The 'natural' Feminine In Romanticism: A Commentary

1620 words - 6 pages

After Bethany and Sarah's presentation, "Nature as Woman," I was interested and confused - as were they, I think - by the multiplicity of contradicting views of nature as it relates to gender. According to dominant views on Romanticism, access to nature required a distinctly feminine perspective. Paradoxically, this feminine perspective, entitled ycleped 'sensibility' was to be taken utilized most effectively by men, yet it rested on 'feminine' "emotion [as] … a more pure response to nature" (Fay 5). According to G.J. Barker-Benfield's The Culture of Sensibility "the sentimentalizing process" involved the temperance of a certain 'manliness' that is "uncouth and savage" (288) unless moderated by a feminine influence, thus woman was to use the so-called 'natural' gifts of her sex to lend culture to her more robust and virile counterpart. On first glance, this moderation of 'manly' characteristics appears to lend legitimacy to 'feminine' ideals; however, this apparent liberation of the feminine illuminates two very serious problems. First, as Barker-Benfield points out, 'feminine' ideals are privileged, but only as they serve to improve upon man; woman is not idealised in her own right. In this service of a masculine purpose "woman was to be 'fashioned' by men rather than by herself" (288). Second, the seemingly legitimisation of 'feminine' ideals can appear progressive but, as a result, ultimately serves to authenticate an idea of 'natural femininity that is, in the opinion of many a feminist, a repressive patriarchal social construct that lacks any real biological referent.

Thus it is very fitting, - but not the least bit subtle - that this artificial idea of femininity should be directly applied to Nature herself. If, as Bethany and Sarah point out, the 'feminine' ideal is "moral, pure, gentle, kind, graceful, simple and beautiful" and Nature is a symbolic stand in for woman - who in her own picturesque ideal embodies all of these characteristics - then these characteristics must, naturally, be those of natural woman. This rationality seems to prove exactly what it intends to: that woman, because of these traits, organically belongs to the realm of the domestic object and that any woman who exhibits any tendencies other than these is dangerous (especially to the patriarchal construct), deviant and unnatural. Moreover, 'natural' woman's traits cleverly but predictably prevent woman from enacting any agency at all if she is to remain in the realm of normality - the symbolic four walls of her domestic space.

This 'naturalization' of the artificial 'feminine' gender through association with a female nature is relatively uncomplicated at the level of the picturesque. Sarah and Bethany note that both Nature and women are subject to the scopophilic male gaze; in her article "Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema" Laura Mulvey notes Frued's concept of masculine scopophilia as necessarily "taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a...

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