The common story in most parts of the globe is that of the humble woman suffering under the cruelty of man. The widespread belief that women have borne the blunt of man’s beastly nature makes it challenging to market the idea that women have enormous power that they sometimes utilize in ways that are detrimental to society. This research proposal uses Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in examining these immense powers on the hands of women.
These novels are replete with issues pertaining to female behavior and male response that will help analyze the subject of female power in a deeper sense. Through their strong wills, purposes, and desires, women characters in these novels often form men’s characters, and define their behaviors. For example, in Wuthering Heights, Catherine’s headstrong and rebellious ways are partially responsible for Heathcliff’s antisocial behavior, and it is through Catherine’s lens of how men should behave and react to her demands that she forms Heathcliff’s character and leaves him to his madness at her death. In Agnes Grey, Miss Murray forms the manipulative and ultimate perspective alterations in Mr. Hatfield’s view of women as helpless creatures in their need for rescue, protection, and provision.
In light of this argument, how does the woman’s creation of the patriarchal figuration for the male character affect the man and the woman, especially in the formation of the woman’s worldview? Does this power result in ramifications for the woman as well? Are women aware of the power that they wield, and if they are, why do they blame the man for relationship and cultural breakdowns? In my dissertation, I use evidence from the Bronte novels to show that it is women’s unwillingness toward self-awareness and accountability that contributes to variant male behavior and perceptual outcomes. To that end, I argue that women have far more influence and power than often they acknowledge either publicly or privately, and this power and influence consistently contribute to the formation of male thinking and behavior.
Women have natural power and abilities. These innate characteristics affect the intellectual, cultural, spiritual, emotional, sociopolitical, and interpersonal world of men with different outcome and with detrimental results to both genders. An in-depth study of the emergence, construction, and outcomes of feminism on men within myriad contexts is a sure way of vindicating the existence of the female power. Applying this theory to three British novels written by Emily and Anne Bronte – Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- this study will draw important correlates between female abilities, capacities, and innate talents and the use of these elements to alter or supersede male potentialities.
For example, Catherine’s misuse of her natural female strengths and talents is used to override Heathcliff’s reticence against and desire to withdraw from her controlling manipulation, culminating in tragedy to both characters. Additionally, much has been written about the Bildungsroman in Bronte’s adolescent-to-adult theme in Agnes Grey. The use of feminine potential and power toward men found in this novel shows the deleterious effects on both men and women. Similarly, female power and control in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is measured through Helen Graham’s interactions with the men in her life. In this novel, Bronte reveals this power and manipulative awareness in her protagonist, but the theme remains intact: women often have inordinate amounts of power and control over men in myriad realms of their lives. The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the above three novels to show the deleterious outcomes of the immense powers in the hands of women.
Tentative Title: Medusa never Died: Female Power and Men Victimization
Introductory Statement of Background, Purpose and Thesis
I will analyze The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights with the aim of showing how they developed female characters that revealed the resulting destruction when females neither correctly understand nor properly apply their power. The analysis will prove that the female power and influence affect the intellectual, cultural, spiritual, emotional, sociopolitical, and interpersonal world of men with different outcome and with detrimental results to both genders.
The purpose of this study will involve comparing three British novels, written by sisters, through whom female power is used to effect masculine changes, behaviors, and affect situational outcomes. Demonstrating the application of feminine power in relationship dyads will support the hypothesis that the female power can manipulate, control, and cause harm to men and, through them, socio-political constructs which affect everyone. In addressing the research problem, then, a thorough review of the selected works, combined with a thorough literature review of existing studies which serve to amplify the feminine use of power to manipulate or form outcomes. As a contribution to human science, my research topic is highly significant for socio-cultural, gender-based, and psychological awareness of conflict source and resolution, and greatly contributes to the literature’s body of knowledge.
While the literature is rife with widely diverse discourse and study on feminism, the body of knowledge is seriously deficient in considering the research problem. That is because this issue requires a major paradigmatic change since the major outcomes of feminism have been militant and rejects feminine limitations while creating male-opposition toward many of its tenets. Signe Arnfred exposes a practical sense of feminine power in a non-western setting in her article entitled “Sex, Food and Female Power: Discussion of Data Material from Northern Mozambique.” In this article, she shows how women in a certain part of the world harness their mastery of feminine chores in both reproduction and family into a power tool that calls for respect from men (141). It is vital to note that what the characters in the Bronte novels do is not so much removed from what Arnfred tries to show in her article. The setting might be different, but the game is the same as shown by the similarity of the players.
In fact, male dominance was common in Victorian times, as was female servility; But it is this servility that supported the dominance. Critics of the Bronte novels have noticed the male dominance in these novels, and identified the role women play in perpetuating this dominance. The feminine role in the advancement of male dominance is a power in itself, which, if withdrawn, can have a regulatory outcome on male behavior. In the article “The Question of Credibility in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” Arlene Jackson points out that,
Anne Bronte also answers a question that other novels of her time do not ask: what happens to a marriage and to the innocent partner when one partner (specifically, the male) leads a solipsistic life, where personal pleasures are seen as deserved, where maleness and the role of husband is tied to the freedom to do as one wants, and femaleness and the role of wife is linked to providing service and pleasure not necessarily sexual, but including daily praise and ego-boosting and, quite simply, constant attention (203),
On the surface, Jackson is asserting that powerlessness is another way of describing women. This is how she decodes the message that Anne Bronte is sending to society through her book. Obviously, numerous people agree with this position, considering the woman to be the victim, suffering silently without a means of escape from the cruel claws of the man. But this is not the case because in the process of praising someone, there is the knowledge that the praise can be withheld. There is also the knowledge that the praise can lead to dependency as well as other undesirable manifestations of character that may be harmful to both the person lavishing praise, who is the woman as well as the man, who is the recipient of the praise. An objective analysis of the message from Jackson reveals that men have a certain degree of dependency on the lavish praise they are showered with by women. As much as Jackson’s work may have been an attempt to show the credibility of Anne Bronte’s literary skills, she helps in the identification of areas of female power that is sometimes wrongly used to enhance female servitude and perpetuate male dominance.
Maggie Berg, in her “”Hapless Dependants”, Women and Animals in Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey” argues that, in a patriarchal society where women are faced with challenges of identity, expression and recognition- the general treatment of women is implied to be like treatment of animals. This position is also shared by another critic of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Juliet McMaster, who takes the position that the Victorian period was characterized by a huge power imbalance that tilted heavily in favor of men. In her article entitled “‘Imbecile Laughter’ and ‘Desperate Earnest’ in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” McMaster talks of a Victorian power structure that did not allow women to have a say in society. All things were done according to the rules set by men for everyone (368).
However Berg and McMaster’s view is harsh and seems to fall into a perception that women have no place in the society. In support of the position that goes against this perception, the several published works that have a stand on women’s power in relation to men will be examined too. In this line of scholarship, Naomi Wolf is a popular and influential voice. Her critically acclaimed book entitled Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use it is a slap on the face of McMaster and Jackson as it crushes their positions on female victimhood. Wolf believes that women have always had more power than men. The biggest problem according to her is that women have not mastered the art of utilizing this power for their benefit (23-25). She further disagrees with women whose time is spent agonizing over a male dominated society where every woman is a victim (56). Evidently, Wolf is not ready to buy into the ideas of Jackson and McMaster. The areas where the latter two see oppression and injustice, the former sees opportunity and freedom that has not been seized by women.
As it were, scholarly arguments are as strong as the evidence. Wolf avails solid examples of women who have managed to live happily through the realization that female power is sufficient to combat what has come to be known as male dominance. She points out that politics, business, and family life are all potential areas of female excellence if women meet fire with fire and learn to use some of the tactics men use to manage affairs in society (34). This is the basis of her phrase, “fire with fire.”
Another female scholar who has done research on the issue of female power and influence is Margaret Beetham. In an article entitled “Thinking Back Through our Mother’s Magazines: Feminism’s Inheritance from Nineteenth-Century Magazines for Mothers,” Beetham, whose main objective is to survey the motherhood oriented magazines that existed in the nineteenth century, makes a refreshingly different statement based on what she discovers in the magazines she reads. As much as there was injustice in society during a greater part of the Victorian period, there was the acceptance that women were equal to men, but different.
The admission of equality in these magazines that were published for mothers shows that the empowering element for women was present. What lacked was the will to pursue the path of equality through the elimination of obstacles that made it difficult for women to enjoy the trappings of a free life. It helps to point out that the writers and publishers of the magazines that Margaret Beetham analyzes in her work were both men and women, with most of them being in the hands of women. The significance of this is that women had access to the tools for empowerment as early as the Victorian time, a period that is attacked as highly paternalistic and patriarchal. This point is shared by Lisa Duggan and Nan Hunter. In Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture, the authors poignantly state that man and woman have always tried to live as a united pair, but the truth is that each is pulling in a different direction. The struggle is purely power based and is largely to blame for much of the suffering that goes on in society (19-21).
My study will be unique in the sense that it will depart from the traditional feminist readings and exegeses like that of Jackson and McMaster. The dissertation will prove the existence of the female power and influence even in the Victorian society; a society that is known as purely chauvinistic. Even in this analysis, my study will also go beyond the stress on the female power in the political and economic spheres as perpetuated by Arnfred, Wolf and Beetham. In contrast, I will focus on the psychological and personal dimension of feminine power. Through the critical examination of the Bronte novels, I will show that the power and influence held by women is not the literal political or physical power that society is used to, but rather the psychological one. It is partially the psychological dependency that men have on women that gives women the ability of manipulate circumstances and conditions in ways that can hurt or heal both parties.
Evidently, my dissertation carries anti-feminist tone. The feminist theory will be employed to deconstruct the myth it perpetuates about the hegemony of man and the victimhood of woman. I will also shed light on the psychoanalytic theory to highlight the psychological power and influence women have on men. In a nutshell, through analyzing the three novels and borrowing from the other available materials and the theoretical framework, my study will purposefully prove that women have natural power and abilities; when these innate characteristics are applied to the intellectual, cultural, spiritual, emotional, sociopolitical, and interpersonal world of men, this power can be abused to control and define the opposite sex, with detrimental results to both genders.