Feminism is a movement that opposes women inferiority and promotes equality among men and women. It moves away from logo centrism and phallocentrism or seeing the world and it’s people from patriarchal lens. Feminists shed light upon women’s contributions throughout history which were never taken account as significant and reject sexism in writings. Therefore they bring women from the position of invisibility to visibility through their works and protests. Feminist literary criticism deconstruct works by men which usually promotes the idea( ideology) of patriarchy and male dominance over women. Feminist criticism “disturb the complacent certainties of patriarchal culture and crate a less oppressive climate for women writers and readers” (Selden 128). Men wrote literary texts for example for themselves and on behalf of women as well. Thus, men hold power by strengthening the ideologies within literary texts to dominate women and prove men worthier than womenfolk . For an example women as objects whereas men are subjects. Feminists then deconstruct these texts to show readers that these were mere men made ideologies, which were not biological but socially constructed; and the dichotomous comparison between these two genders were created by men as well. Feminism movement was not confined within literary texts only but also, economics, politics and religion.
” The critical project of Feminist critics is thus concerned with” uncovering the contingencies of gender” as a cultural, social and political construct and instrument of domination”
Furthermore, through feminists critics like Simone De Beauvoir, we came to realize “One is not born a woman – one becomes one”. Therefore femininity and masculinity are never natural but socially constructed. First wave feminism paid importance to the right to vote for women as equal as men (women suffrage movement). These were mostly middle class women who started to enter public domain for jobs due to World War I. The Second Wave feminism focused on not merely political rights. Their quests were much broader, for example women’s right to vote, advancement in carrier, social and economical equality and their right to determine their own lives separate from men. However when the Third Wave Feminism rose up, they critiqued the second wave feminists as being not feminist enough for they universalized women’s feelings, backgrounds and experiences. Thus out of Third Wave Feminism different groups of feminism were born discussing and shedding light on the various obstacles and experiences felt by women around the globe. Post feminism on the other hand did not stop from looking into feminism but also other genders as well such as men, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and so forth.
When we examine the poem “Buying the Whore” by Anne Sexton using Feminism (Feminist Literary Criticism), we realize that the poem is about a whore also known as prostitute from the patriarchal lenses. A whore( prostitute) is a person, usually a woman who sells sex service for men to earn a living which is usually meager
“Whore means prostitute. And a prostitute is a woman who offers to hire her body for indiscriminate sexual intercourse, or so says The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Pheterson 39).
Though the poet is a woman , the persona who degrades the whore is a man. Thus, from a feminist point of view it is true that majority men do look down upon women as the weaker sex. Throughout the poem “Buying the Whore”, from feminist perspective we can clearly see that whore was being objectified and was not treated as a subject with human feelings. For example the whore was compared to a roast beef, boat, glass, grate and finally the bra in the entire poem. The whore thus becomes an object of pleasure for men to satisfy their lusts and nothing more than that. Description of the whore in this poem, no doubt is from the view of phallocentrism. Phallocentrism means “The privileging of the masculine (the phallus) in understanding meaning or social relations” (cla.purdue.edu). Sadly, none of the whores point of view were given in the entire poem. Her thoughts, her feelings and her situation were all left out. According to French Feminsit Luce Irigaray, language is so gender bias and phallocentric that whatever characteristics that men think about women then leads women into mimicry and thus ” the position of mastery was formed”(Rivkin and Ryan 795) and women objectified. Hence it is true through this poem that women( whores ) are treated as objects and described as things with no feelings to convey. Therefore Second Wave feminists, said that it is important to pay great attention or detail when reading any text that is soiled by patriarchal notions. By doing so, one can undo the phallocentrism within texts. For example Luce Irigaray stated that the retroactive impact of the end of each word, utterance or sentence upon its beginning must be taken into consideration in order to undo the power of its teleological effect, including its deferred actions” (Rivkin and Ryan 797).
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Nevertheless, in my opinion, there is a flaw in the Second Wave feminists concept of undoing language that was contaminated by sexism. First of all it is very hard to reverse or change language that is dominated by male perspectives because we are all entrenched with patriarchal ideology for our entire lives. This is because from the past till now, writings in the literary world are dominated by men .Deconstructing patriarchal supporting texts and creating new feminists texts suggested by French feminist can be problematic as well. Producing text in gynocentric manner can lead to disagreement from feminists around the world as universalizing their experiences and their voices and even essentialize femininity. Second Wave feminism fail to take account the diversity of women’s experiences all over world and their context. For example race, class, ethnography and geography of women.”Non-sexist language and gynocentric language are criticized for underestimating the significance of gender asymmetry in language and for oversimplifying the relationship between language and corporeality” (Bondi 245).
Feminist reading, of the poem, “Buying the Whore” by Anne Sexton through tells us that the whore is commodified with having sign value attached to her. For example,The whore was purchased , rented, and paid by the persona for sexual services. According to Luce Irigaray in her article “women on the Market” , women were commodification exchanged by men among men to create a homosocial bonds between men. “The exchange of women established relationships between men; the old family system was essentially homosexual” (Rivkin and Ryan 800). However in the poem, the purchasing, renting and paying of the whore did not create a homosocial bond, yet the transaction of cash were indeed among men; pimp and the customer.
