Feminism in the Works of Glaspell, Atwood, And Gilman
Communication and Gender Differences: Insights from 20th century literary works and 21st century “cyberfeminism”
Literature for the 20th century has become revolutionized with the introduction of feminist literary works. As the prevalent ideology of this period in history, feminism is generally identified as an “advocacy of social equality for the sexes, in opposition to patriarchy and sexism” (Macionis, 1998:257). The feminist propaganda, to provide equal opportunities and privileges among males and females, has prevailed in the 20th century, and continues to be so a century after.
The literary works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan Glaspell, and Margaret Atwood are essential sources that society can learn from in order to understand the nature of sexism and prejudice against women during the 20th century. Through literature, Gilman, Glaspell, and Atwood expressed their emotions and thoughts about the essence of women to human society, a fact that seem to be unwelcome in a predominantly patriarchal society. Analyses of their works demonstrate the lack of understanding in interpersonal and group communication between men and women, with the latter being misunderstood and often interpreted as too emotional and intuitive when man simply cannot understand what women are feeling or talking about.
The issue of ineffective communication due to gender differences is an issue that still applies in the 21st century, a period wherein technologies in communication has made possible communication all over the world and more understanding of women’s meanings and manner of communicating. In the texts that follow, this paper demonstrates how communication in “The yellow wallpaper,” “A jury of her peers,” and “You fit into me” demonstrate the inability of women to express themselves and communicate effectively in their society. The analyses of these literary works are then applied in the present context, where the concept of “cyberfeminism” made it possible for communication become possible across gender differences. This paper also argues that feminism is vital in human society in order to generate understanding of the differences (as well as similarities) between men and women.
Feminist ideology is discussed in-depth in Gilman’s “The yellow wallpaper,” where the protagonist (also the narrator of the story) experiences a downfall towards insanity in order to ‘escape’ her reality that she is “imprisoned,” literally and figuratively, in a patriarchal society. The narrator’s perverse preoccupation with the yellow wallpaper in her room illustrates her imprisonment, where she is forced by her husband John to confine herself in a room because she is weak, a physical condition resulting from her too-frequent nervous breakdowns.
Gender difference in communication becomes apparent as the narrator progresses towards insanity: the unseen woman in the yellow wallpaper is the narrator’s representation of herself. This reflection of the self through the wallpaper demonstrates her internal conflict, where she wants to conform and become a dutiful and responsible wife to her husband, while her continued imprisonment in her bedroom created in her a character of rebelliousness, brought about by her limited mobility not only in her own house, but in her society as well. The narrator’s internal conflict is reflected in her narrative in the story, wherein she remarks, “…the pattern is torturing. You think you have mastered it, but as you get well underway in following, it turns a back somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you” (Rubenstein & Larson, 2002:291). This passage reflects the adverse effect of prejudice against women in the society, where women are forced to conform to the dictates of the male-dominated society, while at the same time, they also want to assert their identity as women. Apparently, the lack of communication between John and the narrator, his wife, led to the progress of her insanity, as she was unable to express her thoughts and feelings to anyone.
The narrator’s insanity is more than an escape to the social structure of patriarchy. According to Suess (2003), a feminist reading on Gilman’s work demonstrates how the narrator has actually led to a ‘failed escape’ from patriarchy. The narrator, which Suess identifies as the character “Jane” that she mentions at the last passages of the story, shows how insanity led to a detachment of the narrator’s identity. Instead of redeeming her from oppression of the patriarchy, insanity has further subjected her into it with the loss of her identity and what remained of her freedom as both a woman and an individual.
Parallelisms in Gilman’s depiction of lack of communication and understanding between men and women are seen in Glaspell’s “A jury of her peers.” A story narrating the life of the abused Minnie Foster, wife to John Wright, and her killing of her husband as a means to express her oppression and experiences of abuse from him. Like the narrator’s downfall to insanity in “Yellow wallpaper,” Minnie’s character in “A jury” reflects the lack of avenue for women to express their feelings and thoughts, resorting instead to actions that are considered deviant in society, such as succumbing to insanity or committing murder.
Communication is considered vital in the story, for it is through understanding Minnie’s psyche that the protagonists were able to uncover the truth about John Wright’s murder. Evidently, Glaspell attempts to illustrate and celebrate the differences between men and women’s way of communicating: female communication through intuition and implied meanings behind ‘feminine talk’ demonstrates superiority over the unimaginative forms of communication expressed by the male characters in “A jury.” Implied meanings played an essential role in communicating to the readers the truth behind John’s murder and Minnie’s role as the murderer. For Minnie’s friends, who are also women, her murder is justified, with Mrs. Peters remarking that “…it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a — dead canary…As if that could have anything to do with it…” (308). The male characters’ lack of understanding of the two women’s way of communication has prevented them to solving the murder case and finding out the truth behind the (obviously) abusive nature of Minnie and John’s marital relationship.
Lastly, in Atwood’s “You fit into me,” communication is expressed in the simplest, yet most effective manner that only women, like the author, can truly understand. Like the elusive nature of Minnie’s commitment of murder in “A jury,” violence in “You fit into me” is also subtly expressed, using the words “eye” and “hook” interchangeably to suggest the softness or perceived weakness of feminine character and violence committed against them, respectively. The poem, in effect, addresses the oppression of women through different forms of abuse, symbolically represented by the “fish hook” that always seem to ‘bait’ on women and in effect, subject them under the control of the patriarchal society.
All of these issues about gender differences and communication as it relates to the propaganda of feminism is addressed in Gajjala’s (1999) discussion of the concept of cyberfeminism in the 21st century. Pertaining to this concept, the author identifies cyberfeminism as “a belief that women should take control of and appropriate the use of cybertechnologies in an attempt to empower ourselves (women).” The emergence of this phenomenon is vital to understanding women’s role in society in the age of information technology. What Gajjala extends to her audience in the article is the idea that in the same way that technologies encompass boundaries in communication all over the world, women should, through cyberfeminism, take advantage of this opportunity and dare to express themselves freely with the help of limitless capabilities of communication technologies.
The phenomenon of cyberfeminism is an attempt to empower women in the context of contemporary society. It is also a celebration of women’s communication, a seemingly elusive characteristic among females that evidently, males have failed to understand and ‘decipher’ throughout the years, as illustrated in the works of Gilman, Glaspell, and Atwood. Gajjala, in effect, while celebrating women’s differences against men, also attempts to reconcile the sexes’ differences by encouraging that communication technologies makes it possible to create understanding among sectors in the society. That is, communication through the cyberspace is an opportunity for women to communicate without the barriers of sex and gender that has been inculcated in the minds of human society for a long time in history. And like Gilman, Glaspell, and Atwood’s literary works, Gajjala offers cybercommunication as an effective means to achieving great understanding of the differences among people in the society, especially those between males and females.
Atwood, M. (2003). “You fit into me.” In Poems. J. Kelly (Ed.). NY W.W. Norton.
Gajjala, R. (1999). “Third world perspectives’ on cyberfeminism.” Development in Practice, Vol. 9, Issue 5.
Gilman, C.P. (2002). “The yellow wallpaper.” In Worlds of fiction, R. Rubenstein and C. Larson (Eds.). NJ: Prentice Hall.
Glaspell, S. (2002). “A jury of her peers.” In Worlds of fiction, R. Rubenstein and C. Larson (Eds.). NJ: Prentice Hall.
Macionis, J. (1998). Sociology: the basics. NJ: Prentice Hall.
Suess, B. (2003). “The writing’s on the wall: symbolic orders in ‘The yellow wallpaper’.” Women’s Studies, Vol. 32, Issue 1.
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