Lament not, Eve, but Patiently Resign

Lament not, Eve, but patiently resign[1]

By DuncanRhys C. Liancourt

––An unmarried woman who’s sleeping with her boyfriend––she shouldn’t be in the classroom, said Jim DeMint as reported by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. What of the men? DeMint is silent on the sexual conduct of his own gender. Terry O’Neill is succinct about the meaning of this silence on The Hill’s Congress Blog: “Jim DeMint’s hypocrisy is clear: he wants gay women and men and sexually active women to be banned from teaching, but he says nothing about sexually active, single straight men.” How far is it from this level of blatant sexism and hypocrisy to an announcement like the following?

Conservative members of Congress, prominent televangelist, and founders of mega churches, all male and calling themselves Adam’s Ribs, are demanding the replacement of the Statue of Liberty by a male version. The group, which enjoys the tax status of a registered church, also contends that movie acting is immoral for women. It has funded a movie studio to film all male versions of popular movies. Part of a wish list memo written by Republican senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was leaked and contains these substitutions: for Sister Aloysius in Doubt––Mel Gibson; for Sophie in Sophie’s Choice try for Clooney but Adrien Brody OK; for Julia Child in Julie & Julia––someone British, like what’s it Branagh or that giant from Harry Potter; for Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada––someone into fashion that’s not a sissy, like that Don Draper from Mad Men.

If you think my reaching back to a time when women were not allowed to act on the stage hyperbolic you are minimizing the atavism that is deeply entrenched in the Republican politics and radically conservative religious sects of America. Furthermore, my choice of Meryl Streep is not random, though no one, as of yet, is suggesting she be Elizabethaned. She is, however, in a battle over equality with DeMint and Coburn as she fights alongside others for a Women’s National History Museum. Note that this museum is not asking for money but merely for permission to buy land for the project. Coburn’s office contends that women are well represented by cowgirls, quilters, and flowers. Meryl Streep, with the help of Lady Liberty, will inform and amuse you better than I, here.

My imagined film studio (Testosterone Brothers?) draws on history but is set in a near future that owes a debt to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood’s 1986 novel is often called dystopian, or speculative, fiction but Margaret Atwood has much of the prophet about her and I call The Handmaid’s Tale[2] plausible fiction of forewarning. It is too beautiful, it’s world too all encompassing, and its curiosity too broad for a mere cautionary tale, yet it often freezes the blood. “The regime created an instant pool of such women by the simple tactic of declaring all second marriages and nonmarital liaisons adulterous, arresting female partners, and, on the grounds that they were morally unfit, confiscating the children they already had…”.

The first fight I remember overhearing between my parents was about my mother getting a job. The fight was, I imagine, pretty typical for the early 70s: money was tight but my father felt it his duty to be the wage earner; his pride was at stake and she probably wanted to get out of the house and have some money of her own. The child I was then had only raw feelings––fear and sadness for myself and a sort of worry for my parents––but whenever I have revisited this fight it has been with the subtler feeling of empathy, for my parents as individuals as well as for all women and men who’ve found themselves wrestling with gender roles and expectations. What has always stood out for me most glaringly, most profoundly, is that my mother’s choices were limited in a way my father’s were not. It was she who had to broach the subject; she who had to seek permission; she who had to make a case. It was she who had to convince, cajole, and soothe. She was handicapped in this fight, hemmed in by barriers built around her by others before she was born.

They shut me up in Prose –

As when a little Girl

They put me in the Closet –

Because they liked me “still” –

Still! Could themself have peeped –

And seen my Brain – go round –

They might as wise have lodges a Bird

For Treason – in the Pound –

Himself has but to Will

And easy as a Star

Look down opon Captivity –

And laugh – No more have I –

(Emily Dickinson, composed 1862, published 1935)

When Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, wrote, in The Madwoman in the Attic[3], that “whether she is a passive angel or an active monster … the woman writer feels herself to be literally or figuratively crippled by the debilitating alternatives her culture offers her …” the writer was both their specific concern and their avatar for all women. Should I write here that things have changed since Emily Dickinson’s time, or does that seem obvious? Should I note that The Madwoman in the Attic was published in 1979 and that things have changed since? Many changes are obvious, of course, but women, and men, may disagree about whether they are all positive.

