The Paradox of Being Female - Is there a Feeling of Belonging Together?
Being female constitutes a kind of paradox. On the one hand, women constitute one group, one category because of their sex. On the other hand, the belonging to this group does not always mean that women have anything more in common than their sex. Genny Lim’s poem “Wonder Woman” shows how the category of being female is divided in itself by other master statuses that not all women share, and it reveals that one’s sex is not an issue which make humans necessarily stick together. On the basis of Rosenblum’s and Travis’ work The Meaning of Difference: American Constructions of Race, Sex and Gender, Social Class and Sexual Orientation, this paper will focus on the way in which Genny Lim’s poem illustrates the construction of the “category of women”, and how concepts such as “Dichotomization”, “Othering”, “Aggregation” and “Double Consciousness” come into play when the poem’s lyrical speaker ponders about and also criticizes the differences and similarities that she finds in women.
First of all, the poem “Wonder Woman” deals with the master statuses of sex and gender, sexual orientation, social class and also race and/or cultural background of humans, respectively women. The meanings which underlie the depiction of these statuses will be worked out during the essay, and so examples of them will be provided later throughout the text.
The lyrical I in the poem is a woman that tries to find something she shares with other women: “I look at them and wonder if/They are a part of me […]/they share my dreams” (stanza 2). So, the lyrical speaker shares the master status that all described women, or groups of women, have in common in this poem, which is being female. It evidently becomes apparent that the lyrical speaker is a woman when she says “If the woman in prison is me” (stanza 3). In reference to race or cultural background, the poem talks about women from all kinds of cultures and races ([…] white, yellow, black, brown, red/, stanza 6), but particularly deals with women from Asia (“women along the Mekong” (stanza 1), “Chinese grandmothers” (ibid.), “Japanese women tourists in European hats” (ibid.).
Mainly, the lyrical I ponders about the differences between women: though they share the same master status of sex, and probably also gender, she finds more differences and boundaries between them than similarities. This especially refers to the fact that all the women might share one or several master statuses with each other, but might occupy different ones as well. It might be that other kinds of master statuses are more dominant than that of being female, and that consequently the “category of women” might contain groups of women which are dichotomized from other groups (dichotomization; cf. Rosenblum/Travis, 14ff.). This becomes apparent when the lyrical I considers the statuses of social class, sexual orientation, gender and race/ cultural background of the women. Language-wise many parallelisms, anaphora and repetitions are used to compare and contrast the different women. As examples for the depiction of the master status of social class, the poem e.g. lists “Silver-haired matrons with silver rhinestoned poodles” alongside with “Painted prostitutes posing along MacArthur Boulevard” (stanza 1), and also directly contrasts rich and poor: “I wonder why there are women born with silver spoons in their mouths/ […] And I wonder why there are women who must work/ […]” (stanza 4). The lyrical speaker clearly talks about specific groups or types of women who differ from each other because of their social class and occupation, and therewith also their privileges and stigmas (cf. Rosenblum/Travis 27ff. and 167ff.). It seems not likely that “silver-haired matrons” and “painted prostitutes” would regard each other as belonging to the same kind of “group”, and might not expect to have something else in common except that they are female. The prostitutes appear stigmatized as they are described as apparently looking so. Their looks limit their sphere to a certain kind of environment. This applies to the upper-class women too, but in their case the environment is different and gives them privileges. The womens’ statuses of privilege and stigma, of their social class and (non-) occupation excludes them from each other’s sphere. Or stated differently, women who appear as being dichotomized from each other might not regard others as being and doing the same, at least not on the same level. For example, the upper-class women and the working women might cross each other’s way, but they might differ in their status in the social hierarchy, in their activities (work/ do not work) etc.
Another aspect that comes into play is the issue of “Othering” (Other; cf. Rosenblum/ Travis, 25 ff.). The different women in the poem all belong to the same status of sex, but they might view other women as “Other”. Lim stresses this paradox in her poem by several means. Firstly, “Othering” takes place between the lyrical speaker and the women which the lyrical speaker describes: whereas the lyrical I is talking about herself as “I”, the other women are seen as “they”, e.g.: “I look at them and if/They are a part of me/ I look in their eyes and wonder if/They share my dreams” (stanza 2). The lyrical speaker does not include herself into the group, but remains outside as a passive observer from a distant viewpoint, seeing and thinking about women “of all kinds”, even about women from other places in the world. This might convey an atmosphere of isolation because there is no one the lyrical speaker directly turns to, and she also talks about the building of walls that isolate women from each other (stanza 5). Secondly, the “Othering” is expressed by strong contrasted parallelisms in the poem. For example, in terms of sexual orientation, the following contrast is used: “Young wives holding hands with their husbands/ Lesbian women holding hands in coffee-houses” (stanza 1). The repetition and similar sentence structure emphasizes that the actions of the women are the same, but the recipient of the action in the second case is a woman, too. Sexual orientation can be a further status that separates one group of women from the other.
- Quote paper
- Christina Gieseler (Author), 2007, The Paradox of Being Female – Is there a Feeling of Belonging Together?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/148726