” You are a boat I have rented by the hour
and I steer you with my rage until you run aground”
Besides that throughout the entire poem, there are no signs or words of the whore involving in the negotiation of price for the sexual service . This definitely strengthens the idea of the feminists that women indeed have no say in her own sign value and is invisible in literary world. Next, compared to a virgin or a wife, a whores value stoops way below for they are said to sell their honor in change for cash. Whores according to society fail to assume their role as the submissive, pure women or the Angel in the house.”Whore dishonor is in part whore failure to fit the traditional wife role in marriage” (Pheterson 53). So they face more chances of abuse through their customers and social stigmatization. ” A prostitute then becomes one who sells her honor by offering to hire her body for base gain or for an unworthy doing, specifically sexual intercourse”( Pheterson 39). Women according to feminists are discriminated by the society for just being women. Husbands, fathers, society expect women to protect and guard their purity, chastity and honor. So, a whore’s honor thus fall and it is irreparable. . Therefore the persona( customer ) ill treats the prostitute in the poem. He even claims to have the right over her body and does as he wishes for he had paid for the whore;the object.
“You are the roast beef I have purchased
and I stuff you with my very own onion”
” You are a glass that I have paid to shatter
and I swallow the pieces down with my spit”
He shatters her and even stuff her with objects without asking her permission or taking into account her physical pain. However her experiences are never important; what was more significant and was assumed was “man must be pleased, but him to please/Is woman’s pleasure”( Ryan and Rivkin 816). Since the whore was considered as impure woman, and assumed to have unattractive features, the persona describes her in negative term such as “stink” and goes on to vomit into her hands further emphasizing ,a whore is degraded being who deserves ill handling. “Whores are usually ‘dirty’, ‘base’ and ‘pocky’, but they are also ‘bold’, ‘impudent’ and ‘brazen faced”(Gowing 10). Even his own mother, the persona abuses in his poem what more the whore.
“You stink like my Mama under your bra
and I vomit into your hand like a jackpot
its cold hard quarters”
From most Postfeminist point of view, “Buying the Whore” by Anne Sexton universalizes the experiences of sex workers. Anne sexton shows to us readers that whores suffer and have no voice in determining customers they allow into their quarters. In reality not all sex workers are so vulnerable or not in position of making a choice. For example not all whore have sexual intercourse with their customers but sexual related services only. “The words sexual intercourse are also inadequate to describe the work of all prostitutes. Much prostitution does not include sexual intercourse (Pheterson 41). Whores have rights to deny the customers they doubt to have disease or that might ill treat them. “One whore from the United States said, “If I have the slightest doubt about a guy, I refuse him (Pheterson 40). Hence, it is clear that feminism, help in understanding the meaning and give constructive criticisms towards the poem.
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Power dynamics can also be seen in the poem “Buying the whore” using feminist literary criticism. When we deconstruct the text from feminist perspective, the client has power over the female (whore) who he had purchased to satisfy his sexual lust. He has the power to stuff her with objects he wishes; steer her like a boat with force till she runs aground and break her into pieces as if she were a glass. The persona has all the power over the whore for he had paid for her service. He is depicted as this powerful being forcing his might and dominance over the whore. The whore on the other hand for example was compared to a vulnerable glass that can be shattered and boat that had to submit to it’s owner to his directions and steering. She is portrayed as this meek, powerless person who submits to the atrocities her male client had forced upon her. The whore was shown in the poem of not having the right over her own body or the right to have sexual pleasure. “Neither as mother nor as virgin nor as prostitute has woman any right to her own pleasure” (Ryan and Rivkin 808).Thus it is clear through the poem that the whore unlike any other women are said to be powerless and are oppressed by man kind. ” Woman is riveted into a lopsided relationship with mean; he is the one, she is the other” (Shelden 129). It is valuable that feminist shed light on the oppression or the powerlessness of women .
Feminism is a great literary theory in showing readers how the world especially literary texts are laden with sexism and is mostly phallocentric. Yet again there is another weakness in feminist literary theory in my view point. Like many other Second Wave Feminists, Anne Sexton (American poet) in her poem “Buying the Whore” has brought forth the issue oppression of the whore( woman ) and the domination of men over women. She even made her whore voiceless and powerless throughout the poem. However, by portraying women as weak and men as strong and superior being in literary work , feminist are in fact strengthening the ideologies that are ingrained within society. Feminist then without realization , reinforce the dichotomous relationship between women and men created by society. Thus in feminist literary work and criticism, women are still being described as inferior to men. “There is here a danger once again of slipping back into a phallocentric system which relegates women to the margin” (Selden 143).
In conclusion, I do agree to an extent that Feminism does help in providing meaning to the poem “Buying a whore” by Anne Sexton. Feminist Literary Criticism without doubt brings women’s oppression into light and celebrate women writers and their literary contributions. This movement tries it’s utmost best to decenter logocentrism and phallocentrism that oppressed and suppressed women throughout history. Furthermore Feminism tries to bring about equality and avoid sexism within discourses especially in the literary word. We (especially women) have benefited tremendously from this movement and it’s contributions. However there are weaknesses within the approaches of Second Wave which in my opinion were being rectified by the Postfeminists. Postfeminist takes into account of the diversity of experiences among women therefore avoiding generalization, universalizing and even essentialist point of view. Furthermore, Postfeminist movement pays great importance to standpoint theory which explains that people’s experiences differ according to their situations for example class, race, ethnicity, geography and ethnography. Therefore the poem “Buying the Whore” can best be explained through the latter part of Feminism which is Postfeminism without discrimination in meaning or experiences.
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