'A Brilliant projection of a very common male viewpoint whereby women are to be denigrated (perhaps out of fear) and also celebrated as objects for male gratification'(George Parfitt). Is this an accurate description of the presentation of women in male-a

Authors Avatar

‘A Brilliant projection of a very common male viewpoint whereby women are to be denigrated (perhaps out of fear) and also celebrated as objects for male gratification’(George Parfitt). Is this an accurate description of the presentation of women in male-authored poetry?

        The female, for years, as George Parfitt points out in his quotation, has been subject to the idea of male superiority. Even in Genesis, the earliest of literature, woman is not given her name until after the expulsion from the garden, and Milton very clearly looks down upon Eve in his Paradise Lost: he makes clear that the serpent aims to target Eve all along, as she is ‘opportune to all attempts’, unlike Adam  who is of a ‘higher intellectual’ than his wife. Eve is seen as of little importance by Milton, although, of course, it is she who brings about the events of his epic poem. She has less value than Adam, is more open to the wiles of the devil, and has less care for the creation of God, or so Milton would have us believe.

        Parfitt suggests that it is possibly through fear that the male denigrates the female, perhaps, in Milton’s case, this may be true. Eve is known to be the cause of the original sin, and a vessel of Satan in persuading Adam to eat the apple of knowledge, as such, she is dangerous, and outside of the control of God, since she is under the power of Satan. Women were often seen as imperfect, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were seen as being outside of the normal sense of the man, unable to rationalise, or be trusted with decisions of any weight. Men were expected to make decisions for the women, and were seen to have far more sense than the woman. This can be seen in Andrew Marvell’s ‘To his Coy Mistress’. Marvell takes it upon himself to persuade his lover, to bend her to his will by using threats of death to make her see reason: “The grave’s a fine and private place,/But none, I think, do there embrace”

        The poet thinks only of his own pleasure in this piece, the female is, indeed, an ‘object for male gratification’, as it is made clear that he wants nothing more than a more intimate relationship with his lover, while she has other dreams, as he claims that had they time enough, then:

        Thou by the Indian Ganges side

        Shoudst rubies find; I by the tide

        Of Humber would complain.

        The poet dreams of nothing but his love, and in this sentence seems to be giving control to her, as he makes it seem as if he would be happy for her to go and fulfil her other dreams, but, in reality, he is telling her that she cannot, that she must submit to his wishes, as they do not have ‘world enough, and time’ to indulge in such fancies. However, since they do not, he appears to be making the decision for her, since there is not enough time to indulge in the irrationality of women, men instead must rule over them, and make their choices for them, as they do not have the skills of logic to do so. The poet gives his lady little choice in the matter: what seems persuasion could, in reality, be an order, with the position of women so far below that of the men of the time.        John Donne, also scolds his lover for her renitence in going to bed with him in his poem ‘The Flea’, telling her that to do so is no more ‘A sin, nor shame’ than being bitten by the flea, and, having both been bitten by the same flea, there was no longer anything between them, as ‘in this flea, our two bloods mingled be’, and so, has made ‘one blood made of two’. Here, Donne is doing very much the same as Marvell in ‘To his Coy Mistress’ in disguising his order as a persuasion. This is made clear in Donne’s anger in the last stanza of the poem, when his mistress has not bowed to his wishes, and has instead squashed the flea which held such hopes for him, and for their union. It was no mere suggestion on Donne’s part, it was a disguised order, which he wanted to be obeyed.

        In the bargaining which takes place in both these poems, it is clear that the men see no value in the woman’s virtue if it should stand in the way of their wishes, although a virtuous woman was valued in the time period, and a woman without virtue was worthless. It was a trait to be admired in the courtly poems: Samuel Daniel values his ‘modest maid’ and admires her ‘chastity’. Philip Sidney points out that ‘fixed hearts doth breed/A loathing of all loose unchastity’ and describes Stella’s virtue in his Astrophil and Stella:

Join now!

        Virtue of late, with virtuous care to stir

        Love of herself, takes Stella’s shape, that she

        To mortal eyes might sweetly shine in her.

        Robert Herrick, too, in his ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’ also shows the value of a woman’s virtue, as he claims that:

        “That age is best which is the first,

        When youth and blood are warmer;

        But being spent, the worse.’

        Yet, the same poet is as guilty of trying to remove the virtue of virginity from his lover as Marvell or Donne: he entreats his lover to ‘Display thy breasts, my Julia’, ...

This is a preview of the whole essay