Disagreement––about parental leave, childcare funding, motherhood, fatherhood, women in combat, maiden names, and more––is healthy. There are undoubtedly discussions to be had about gender expectations and divisions of labor around things of such centrality as marriage and childrearing and the pursuit of happiness. Jim DeMint’s manifesto to restrict the job options of unmarried women who choose to be sexually active is not about discussion. Ask him and his cadre how they will determine if a woman is sexually active. What of married women who are menstruating, will they be forced to stay home from their classrooms? Will it be paid or unpaid time? These are not facetious questions because what Jim DeMint, elected by women and men to represent both, is saying is that women are tainted. He says this simply by putting forth a plan for women teachers only, making it tacit that men may act unrestrictedly while women must be policed. Jim DeMint and his ilk think they know a woman’s place and feel entitled to compel it.

Things have changed for women, but the changes, as the possible future of The Handmaid’s Tale knows, are mere chimeras unless we defend them. “I don’t know if the words are right. I can’t remember. Such songs are not sung anymore in public, especially the ones that use words like free.”

[1] John Milton, Paradise Lost (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005), Bk. 11, ln. 287: p. 268.

[2] Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (New York: Random House, 1986), p. 304.

[3] The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), Gilbert and Gubar, “The Madwoman in the Attic,” p. 2033.

*Click the underlined word ‘defend’ in the final paragraph to visit the website of the National Organization for Women

3 Responses to “Lament not, Eve, but Patiently Resign”
  1. Thanks, Duncanrhys, as I did not know about the Women’s History Museum. Meryl Streep is wonderful, of course.
    Like Clare, I am disheartened by the political climate and have little hope to be honest. Fear and violence are so openly celebrated in the media. But your piece awakened me to this issue at least of which I knew little. I love Adrienne Rich “Diving into the Wreck,
    ” We are, I am, you are/by cowardice or courage/the one who find our way/back to this scene/carrying a knife, a camera/a book of myths/in which our names do not appear.”
    But our names will and do appear.

  2. Thank you, Clare, for taking the time to read, and comment, and for expressing your appreciation. I am grateful to you for sharing your first hand memories of the McCarthy era and can tell you that you are in very sharp company when you see the shades of that time gain corporality in our own. David Cole concludes the introduction to his *The New McCarthyism: Repeating History in the War on Terrorism* thus––”In short, just as we did in the McCarthy era, we have offset the decline of traditional forms of repression with the development of new forms of repression. A historical comparison reveals not so much a repudiation as an evolution of political repression.”
    How can even an inveterate optimist stave off cynicism when fear is wielded as a weapon against Americans by Americans, and by our leaders no less? Still, we must because fear can only be checked by hope. I chose to remain cautious and skeptical but to trust in that bane of fanatic atavists, evolution; for though we are deploying evolved versions of repression, we are also evolving––per force, by the laws of nature––and I foresee that enough of us will eventually evolve sufficiently to exorcise the ghosts of McCarthy and his minions.

  3. Clare Keller says:

    a very moving testimony, for which I thank you. Meryl Streep’s plea a cheerful detour along a more sombre path–I’d watch her read the phone book, as the cliche goes.
    As for the current political climate I have lost almost all hope, for I fear that there is an archetypal mood afoot that we are powerless to stop. It is very difficult to fight mindlessness with mind, platitudes and slogans with reason. This reminds me very much of the McCarthy era, which I’m old enough to remember. The thing is, Fear is at the root of the movement. And as a past president once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. ” Well here it is, eight decades later, and it’s running the show.

%d bloggers like this: