“Defining Self and Others: Pope and Eighteenth Century Gender Ideology” – Carole Fabricante. This is an in depth critique by Carole Fabricante of eighteenth century gender ideologies in which Fabricante uses the poet Alexander Pope’s poetry as an example of changing thoughts towards gender roles. In particular, or as a specific argument, Fabricante warns about the use of ‘active voices’ to relate the situations, circumstances and feelings of the ‘passive’. Herein she discusses the dangers of allowing others who attempt to empathise with the voiceless, to become the main petition for the said people.
The eighteenth century being a time in which women were largely relegated to the ‘seen and not heard’ caste, Fabricante examines Pope’s position not only as a protagonist for the ‘unspoken’, but also as devils advocate. She describes Pope’s own history as a crippled and deformed individual whose own identity is compromised by his inability to conform to the socialized standards of masculinity. This would naturally grant Pope a greater ability to empathize with the underdog.
“Deformed, dwarfish, sickly, and probably impotent as a result of having contracted spinal tuberculosis in infancy, Pope was someone whose “manhood” was continually being called into question both by his enemies in print and by the women in his life, not to mention by his own ironic perceptions of himself. ” (Fabricante). As a result of his own deformity, Fabricante asserts that his own idea of patriarchal power hierarchy and that this may at some level give him a greater lease to speak for those who ‘cannot’.
Pope is by no means a passive voice, although speaking as a women in poems such as “Eloisa to Abelard” and “Epistle to Miss Blount”, Fabricante does question whether Pope uses a form of political satire to direct is ideas. However Fabricante does admit the following: “Pope’s ambiguous and contradictory position in society affords us the opportunity to explore the dialectical interaction between the voices of marginality and dominance as these vye, not only among different groups in society, but also within a single personality and consciousness. ”(Fabricante).
The paper as a whole questions the usage over time of writers, artists and activists in order to speak for others, believing that this is not a clear or authentic view of those individuals. She compares Pope’s representation of women to that of Swift, another eighteenth century poet. In this comparison she examines the subtlety with which Pope describes women as a victim of choice-less marriages and breeding stock as opposed to Swifts considerably less authentic identification. She also explores the use of objectification of women as an entity for which the primary necessity it fulfils, are men.
As an exploratory paper, Fabricante does touch on a great deal of the effects of subjugation of women as the ‘other’ over time. This is particularly important in an era such as the eighteenth century where the socialized acceptance by women of their fate, was beginning to disintegrate. Following the Renaissance, reading the likes of Shakespeares Othello and Romeo and Juliet, the discomfort faced by women was already rearing its head. However, it took centuries for this transformation to come into fruition. I feel that at times Fabricante attacks the wrong people though.
In the beginning her main focus is on the Foucauldian perception of the voiceless being incarcerated by those intent on speaking for them. In many ways this practice does rob the recipient even further of their own right to be heard, however, those who can identify say for instance with abortion, may not be able to speak for themselves. This leads in the end, to no one getting anywhere. The point, I believe of people speaking for others, is not to precipitate further oppression, but to give them the strength to speak for themselves.
Foucault, as Fabricante uses for an example, was himself a minority, being outwardly gay and questioning the idea of transgression as perceived by society, makes a good representation of those previously voiceless speaking out. As a sociological argument, Fabricante is eloquent and aggressive and may strike the reader as being decidedly feminist, although this may be a misconception on the part of the reader. Fabricante makes many interesting and pertinent points although she is not easy to read. For this reason it necessary to remember that the paper is not a poetic analysis, but a personality one.
In the greater scheme of social theory, Fabricante displays all the downfalls and assets of social study particularly that of the need to label people as ‘other’. Describing another group or individual as ‘other’ is a social truth, as all things that can be defined, must by all intents and purposes possess an opposite. I believe Fabricante’s dissertation to be insightful, if at times a little aggressive. The paper sometimes appeared a little confused, perhaps because she uses a number of external which are placed within her own ideas.