectual thought is the reluctance of critics and scholar’s, most notably James Rieger (1982) in his edition of Frankenstein, to accept Mary Shelley’s exclusive right to authorship due to Percy Shelley’s sometimes lengthy input as editor. Whilst the manuscripts do show his annotation to be lengthy, the overwhelming majority of the text is penned by Mary herself, and based on the manuscripts alone there is no clear reason to perceive Percy’s role as anything but editor. The persistence with which questions of authorship resurface perhaps indicates a reluctance to accept a young female author as a credible source of such a story, despite all evidence of her authorship.

Another common way to explain “Frankenstein” as being forged my the merits of man rather than woman is to cast Percy in one of the lead roles, either as the tortured and fickle Doctor, turning away from his creation, or as the horrific creature, constructed by the society he lived in, which turned away in horror from the radical poet who was formed as a reaction to his environment. In this way the focus is shifted from Mary as the author, to Percy as the inspiration, challenging her right to authorship in a more subtle and insidious way (London 1993).

Second wave feminism initially did not do anything to establish the authorship and credit for “Frankenstein” back to Mary, as she was notably absent from the initial attentions of those looking to their literary foremother’s, such as Wolfe did in “A Room of One’s Own” (Sussman 2004).

Sussman (2004) attributes this neglect of Mary Shelley in second wave feminism to the turning away from the role of the mother

"Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)" by John Opie - National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1237While Commons policy accepts the use of this media, one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the "sweat of the brow" doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information.See User:Dcoetzee/NPG legal threat for more information.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | Español | Français | Magyar | Italiano | Македонски | Türkmençe | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797).jpg#/media/File:Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797).jpg
“Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)” by John Opie – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1237

in this stage of feminist theory. Women who embraced their maternity and mother hood were not seen to be following feminist ideals as the two callings, feminism and motherhood were thought to be mutually exclusive. Shelley, whose life was heavily influenced by a maternal legacy and her own anguish and heartache due to the deaths of her children, did not fit the ideals of the second wave feminist movement. Consequently the interpretation of “Frankenstein” as a tale of birth trauma is not one that sits easily with many critics, the creature being a child, and the rejection of that child by it’s mother is not a particularly palatable one and is not widely subscribed to.

The key to understanding this most recent interpretation of “Frankenstein” is to understand the works of both of Shelley’s parents, particularly her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” The literary and political legacy that Mary Shelley inherited from having two heavyweights of political literature in the 18th century is something that was neglected to a large extent by those of the first and second school of interpretation of her works. Godwin, her father was a radical figure in political thought and a great inspiration to those romantic poets of whom Mary Shelley herself would become familiar with. The Wollstonecraft legacy was perhaps the most formidable and weighty for Mary Shelley to contend with as not only was her more one of the first published female writers to address the rights of women but she also died from complications relating to her daughter, Mary’s birth. Never having known her mother, as Mary Goodwin, soon to be Mary Shelley began to embark on her adult life the memory of her mother cast a long shadow as is evidenced by her correspondence with both her sisters, Jane and Fanny, and Percy (Gordon 2015).

“The Vindication of the Rights of Women” emphasises Mary Wollstonecraft’s firm belief that until women are given the same education and opportunities to better themselves as men then no scholar can claim to know what they are truly capable of. She asserts that a lack of education and meaningful pursuits is what impedes the reasoning and development of women, and that enforced idleness is the means with which women are subjugated and subdued, making them secondary to men in the eyes of the society of the time. This work was largely a response to political and philosophical literature of the time that denied women a space in the definition of humanity, or “mankind”(Schneir 1972).

When we look at Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” through the lens of her mother’s work and ideology we get a very different reading to those who look at the novella through the lens of Percy Shelley’s influence, or the experience of a mourning mother. We see an independent young woman, struggling to come to terms with mortality, male creation and ambition and the expectations placed on her as her mother’s daughter. It is only through this interpretation that we are able to see Mary’s focus on the plight of unmarried women and their illegitimate children, as was her mother’s situation when she gave birth to her sister Fanny. This interpretation also allows the reader to cast Mary in the role of the creature and her father in the role of Victor Frankenstein. William Godwin’s radical views were an inspiration to Mary, Percy and other’s in the romantic free love movement of the time. But when his daughter put her father’s ideologies into practice and embarked on a relationship with the married Percy, he rejected her, much as the young Doctor Frankenstein rejects the monster created by his own endeavours.

