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Feminism: A Look into The Wrongs of Women

Updated on November 28, 2016

Men VS Women

In the world of today and of the past, the rules for men and women have been troubling. In the time of women writers like Charlotte Dacre, Mary Wollenstonecraft, and Mary Robinson, many women were shunned for doing things that men did. It's a classic case of the double standard. Men are allowed to have mistresses, but when a woman does she is labeled a 'slut' or seen as 'loose' and 'promiscuous', as seen in Zofloya. Then if the family falls apart they ignore the man's choices for the family and blame the mother, as seen in The Wrongs of Woman. Then there's the choice of writing style with the blazon sonnet in Sappho and Phaon. Women have constantly been treated unfairly for doing the same things men are commended for.

Book cover for Zofloya
Book cover for Zofloya | Source

Zofloya by Charlotte Dacre

Victoria is an interesting Character, but in my opinion could never be classified as a woman hero, because she uses her mother's infidelities as an excuse for her actions. During the era in which Zofloya was written, it wasn't uncommon for a man to have a mistress and his wife was expected to look the other way. However, in Zofloya Laurina has an affair and is shunned by her society. They blame the downfall of her family on her actions and she becomes a weak and pathetic figure. The readers pick up on this when Laurina chooses her lover over the well-being of her daughter. She just ships Victoria off t a relative because her lover refuses to allow Victoria to come in-between their love. Victoria sees her mother as an unimportant factor in everything, she's almost like a ghost because Laurina's lover calls all the shots. In a way this benefits Victoria because she views her mother as weak, she refuses to allow Berenza to change her in mind or spirit. On the other hand, she becomes manipulating in order to get what she wants. But I don't believe the readers can continue to blame Victoria's mother for Victorias actions, because once she reaches a certain age she should understand the difference between right and wrong.

The Wrongs of Woman

Another story that uses the actions or non-actions of a mother as an excuse for the daughter's actions is The Wrongs of Woman. In this story Maria's absent mother is the reason why she becomes so powerful. In chapter 7, there are many instances when we see the mother not caring for her daughters and only for her son. For instance, on page 130 we are introduced to Mary, Maria's nurse, and learn that she suckled Maria. I find that odd that her mother would suckle Maria's brother, but not her. Another instance is on page 126 when Maria mentions how her mother never paid "much attention to" her and her sisters education. Maria refers to the character of her mother as "indolence" which shows me that she is very aware of her mother's inactivity in the family. This was Maria's basis on marriage and from what I gathered from her story, she doesn't agree that a woman should be seen and not heard. Thus, by viewing her mother as a ghost in the family she becomes a fighter and finally refuses to be walked on by her husband. So in a sense her mother helped her become heroic by not being present.

Mary Wollenstonecraft

Source
Sappho and Phaon
Sappho and Phaon

Book available to purchase on Amazon Sappho & Phaon by Mary Robinson

 

Sappho & Phaon

The last point I'm going to make is towards the structure of writing that most women weren't known for, this being the sonnet, which is mainly known as a man's structure. I believe the author of Sappho and Phaon used a sonnet to show that a woman could pursue an object that was unattainable just like a man. It's possible that she wanted to break this double standard, just like our other women writers did; only instead of relying solely on the context of her work she choose to use the form in which she wrote to break the double standard. In this work Sappho takes on a masculine figure, but still retains her soft feminine qualities. Many of the sonnets the story are blazons describing her lover Phaon or maybe even the God Apollo. Sonnet X shows Sappho describing her lover in a way Shakespeare often did with his sonnets. The interesting twist in this sonnet is the sense of how harsh and dangerous her love for Phaon is, in the very first 4 lines: "DANG'ROUS to hear, is the melodious tongue, / And fatal to the sense those murd'rous eyes, / Where in a sapphire sheath, Love's arrow lies, / Himself conceal'd the crystal haunts among!" It's almost as if Sappho knows her love with Phaon will bring her demise. In my opinion, only a woman can describe this idea because we are more in tune with those kinds of feelings than men are. She also compares him to Apollo which is odd because it's almost as if she is talking about Apollo in this poem, as if she is challenging him. During this time women aren't really known for writing sonnets of this nature-it's taboo, because women aren't allowed to pursue men. It wasn't proper. I believe that by Mary Robinson using a masculine, strict structured form to describe Sappho's story she is saying how in a man's world women have to bend their ways in order to be successful. Another important sonnet is Sonnnet II. In this sonnet everything has been set up for what's to come and now it's time to see the other side of the coin. Here chastity is something that is soft, touchable "ambrosial flow'rs" (line 2), but then becomes dead and piercing "with roses arm'd with many a thorn, / Lead to the altar. On the frozen floor, / Studded with tear-drop petrified by scorn, / Pale vestals kneel the Goddess to adore, / While loe, his arrows broke, retires forlorn" (lines 10-14). This is almost a warning to all women, of how men will try to snatch up their innocence with 'Love'. It's interesting that Robinson uses the sonnet form to describe this, it's almost as if she's showing men what women are really capable of.

Closing Statements

In conclusion, women have to over come double standards and confining structures in order to prove their worth. Dacre and Wollenstonecraft bring the idea of mothers bringing down the family to reality, as well as showing how it effects their daughters. Dacre plays more with the double standard of a wife not being able to have a lover and Wollenstonecraft plays more with how a husband can act in a marriage and how a wife is supposed to act. Even though Robinson has no mother figure bringing down the family or a series of troubling marriages, she as well as Sappho have to over-come the double standard that women can't chase after men. These three women writers, as well as their heroines, have to beat the men at their own game by using their feminine qualities to get the upper hand.

Sources

Dacre, Charlotte. Cracium, Adriana ED. Zofloya. Broadview Press, 1997.

Wollenstonecraft, Mary. The Wrongs of Woman. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Sappho & Phaon (poem) by Mary Robinson.

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