A Feminist Perspective of Wife of Bath
Many literary critics throughout the years have labeled the Wife of Bath, the "gap-toothed (23)" character of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, a feminist. She is a strong-willed and dominant woman who gets what she wants when she wants it. However, this is not the definition of a feminist. A feminist is someone who believes that women and men are equal, while also is able to recognize and appreciate the unique characteristics of both sexes. A feminist celebrates what it means to be a woman, and a feminist is definitely not what Chaucer meant his character to be interpreted as. If anything, the Wife of Bath could safely be called a sexist. She constantly emphasizes the negative connotations associated with women throughout the ages, and believes that all women are inherently that way. The Wife of Bath describes women as greedy, controlling, dishonest creatures. Also, even though it seems contradictory, she has no respect for her body or the rights of women, and is an insult to true feminists everywhere.
The commonly used example of the Wife of Bath's so-called "feminism", is the incident in which she rips pages out of her husband's extremely sexist book. He proceeds to hit her in the head, causing her to fall to the floor in pain. This seems like an act of female liberation, but it is far from that. She did not think the horribly sexist stories her husband read to her were untrue. In fact, the stories sounded like something the Wife of Bath would say herself. She lashes out because she can not face her flaws. The Wife of Bath actually says that women can have no one "reprove us for our vice, but say we are wise and not at all foolish...there is not one of us who will not kick for being told the truth" (225). The fact that she flies into a rage when being presented with the very things she practices daily, unable to look at herself truthfully, is not feminism. The Wife of Bath's actions also stem from her strong greed and need for control. That particular husband, her fifth one, was the only one she could not control. The desperate guilt he feels after hitting her, puts her in an excellent bargaining position. While lying on the floor she puts on a dramatic act of self-pity to make him feel even worse, and later describes: "He gave the bridle completely into my hand" (219).
The Wife of Bath's greedy need for complete control over men reflects in most of her actions. She seems proud of this, and constantly describes women as cruel creatures that bring great sorrow to men. When talking about her first three husbands, she says that she "governed them" (193), and "chided them cruelly" (193). She makes life for her husbands a living hell, having no respect for their feelings. Just like the women questioned in her story, she cares only for "riches...amusement...rich apparel...," to be "flattered and pampered," and for "pleasure in bed" (225). When talking of her first three marriages, she...