Thursday, April 22, 2010

To Be Woman

like helpless creatures
we all are
women in chains
writhing and writing
in pain

In this video, Philip Scott Johnson compiles several different images of women in art; images that come from artworks spanning 500 years.  Johnson illustrates how art forms change but the image does not.  The illustrations of women in Johnson's montage are subtly similar with each other, either portraying woman as the angelic ideal or sinister, wicked, bordering, if not, monstrous.  While the dichotomy of angel and monster is subtle, it is nevertheless evident.  What is even more problematic is that while the image of woman in the video is dichotomous, it is also ambiguous which seems to illuminate the idea that woman is both angel and monster, ideal and wicked, impossible to tell apart.

This seemingly unchanging image of woman as either angel or monster, or both, is what, as Gilbert and Gubar claims, limits women writers.  In The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar identify the anxiety of authorship and authority that women authors experience as rooting from the absence of appropriate female models in literary tradition to emulate.  They claim that "a woman writer must examine, assimilate, and transcend the extreme images of 'angel' and 'monster' which male authors have generated for her" (Gilbert and Gubar 812).  But transcending the static image is a difficult, almost impossible task, especially since the construction of woman and womanhood is perpetuated by the dominant majority of society.  To rebel against the construction is to condemn the self as the absolute Other because "[w]hat [woman's] history suggests is that in patriarchal culture, female speech and female 'presumption' - that is, angry revolt against male domination - are inextricably linked and inevitably daemonic" (Gilbert and Gubar 823).  Essentially, women who revolt against the constructed image of woman, in the eyes of patriarchal society, is merely to emphasize the monstrous side to her.

What choice, then, do women have?  How can they change the limitations imposed upon them?  How can the image be changed to something more dynamic and encompassing where women are more than angels and monsters?  How can woman change the definition that has imprisoned her even today?

Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. Literary Theory: An Anthology.
     Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 812-825. Print.