The power of sex - the sex of power: a gendered approach to A.M. Homes' "The End of Alice"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

22 Pages, Grade: 1,3



I. Introduction

II. Sexuality & Power – a theoretical approach
i. The Construction of Gender & Sex Roles
ii. Gendered Power
iii. Childhood Trauma and Sexual Deviance

III. Sex & Gender: Instruments of power in Homes’ The End of Alice
i. Watching Chappy – A view on male power and masculinity
ii. Watching the Girl – A view on female power and femininity
iii. “The Mother”: origin of sexually deviant behaviour

IV. Conclusion

V. Bibliography

I. Introduction

Throughout history the differences between the sexes have always been an im-

portant and controversial issue. In our society it has usually been the male who owned the power, the one who is in charge – the pater familias. Even though today, when women are regarded as of equal status, in politics and business, men still tend to achieve more and receive higher wages. But what is this particular power based on anyway? How is it constituted and how is it maintained? Is it justifiable to think only in terms of binary genders and sexes? Is power generally something that is only determined to be masculine? Or is there such a thing as female power? What is this power like? In this paper, answers to these questions shall be found and discussed furthermore. The first section of the paper will give a short introduction and an historical overview of the ideas of gender and sex. Then, in the following, a connection shall be drawn to the notion of power and its relation to sexuality and gender in general. The last part of the first chapter will investigate the importance of the family environment with regard to the initiation of sexually deviant behaviour. Family environment, sexual deviance and gendered power are issues which form major part of A.M. Homes’ controversial novel The End of Alice, which was published in 1996. The further discussion will focus on the characters of the novel as well as on the representation of the sexes and their struggle for power. Eventually, the significance of one particular woman, the mother, as a very influential and powerful character in the book shall be analysed. The author of this paper is absolutely aware of the fact, that the novel is based on rather controversial elements, as for instance the narrator’s glorifying attitude concerning the sexual abuse of children. Since the children characters in the novel are usually not younger than twelve and do show typically male or female attributes, they shall be included in the discussion of female and male power, although they are not considered to be adults and are victims of crime actions within the novel.

II. Sexuality & Power – A theoretical approach

i. The Construction of Gender & Sex Roles

The difference between the sexes has been subject to an enormous amount of political, social and cultural discussions throughout history. From the ancient Greece until the 18th century, scholars considered men and women to be of anatomically similar structure. Precisely, men’s genitals were regarded as the reverse of the female sexual organs. (cf. Martin 1987: 16) Despite of this analogy, a particular kind of misogyny has prevailed ever since, as for example already in the ancient Greece, giving birth to a boy was believed to be normal, whereas the birth of a female represented abnormality. (cf. Braidotti 1994: 63) Furthermore, women have always been subject of repression beginning with the image of the sinful Eve as opposed to Adam, the man of virtue and ratio, until the struggle of 20th century women for an academic career beyond home and kitchen.

Only in the later 19th century, with the origin of Psychoanalysis and the contributions of Sigmund Freud, the (mostly psychological) differences between the sexes and their causes began to be looked at closer. Freud believed, as defined by his psychoanalytical theory, that the distinction between male and female became only crucial with the beginning of the phallic stage, namely when children become aware of their distinctiveness and start to define themselves as either boy or girl. (cf. Rendtorff 1998: 128) According to Freud, the little boy realizes that the girl lacks a penis, which leads him to fear of castration. Since his father’s love as well as the desire for his mother would bring along castration (as happened to the mother), the boy develops the role of a heterosexual male. The little girl, however, feels inferior, as soon as she realizes that she does not have a penis. Her anger against the supposedly responsible mother, leads her to her father, “hoping for his love, his penis () or his child.” (New 1991: 7) According to this Freudian idea one’s own sex role is established. However, “as an account of the social construction of gender, Freud’s is unusual.” (New 1991: 8)

In the course of the 20th century Feminists’ movement, as a reaction to the prevailing misogyny in Western society, the terms sex and gender were introduced and remain to be of great importance in the scientific field of Gender Studies. (cf. Stephan et al. 2000: 10) Sex describes the biological sex of the individual based on his/her physiognomy (reproductive organs etc.). As opposed to Gender which Lipman-Blumen (1984) defines as follows:

“Gender roles () are socially created expectations for masculine and feminine behaviour. Exaggerating both real and imagined aspects of biological sex, each society sorts certain polarized behaviours and attitudes into two sets it then labels ‘male’ and ‘female’.” (Lipman-Blumen 1984: 2)

