Ambiguous Women: The Power of the Female Narrative
I do not wonder that men have always felt threatened by strong women. Male insecurity is manifest in the patriarchal infrastructure of society and its enforcement of gender roles that require female submission to the male model. In her book, Writing a Woman's Life, Caroline Heilbrun quotes Deborah Cameron's sardonic statement, "men can be men only if women are unambiguously women" (16). Heilbrun considers the ambiguous women, those who challenge convention. I've developed a deep appreciation for these ambiguous women, for the power of their narratives.
In Black Ice, the autobiography of a black woman recruited into a previously all male elite New England prep school, Carey states, "the narratives that helped me, that kept me company…were those that talked about growing up black in America. They burst into my silence, and in my head, they shouted and chattered and whispered and sang together" (6). Throughout my first semester at Bates, I have identified with Carey. The narratives that discuss growing up as a woman have empowered me. Woolf, Carey, Plath, Rich, and particularly Heilbrun: I recognize the power of these narratives, not only when considered as individual lives or models suggesting alternative realities, but when considered collectively in terms of their life-altering impact. Looking at these works raises critical questions: From where have women come? Have women liberated themselves over the past century and through what means? What has it taken for women to turn their world "right-side up?"
I have wondered why women followed what Heilbrun labels the "male-designated script" for so long, when it was clear to me that it was through education and self-assertion, and not the automatic assumption of the defined domestic role, that women could achieve liberation, independence and satisfaction. Then I recognized that while this notion might be obvious to me in 2003, I had to consider an era when society taught women different values.
Why were women so complacent? According to Mill's 1869 work, The Subjection of Women,
[Men] have… put everything in practice to enslave [women's] minds…The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self-will, and government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the control of other. All moralities tell them that it is the duty of women. . . to live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to have no life but in their affections. . .--those to the men with whom they are connected or the children who constitute an additional and indefeasible tie between them and a man (232).
Women wanted to please men (or at least play the ascribed role) because they were taught that it was only through men and the home that they could achieve success and...