To what extent is Duffy a poet who exposes the exploitation of women and fights against their further oppression? In your response, you must include detailed critical discussion of ‘Standing Female Nude’ and at least one other poem by Duffy. In response to the question above, I feel that Duffy is a poet who portrays the exploitation of women and does at times fights against their further oppression.
In my view, simply by raising these controversial issues Duffy is drawing attention to the matter and consequently fighting against their further oppression.
The title ‘Standing Female Nude’ is in itself significant. Apart from sounding possibly slightly inappropriate, the title reveals the objectification of women and their position in society. The word ‘Standing’ however, gives the reader the impression that the character does have some sort of empowerment, as it is usually referred to as who has a high reputation or a position in society. This is apparent later on in the poem.
Duffy immediately presents the issue of the exploitation of women and in my view, as a result is fighting against their further oppression by making people aware of the problem. The poem starts ‘six hours like this for a few francs’. This shows the reader how dismissive the character is towards whatever she is doing. The fact that she is so dismissive suggests that she is being treated unjustly. The harsh alliteration ‘few francs’ really emphasises how the character feels she is too good to be doing that particular job or that she is simply not being paid enough for her services.
Either way, it reveals how Duffy highlights the exploitation of women by being mistreated and underpaid. In the third line of the first stanza, the poem reads ‘he drains the colour from me’. This could be either in a literal sense due to the fact someone is doing a painting of her or in a metaphorical sense in that the painter is actually taking part of her, possibly suggesting that her dignity is being taken away. The way that the character is being bossed by the male painter shows that the woman is not in control of the situation.
Although, the man refers to her as ‘Madame’, which could be a sign of respect towards the character I feel however, that it could possibly be interpreted to be said in a sarcastic and condescending tone. This adds further weight to my view that Duffy is exposing the exploitation of women and is fighting against their further oppression by making the reader aware of situation and the problems that women face. The word ‘hung’ in the fourth line suggests that the character is no more than a piece of meat.
It implies that the female character will have very little benefit from her work compared to the artist and emphasises the inferiority and exploitation of the woman. The fact that the painter is given a name and the female character in the poem is not, insinuates that she is of no great importance and again highlights how the woman is exploited. In my opinion, this is another key point Duffy includes in the poem to reiterate the issue of women’s exploitation. It is an attempt to fight against their further abuse by forcing people to think about the issue.
In the first two stanzas all the negative points were directed towards the female character. However, in the third and fourth stanza Duffy completely turns it around and focuses on the painters downfalls. This is demonstrated in the third stanza when she refers to him as ‘little man’. This is a sign of empowerment on her behalf, as she exploits his sexual attraction towards her by belittling him, referring to his sexual attributes. This is another example of how Duffy possibly fights against women’s further oppression.
However, I can understand how some people may disagree with Duffy as her view could be seen as a generalised representation of men and thus could lead some people to draw the conclusion that her poem verges on being hypocritical. Nevertheless, I still feel that Duffy is simply exposing how women are exploited in an attempt to fight against their further oppression. The second poem I am going analyse is ‘Whoever She Was’. Like the title in the previous poem, the title ‘Whoever She Was’ is significant in relation to the poem’s meaning.
The past tense verb, ‘was’ in the title implies that the character has no identity and suggests she is not the same person as she was before. This perhaps indicates that as the character has lost her identity possibly due to her exploitation. The female character in the poem is described ‘as a flickering figure on a shilling screen’. The word ‘flickering’ gives off the impression that the character is not constant in the sense that a candle flutters. This gives the reader an image of something going on and off and thus not constant.
This could also be interpreted as her moving back and forth between reality and past memories of her children. This gives the impression that she is defined by her role as a mother. Although, the exploitation of the women is shown in a different light and is perhaps, not as apparent as in’ Standing female Nude’, Duffy is still exposing the exploitation of women. In the second line of the first stanza, the poem reads ‘My hands, still wet, sprout wooden pegs’. The reference to ‘sprout wooden pegs’ is metaphorical in that it reveals the determined roles of women as mothers.
It is a very stereotypical view of mothers and the fact that the woman is saying this emphasises how she herself is defined by these roles and has herself been exploited. The mother’s exploitation is also made apparent to the reader when the poem describes how she ‘smells the apples burning as I hang the washing out’. By including this Duffy is perhaps trying to show us how the character is living her life through the past memories of her children. I believe this as the smell of burning apples is quite distinctive and this could bring back memories of when she used to cook for her children.
This would underline how she has been defined by her role as a mother and not through her individual character. This shows that Duffy exposes the exploitation of women and highlights the attitudes towards mothers in an attempt to fight against their further oppression. The exploitation of the character is shown further when the poem narrates ‘Mummy, say the little voices of the ghosts of children on the telephone. Mummy’. The children are referred to as ‘ghosts’ implying that they are no longer children.
However, the mother still views them as children, perhaps because she has been identified by her role as a mother all her life and she considers this to be normal and true. Again, this reiterates Duffy’s purpose and meaning of the poem by presenting the exploitation of women to the reader, which as result opposes their further oppression. The quote in the second stanza ‘the film is on a loop’ is possibly a metaphor to the character’s life. The word ‘loop’ indicates the repetitiveness of her life because of the fact she is always characterised by her role as a mother and nothing else.
It suggests that the character is stuck in a continuous cycle and cannot let go of her duties and responsibilities of being a mother. This is again reflects her self-perception of only having worth and purpose as a mother. In my view, Duffy is trying to show the reader how the conventions and expectations of motherhood have influenced her personality and perception of herself. By doing this, Duffy is exposing the issue, possibly in an attempt to help people to understand how society has left the character to feel isolated.
Consequently, Duffy is fighting against the injustices suffered by women. In the fourth stanza, Duffy deliberately mixes the narrative of the poem from first person to third person. This gives the reader the concept that the character in the poem does not know herself. Because of this, we also get the impression that the character does not have a definitive sense of identity. This is also the case for the character in ‘Standing Female Nude’ as she also has no distinct identity because of what she has to do in order to survive.
In my view, Duffy purposely gives the characters no definitive identity to emphasise how their character and personality has been taken away because of their exploitation. Therefore, Duffy is revealing the exploitation of women to draw attention to the issue, in an attempt to combat women’s further oppression. To conclude, although some people may find Duffy’s poetry to be an unfair representation of men and to a certain extent be sexist, I feel that Duffy is simply trying to raise awareness of the exploitation of women.
Therefore, I feel that Duffy is opposing women’s further oppression. The two poems ‘Standing Female Nude’ and ‘Whoever She Was’ are generally quite dissimilar they do have certain aspects which are similar. For example, both characters do not have a ‘real’ identity and although in very different circumstances, the two characters have been exploited. Once again, I believe that Duffy is simply a poet who exposes the exploitation of women in an attempt to help improve the situation for others.