Feminist Victimology-Making Victims out of Heroes

I was reading a review of a new book on the American poet Robert Lowell earlier, when I was struck by a line/quote from the reviewer "He has little sympathy for Hardwick to begin with, though he dutifully catalogs her suffering before noting that the episode made Hardwick a 'famously betrayed woman and (like Sylvia Plath) a feminist icon.' " What strikes me about that is, how horribly true it is. Women are the ones who make icons out of other women, this is an area that has had little if anything to do with men. But so often, so very very often, female icons (feminist or otherwise) are only hiked up onto the shoulders of other women when they are perceived to be victims (of men).

Since tomorrow is the 53rd anniversary of Sylvia Plath death (February 11th 1963), I'll use her as a prime example of what I mean. As the gist of Plath's bio is fairly well known to even the general public I'm not going write a big summation on that and instead get right to the point of the matter.
Plath held no interest to feminists when in 1957 her speaker from the poem Disquieting Muses based De Chirico's painting says to the mother:
  • Day now, night now, at head, side, feet,
    They stand their vigil in gowns of stone,
    Faces blank as the day I was born,
    Their shadows long in the setting sun
    That never brightens or goes down.
    And this is the kingdom you bore me to,
    Mother, mother. But no frown of mine
    Will betray the company I keep.
Plath's female speaker looked elsewhere for a muse that didnt try to control her, didnt try to manipulate her, didnt try to paint the world with a perpetual smile, didnt judge her and didnt turn away or withhold their love when she didnt agree. Plath's speaker in this poem is as independent as she is an individual. She, like Plath is brilliant enough to know there is truth beyond the cozy comforts of home, capable of seeing the ugly truths no one dares to speak and resilient enough to be on the side of truth regardless of its unpopularity or alienation.

Despite its public broadcast in 1962, Plath's fully female monologue Three Women (particularly the 2nd voice) went nearly unnoticed by feminists:
    When I first saw it, the small red seep, I did not believe it.
    I watched the men walk about me in the office. They were so flat!
    There was something about them like cardboard, and now I had caught it,
    That flat, flat, flatness from which ideas, destructions,
    Bulldozers, guillotines, white chambers of shrieks proceed
    Endlessly proceed--and the cold angels, the abstractions.
    I have tried to be natural.
    I have tried to be blind in love, like other women,
    Blind in my bed, with my dear blind sweet one,
    Not looking, through the thick dark, for the face of another. 
    And then there were other faces. The faces of nations,
    Governments, parliaments, societies,
    The faceless faces of important men.
    It is these men I mind:
    They are so jealous of anything that is not flat! They are jealous gods
    That would have the whole world flat because they are.
    I see the Father conversing with the Son.
    Such flatness cannot but be holy.
    'Let us make a heaven,' they say.
    'Let us flatten and launder the grossness from these souls.'
    I see myself as a shadow, neither man nor woman,
    Neither a woman, happy to be like a man, nor a man
    Blunt and flat enough to feel no lack. I feel a lack.
    I hold my fingers up, ten white pickets.
    See, the darkness is leaking from the cracks.
    I cannot contain it. I cannot contain my life. I shall be a heroine of the peripheral.
    I shall not be accused by isolate buttons,
    Holes in the heels of socks, the white mute faces
    Of unanswered letters, coffined in a letter case
    I shall not be accused, I shall not be accused.
Plath's Second Voice, through miscarriage (flatness) explores male biology (flatness) and its relationship to male dominance/violence/patriarchy and misogyny. And while her tummy, from not being pregnant, might physically resemble the flat tummy of males, unlike males who cannot biologically become pregnant (feel no lack) SHE does feel a lack! As a female, she is multidimensional, compared the with the two dimensional male. The Second Voice of Three Women is the most outspoken, but none of the Women in this work are victims.

Whether it is Plath's Elm allowing herself anger not generally permitted to females:
  • Now I break up in pieces that fly about like clubs.
    A wind of such violence
    Will tolerate no bystanding: I must shriek.
Or Plath's Applicant trying to find a mate, where women are reduced to the domestic/sexual services they willingly provide men:
  • Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
    Well, what do you think of that?
    Naked as paper to start
    But in twenty-five years she'll be silver,
    In fifty, gold.
    A living doll, everywhere you look.
    It can sew, it can cook,
    It can talk, talk, talk.
    It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
    You have a hole, it's a poultice.
    You have an eye, it's an image.
From the inFAMOUS Daddy where Plath calls women like she sees them:
  • Every woman adores a Fascist,
    The boot in the face
Or in the femalefied Lesbos Plath's female speaker exclaims she cannot communicate with other women due to hetero-female competition. Which is SO strong the speaker cannot even pretend that women can someday (in heaven) find a plane that isnt threatened/motivated by women vying against each other for male attention/approval!
  • You peer from the door,
    Sad hag. "Every woman’s a whore.
    I can’t communicate
    I see your cute decor
    Close on you like the fist of a baby
    Or an anemone, that sea
    Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.
    I am still raw.
    I say I may be back.
    You know what lies are for.
    Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.
Even in the antiquated Purdah, Plath's female speaker does NOT resign herself to her woman's place where she is nothing more than a veiled possession whose female function is to serve "all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size" (V Woolf-A Room of One's Own). No. Plath's veiled woman pulls a Clytemnestra on the possessive sexist bridegroom as he shrieks (like a bitch?) while he is stabbed to death in the tub.
  • I
    Smile, cross-legged,
    Shifting my clarities.
    So valuable!

    How the sun polishes this shoulder!
  • At this facet the bridegroom arrives
    Lord of the mirrors!
    It is himself he guides
    In among these silk
    Screens, these rustling appurtenances.
    I breathe, and the mouth
    Veil stirs its curtain
    My eye
    Veil is
    A concatenation of rainbows.
    I am his.
    Even in his
    , I
    Revolve in my
    Sheath of impossibles,
    Priceless and quiet
  • I shall unloose ---
    From the small jeweled
    Doll he guards like a heart ---
    The lioness,
    The shriek in the bath,
    The cloak of holes
Plath made direct poetical/political statements in her poems that challenged women then and challenge women now. Ugly truths about heterosexual relationships and the lengths even feminists will go to ignore/cover up or bury. Systemic truths that are specifically interpersonal/biological and systemic truths based on both that have and continue to shape our world for the worst. Plath may have taken her life, but nowhere can it be said she was a victim. Ted Hughes didnt murder Plath. Plath was not in an abusive relationship with Ted Hughes.

The only abusive relationships Plath had/documented were with women, starting with her mother. But even the scurrilous female relationships didnt relegate Plath to victim-hood. Like most women-not having women she could count on, women she could trust, women she could be herself with (warts and all) removed a very important and much needed life-line. So that when February 11th 1963 struck, there was no one to call for help (the black telephone's off at the root) She never counted on men and her honesty about women alienated her from those who might have saved her.

But by holding up a mirror with which women could truly see ourselves, men and the world we live in come what may-Plath died a hero-NOT a victim. But for feminists to view Plath's work as a powerhouse, independent of Plath the woman, they would have to reconcile Plath (the woman and poet's) criticism of female passivity, co-dependence and collusion with men. Thereby forcing women/feminist readers to take a good look in the mirror. Its easier for feminist readers of Plath to blame male infidelity on her suicide and make her a victim. Plath had a 182 IQ in 6th grade, life was never so simple an equation for Plath and feminist's victimology of her/her work is moronic.


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