The view a reader or critic takes of the importance or role of Mary Shelley’s femininity as the author of “Frankenstein” has a profound impact on the meaning that can be derived from this story. Viewing it in the shadow of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s influence works to erase her authorship, and whilst viewing the work as a response to maternal grief needs greater exploration as a basis for reading this text, it is certainly reading “Frankenstein” through the lens of Mary Shelley the daughter that provides the greatest insight into the origins and meaning of the tale. This take on the meaning behind one of the great pieces of Gothic literature also opens up the text to multiple interpretations and allows us to explore Mary Shelley the author as an individual, rather than, in an eerie echo of the construction of the creature, as the sum of her functional feminine parts.

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  • Gordon, Charlotte. Romantic Outlaws. New York, NY: Random House, 2015. Print.
  • London, Bette. ‘Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, And The Spectacle Of Masculinity’. PMLA2 (1993): 253. Web.
  • Mellor, Anne Kostelanetz. Mary Shelley, Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1989. Print.
  • Schneir, Miriam. ‘A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women / Mary Wollstonecraft’. Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1972. 5-16. Print.
  • Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and James Rieger. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus, The 1818 Text. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Print.
  • Sussman, Charlotte. “Daughter of the Revolution: Mary Shelley in Our Times.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies (2004): 158-186.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman. [Auckland, N.Z.]: Floating Press, 2010. Print.

 

 

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Picture:

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)” by John OpieNational Portrait Gallery: NPG 1237While Commons policy accepts the use of this media, one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the “sweat of the brow” doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information.See User:Dcoetzee/NPG legal threat for more information.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | Español | Français | Magyar | Italiano | Македонски | Türkmençe | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My Ninja ballerina – 5 things I learned from raising an non compliant girl.

I like to consider myself a feminist… now I have been warned that starting an article like that will immediately deter a large section of your reading audience. But we’re all progressive mums here who realise that feminism isn’t about exclusion or aggression right? Or at least open minded enough to keep reading despite an opening that might make us a little uncomfortable. I was determined when my second child was a girl to raise an independent and determined person. I thought I knew what that would look and sound like… I was wrong. My daughter threw out every notion that I had about raising a tomboy and showed me what a ninja ballerina can really do.
Here are a few things I learned from my daughter:
5. Pink really is just a colour – all I wanted to do was put my kid in gender neutral shorts and a t-shirt. But she was having none of that. The pinker, sparklier and fluffier the clothes the harder she would fight to be able to wear them. In the end I just had to get over it. I was fine with her brother wearing pink, in fact when he did it I thought it showed strength of character. So why was I so resistant to let her wear it? What is so dangerous about a colour?
4. Yes you can climb a tree in a skirt and silly dress up shoes. You can also play soccer dressed as a cat and play in dirt using a doll as a shovel. And yes you can still tuck that grubby doll into bed at night with no hard feelings.
3. Princesses can rescue pirates. More than once I have been marooned on a desert island of cushions waiting for a princess on her noble steed (or broom) to come to my aid.
2. Beautiful dancing sometimes just needs to happen in the supermarket, and its even better when you can get Dad to join in.
1. Just because some one is wearing a princess dress does not mean they won’t kick your ass.

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READING JOURNAL COD125 COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT MURDOCH UNIVERSITY: Learning liberation: a comparative analysis of feminist consciousness raising and Freire’s conscientization method

Reading Material: Learning liberation: a comparative analysis of feminist consciousness raising and Freire’s conscientization method, Butterwick, Shauna J., The University of British Columbia, [1987], pp.18-26

The effects of the changing Brazilian culture on Freire’s outlook are the initial key point being addressed in this chapter with the turbulent events happening in his own country certainly effecting the shaping of his philosophy. With poverty rife and a series of revolutions, reforms and other changing in the political landscape changing Brazil drastically since the 1500s, the author is very keen to make it clear the immense impact that this political and cultural environment had on the emergence of Friere’s ideas of education and community.

Despite being drawn to Marxism, Friere’s catholic background is cited as a preventing him from becoming fully radicalised. Finding a comfortable space for his thinking between the two very different schools of thought led him to the concept of phenomenology in studying social issues that is the objective study of socialisation without necessarily quantifying human class, struggle and issues through economic and production means like Marxist theorists would.

The Conscientization method according to Friere is “natural because unfinishedness is integral to the phenomenon of life itself, which besides women and men includes the cherry trees in my garden and the birds that sing in their branches.”(Freire 1998). This theme of unfinishedness and the unfinished nature of the world and all within it is a reoccurring theme throughout his work but it is not really touched upon in this chapter which largely focuses on the origins of Friere’s work and how it impacts on political, community and education issues which Friere is adamant are all interlinked. Although his idea of the unfinished person is linked to education; “Education does not make us educable. It is our awareness of being unfinished that makes us educable.” (Friere 1998). This is implying that education is not possible without the desire to improve oneself and the acceptance that we are always in constant need of bettering ourselves. This knowledge and education according to Friere ultimately leads to freedom, liberation and better society.

