I have been reading this all wrong

When I first approached The Bloody Chamber, I admittedly probably got way too excited. This being our first feminist text in Arts One, I wanted to read into everything and I wanted to see all the bits of feminist commentary that is slipped between the lines. Naturally, I wanted to believe that Carter was making some revolutionary and challenging statements about the treatment of females in society, etc., etc. To be fair, she does. She does seem to be making some strong statements about how women are viewed, about sexuality and the beastly, domineering male figure.

However, for some reason, I worked from the impression that Carter was trying to make some overarching, moralizing, feminist statements, and because of this, much of the book confused the heck out of me. Because while Carter was making some hints at feminism, she also seems to put a lot of her characters in the socially constructed boxes that I thought she would be trying to break free from.

Of course, as I have realized, Carter is anything but straight-forward. Clearly the objective of simply breaking free from stereotypes and social constructs would just be far too easy. After lecture on Monday, I walked away from Allard Hall with my head spinning, because there was just so much good content in those 2hrs. Even as I look back at my notes now, I’m, like, “Yes. This is all yes. I love all of this.” All the stuff about female virtue being valued because it restricts women to simply “being” and not “doing”, females being the makers of history rather than slaves, “a free woman in an unfree society will be a monster”, the absurdity of a universal female experience — SO GOOD I WANTED TO SCREAM.

But okay, back to the topic at hand: as Professor Mota pointed out, Carter did not write these stories with the sole purpose of just proving that WOMEN AREN’T JUST ONE DIMENSIONAL DISNEY PRINCESSES WITH NO DESIRES OR INTERESTS OF THEIR OWN. She did manage to achieve this, but she also threw in some curveballs that pissed some of her readers off. None of the women in the stories were really free from the prospect of marriage or living free from the shadows of men. The violent, sexual violation of dead girls. The girl in “The Bloody Chamber” did not actively try to escape from her fate on her own, instead relying on the piano tuner and waiting for her mother. The emphasis on purity and virginity. The fraility of the vampire in “House of Love” waiting for someone to save her. The selling of the girl’s body in “Tiger’s Bride”. How could all of this be included in the book but still consider itself a feminist piece of work, I pondered before the lecture. And still pondering it now.

Professor Mota mentioned that Carter resented the notion of “a universality of female experience”. Then, if you relate that to the four dichotemies of female roles in fairy tales, you can see why Carter possibly chose to rewrite fairy tales – she’s rejecting the idea that females can be put into such positions in the first place, because once you box characters into shells of “The Good Girl” or “The Evil Queen”, “The Madonna” or “The Whore”, etc. it makes it difficult to see the characters in any other ways, therefore stripping of the power to deviate from their descriptions. The princesses in these fairy tales – Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. – they’re certified “Good Girls”. They’re pretty, pure, and virtuous. They just want to save their fathers, or visit their grandmas, or find their One True Loves. Carter takes these Good Girls and gives them sexual desires, self-interests, even murderous intents. But she also does not remove them completely from the Good Girl descriptions. They retain their status as commodities, things to be passed from parents to husbands, and as desiring to be saved, and as sexual objects, but only desirable if they are pure.

What could Carter be trying to do by doing this? Why create unconventional female characters just to restrict them yet again? Why are you so complex, Ms. Carter?! I have a few ideas about all of this, but I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say on this as well. Feminist discourse gets me so heated, but I will do my best to contain myself. When I woke up late on Wednesday, I was literally so upset and I ran to class in record time without putting on makeup. THAT’S how seriously I take this book. Anyway, can’t wait for more discussion on Friday! It’s going to be a good one, I can feel it in my bones.

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