Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Idea of the Woman vs. The Idea of the Female

"Each was as circumscribed as a figure in rhetoric and you could not imagine they had names, for they had been reduced by the rigorous discipline of their vocation to the undifferentiated essence of the idea of the female. this ideational femaleness took amazingly different shapes though its nature was not that of woman."

Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, p. 132

In this passage, Desiderio considers the women in the cages of the brothel that he has come to with the count. To him, they contained the essence of the female rather than the idea of Woman. The women in the cages have been stripped of their humanity so that each could attempt to fit the desires of some customer. In being stripped of their humanity, they either lose the quality of being woman or, if they never had any humanity to begin with, they were never "women". By presenting them in this light, the question of what is "woman" is brought to mind. The women in the cages are presented as being "sinister, abominable, inverted mutations" by Carter (132). As a result, the reader is led to believe that the ideal woman is more nurturing, more feeling, and more caring than the women in the cages. Desiderio also states that the women in the cages had "passed beyond or did not enter the realm of simple humanity" (132). This statement begets a question; have the women in the cages transcended humanity or fallen prey to it, in a sense? The women in the cages are emotionless, seemingly unfeeling, inhuman beings only used for pleasure by the depraved patrons of the brothel. Their quality of being emotionless could give them a kind of independence. By not needing or wanting anything of others, they are free of attachments and may be able to live life for themselves. However, the other side of the argument comes in their being caged. They are mere pleasure tools for the people that visit the brothel. Their inhumanity proves to be dichotomous; they are free of attachment only to be used by others. They cannot fit the idea of "woman" implied by its contrast with the women in the cages. They are female, and, in terms of the passage, this definition makes them ideal images of lust. However, because they are without humanity, they are trapped, without either the constraints of humanity or the benefits. They lack desire and, as a result, they lack purpose. Because they cannot fit the model of being "woman", they are merely female, and are enslaved by that title.

1 comment:

  1. As well as being enslaved by the title of merely female, I would also argue that the women are dehumanized. They are not even seen as women in the brothel but are looked on as objects. They seem to lose the essence of the female personality and only take on the female form. They are dehumanized to a point where they hardly need to be female. They only are female enough to allow people to recognize their female sexuality.