In this notion of awareness leading to political change and liberation Friere takes on a more Marxist view point with an emphasis on empowering those who are marginalised in society, with education playing a pivotal role in achieving the equality and freedoms that may not be afforded to those who are not born into a privileged position in society. This emphasis on awareness is accompanied by strong links to community and reaching out.

In this account of Friere’s life it is easy to see where his ideologies changed and were challenged; from his middleclass upbringing through to his time as a welfare official and witnessing life for the more marginalised members of the society he lived in. Friere’s theories appear to be a patchwork of ideas and philosophies carefully selected from a wide variety of sources to create a theory of community and society that places the emphasis on social and historical change though education without the hopelessness that often accompanies Marxism.

What questions does this reading raise?

Is it truly possible to be wholly objective when it comes to social liberation and freedom when they are such emotional subjects?

Is education the only catalyst for liberation?

How would Freire’s thinking have been different if it was not mediated by Marxist theories?

READING JOURNAL COD125 COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT MURDOCH UNIVERSITY: Radical and Marxist Approaches in Modern Social Work Theory: A Critical Introduction

Reading Material: Payne, Malcolm, 1991, Radical and Marxist Approaches in Modern Social Work Theory: A Critical Introduction, pp. 201-223, London: MacMillan

The article endeavours to explain the key points of Marxism, the importance of the influence of “mode of production”, how it relates to social work, some of its failings and how it differs from more historically traditional methods and approaches to social work. One of the first key points made is that radical social work takes issue with many of the assumptions and practices that traditional theories of social work and its criticisms include the oversimplification of complex social issues, the privatization of problems and victim blaming, and the tendency of traditional social work to reinforce the “oppressive social order”.

Criticisms made by Marxist theories are not just limited to the theories behind social work but also to the method of their applications citing many social work roles as being “fragmented” thus being unable to address the full scope of the problem. Concerns are also raised about the effect of social work funding and how the interests of the parties, both government and private, effect the methods and scope of the community work. The concern links in with the potential interference from those in power to inhibit any social change that could adversely effect their interests. This is not just limited to those funding the social work initiatives but also to the social workers themselves who may find their job in jeopardy if their advocacy of the best interests of their clients in the working classes interferes with the interests of funding of governing bodies.

This potential comprise of the priorities of social work is also addressed further in the article in relation to class struggle. The concept of class struggle is asserted as being the bourgeois attempts to maintain control and the proletariat struggle to change the system. According to Marxist theories there is no neutral ground in this struggles, social workers need to be constantly striving to be catalysts for positive change and elevation of the working classes or they are accepting the status quo and effectively supporting the hegemony of the bourgeoisie.

According to this article it is in the best interests of the ruling classes to perpetuate the myth of the close family unit in order to secure the future of labour but to also alienate and individualise problems keeping the working classes non unified and relatively powerless to challenge the status quo. Social work as an extension of the power of the ruling classes is essentially seen to be, in Marxist theory, is designed to reinforce these values and reign in any nonconformists to these ideals. This theory is useful in as far is it helps to reveal some of the factors that can adversely affect the implication of community development strategies but it fails to take into account the individual motivation of social workers, clients and governing people, with no room afforded for personality, moral and values and how they affect the operation of society.

The extension of Marxist approaches to social work to include Feminist and non-sexist social work shows allows the article to draw parallels between the struggle of the working classes against the ruling classes and the struggle of women in society against the oppression of a traditionally male dominant society. Part of the discussion in relation to non-sexist social work addresses the issue of whether men can undertake feminist social work. The importance of including a feminist approach in Social Work in emphasized by explaining the established sex roles of the genders and how these roles have impacted and marginalized women in a way that, because of the ingrained and socially accepted nature of these roles, may not be immediately apparent to men.

What questions does this reading raise?

If it is impossible for Social workers to serve both as an ambassador for the “ruling class” and as an advocate for the “working classes” can effective state supported social work even exist according to Marxist theories?

Does this mean that social work in a capitalist society must be subversive in order to truly benefit the working classes? If not where do we draw the line between useful Marxist social work approaches and counterproductive self-defeating theorizing?

As this paper was written over 20 years ago how has the role of women changed? Have gender roles merged or are the same oppressive structures still seen to be in place?

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