"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Romeo and Juliet 1: The Virgin-Whore Dichotomy

I've decided that my feelings about Romeo and Juliet are complex enough to merit a couple of posts worth of exploration.

Romeo and Juliet 1: Virgins and Whores

The early parts of Romeo and Juliet establish a strong virgin-whore dichotomy in the culture of Verona.

The show opens with a display of ugly misogyny.

SAMPSON
True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels,are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will pushMontague's men from the wall, and thrust his maidsto the wall.
GREGORY
The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.
SAMPSON
'Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when Ihave fought with the men, I will be cruel with themaids, and cut off their heads.
GREGORY
The heads of the maids?
SAMPSON
Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;take it in what sense thou wilt.

The servants of Lord Capulet view (their enemies’) women as no more than sexual objects. This objectification of women is immediately linked to the cultural demands of masculinity—this conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Montague servants, leading to a violent brawl. This straightforward objectification is echoed later by Mercutio.

Romeo, meanwhile, also begins the play unable to see women as people. He has rejected the bawdy acquisitiveness of the other men of Verona but replaced with romantic idealization. At the beginning of the play, he is pining away for "Rosaline" a young woman he scarcely knows. He is explicitly compared to the poet Petrarch. Like any "Nice Guy" he's more interested in writing poems and speeches as exercises of his own romantic prowess than actually getting to know her, and seems rather miffed at the thought that she makes her own life decisions.

Itwould be a mistake to think Shakespeare encourages these misogynist attitudes. Friar Lawrence calls Romeo out for his misogyny at his first appearance, but it's the other title character, Juliet, who really drives home the fact that women are people in their own right.

Stay tuned for part 2: Female Agency
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