Feminism taken to Extremes in A Streetcar Named Misogyny
As women's studies programs have proliferated throughout American universities, feminist "re-readings" of certain classic authors have provided us with the most nonsensical interpretations of these authors' texts. A case in point is that of Kathleen Margaret Lant's interpretation of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire in her essay entitled "A Streetcar Named Misogyny." Throughout the essay, she continually misreads Williams' intention, which of course causes her to misunderstand the play itself. Claiming that the play "has proved vexing to audiences, directors, actors, readers, and critics" (Lant 227), she fails to see that it is she herself who finds the play vexing, because it does not fit nicely into the warped feminist structure she would try to impose upon it.
Her first problem is with the heroine of the play, Blanche DuBois, who, she claims, is "ironically made guilty for her own victimization. No longer fully human, she is simply a metaphor of all that is vile about women. Blanche cannot, then, claim tragic stature or even our sympathy precisely because she is a victim of rape. And as she becomes responsible for her own victimization, Stanley is left to glory in his ascendancy. This aspect of Streetcar arises from the misogyny which colors the play…" (Lant 226). Admittedly, Blanche does flirt with Stanley briefly at the beginning of the play—just as many women playfully flirt with their brothers-in-law. But as her relationship with Stanley deteriorates, she makes it quite obvious to him that she loathes the sight of him. Though the world in which Lant lives may be one in which a woman, playfully sprinkling her brother-in-law with perfume, justifies his subsequent rape of her, I daresay most of us do not live in such a world. Stanley's rape of Blanche is the action that sends him beyond the pale of civilized existence. That he gets away with murder hardly justifies his action; indeed, the audience's feelings of disgust with his character and his behavior are only heightened when he is left unpunished.
Ironically, one of Lant's feminist mentors, Andrea Dworkin, whom she cites thrice in her essay, has written in her book Intercourse that "there is nothing in the text of the play, despite the way it is sometimes staged, to suggest that she [Blanche] wanted it [i.e. to be raped] all along. In fact, there is a pronounced and emotionally vivid history of her wanting its opposite—a sexuality of tenderness and sensitivity" (Dworkin 44). Another of Lant's mentors, Susan Brownmiller, whom she cites twice in her paper, has written that "Tennessee Williams has always treated the rape theme with sensitivity. Stanley Kowalski's rape of Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire is also no glamorization, for Blanche, however damaged, represents fragility and aspiration while Stanley is symbolic of the darker forces of nihilism" (Brownmiller 337,...