Thus, Gender is something that we learn during the courses of our lives, something that is determined by our environment and culture and depends on everyone’s individual context. In addition, one has to bear in mind, that there can be no masculinity without its counterpart, namely femininity. (cf. Brittan 1989: 3) The environment forces the individual into a “normative heterosexuality” in which men take on the part of the “agency”, while women are represented by “subordination”. (cf. Holland et al. 2003: 87)

However, Lipman-Blumen (1984) considers the similarities of the two sexes to be of crucial importance, even though society tends to focus a lot more on the differences between the two. (cf. Lipman-Blumen 1984: 4-5) This view is shared by another important contributor to the field of Gender Studies: Judith Butler. Butler (1990) argues that the denotation “woman” as a universal category fails to represent one shared identity of women, since most feminists do not take other categories such as race, class etc. into consideration. She agrees with the existence of a socially and culturally constructed gender, however, she does not accept its polarity. Besides, Butler regards the biological sex as a social construct as well, due to the environment’s performative discourse. (cf. Butler 1990: 3-7) For further information on Butler’s ideas of gender, sex and categories see Butler 1990.

Why is this discussion concerning the differences and similarities of gender and sex roles of such a great importance? Precisely, these differences have led to a split between the sexes - a split into dominant vs. submissive, active vs. passive, controlling vs. controlled. Consequentially, a relationship of power has been revealed that interrelates between “generations, socio-economic classes, religious, racial and ethnic groups”. (Lipman-Blumen 1984: 5) In the following section, the notion of Power shall be looked at further, with the focus on a rather sexual and gendered context.

ii. Gendered Power

Before a discussion of female and male power can take place, it is absolutely necessary to provide a definition for the term of Power. In this paper, the definition found in Lipman-Blumen (1984) shall be focused on. According to him, power is defined as:

“the process whereby individuals or groups gain or maintain the capacity to impose their will upon others, to have their way recurrently, despite implicit or explicit opposition, through invoking or threatening punishment, as well as offering or withholding rewards. When power is firmly established, the explicit use of punishment and rewards is hardly necessary.” (Lipman-Blumen 1984: 6)

Power usually follows a particular pattern, namely through a categorization into powerful and powerless. This categorization may also be found in the way traditional binary sex roles are constructed. To be precise, in all cultures women are regarded as inferior when it comes to privileges, responsibilities etc. as opposed to men. Nevertheless, also in this context, there cannot be any ruled without a ruler and vice versa, meaning that a certain amount of willingness needs to be present in order to be ruled at all. (cf. Lipman-Blumen 1984: 5-7) In addition, by dominating others one may obtain the idea of being in charge of one’s own fate. Thus, by dominating womanhood, patriarchy convinces itself of their control. There are four ways of experiencing this control, these are: Protection by an omnipotent force, Submission to Secular Institutions, Submission to a Benign Human Ruler and Control over others. In this paper the focus shall be drawn on the last strategy. It is this particular control over others that remains to be subject to continuous negotiation and renegotiation between the controlling and the controlled party. (cf. Lipman-Blumen 1984: 8-16)

However, only as long as certain myths remain to be omnipresent in our society, the powerless are very likely to remain stuck at their unfortunate position. First of all, the powerful proclaim themselves as the wiser and more skilful group. Second, the powerful are in charge of the powerless and only follow their best interests. (cf. Lipman-Blumen 1984: 50) The problem, especially with regard to the second myth, is the fact that even men who think to have followed women’s interests, may lack in understanding what these interests exactly are. Women’s inferiority is characterized by certain features, which men are never to obtain if they do not want to lose their position of being in control. Among those features are the following: “tears, dependence, tenderness, nurturance, physical weakness, dainty movements, as well as interest in the arts and humanities.” (Lipman-Blumen 1984: 95) This is where hostility comes into play. Men who have been taught to detest anything female within themselves, may project this hatred towards women as well as gay men. Sometimes, this battle of power tends to escalate, how statistics on assaults of women demonstrate. (cf. Lipman-Blumen 1984: 95) The notion of violence will become more important during the discussion of Homes’ novel.


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The power of sex - the sex of power: a gendered approach to A.M. Homes' "The End of Alice"
University of Cologne
American Sexualities
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Homes, Alice, American, Sexualities
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Carsten Krumdiek (Author), 2007, The power of sex - the sex of power: a gendered approach to A.M. Homes' "The End of Alice", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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