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Saturday, May 29, 2010

she who does not obey

A while back, She Who Does Not Obey expressed a wish that her pseudonym be changed, offended by its accurate description no doubt. I started to consider it, despite my fondness for the name, but in the meantime a friend of mine had read about her on my blog and commented "she's my kind of girl."

I met this particular friend while working on my English degree at university so I immediately knew what she meant.

The Obedient Female is a literary figure that has annoyed and frustrated me for quite some time. The ideal woman in the White Male dominated world of English lit was an angelic figure who did what she was told, passing meekly and compliantly from father to husband. When blessed with decent parents, or at least one parent of that variety, obedience can work out reasonably well for a heroine. But when she is cursed with a greedy, selfish and capricious family, she becomes a doormat, a vulnerable creature in need of assistance and rescue.

I certainly don't want to raise She Who Marries the Jerk Her Family Foisted Upon Her or She Who Forsakes Her True Love Because Her Family Does Not Approve.

And definitely not She Who Sat in the Cinders because she never had the ovaries to demand the respect she deserved and reclaim her rightful place in her own family. If we all waited for some twit to show up with an uncomfortable piece of footwear, where would we be?

Clarissa who has drawn my scorn on this blog before was very much the obedient ideal, passively acquiescing to every demand of her despicable brother except in one thing - she refuses to marry the Jerk Her Family Foists Upon Her. She also refuses to marry the guy who rescues her from her family and then rapes her, even though that would restore her good name. If she hadn't been so insufferable about it all, I could actually admire her.

One day while I was driving SWDNO to school, she saw a woman wearing a burka for the first time in her life. I tried to explain it in as neutral a way as I could, despite my discomfort with the practice, to say it was a cultural thing and that a woman can choose to wear a burka if she wants.

"That's unfair," she said.

At that point I was forced to agree. I have read finely worded arguments from highly educated Muslim women arguing for their right to wear a head scarf or a burka if they choose, but I can't help wondering how much choice is involved when a woman is subject to a strongly patriarchal society and accepts that a man should have the final say over what she does and how she dresses. Works great as long as you don't end up with a crappy family or a violent husband. Or if you should happen to disagree with the person who has power over you.

Meanwhile, my own culture can hardly be highly praised when there are still so many obstacles for the uppity woman to face. She is still apparently doing most of the housework and the childcare even when she is not a stay-at-home mom. She is still not paid as much as a man. She is still subject to misogyny and violence both in abusive homes and in society at large.

She has never been the President of the United States and has only managed to be Prime Minister of Canada for 30 seconds or so.

I want my girl to grow up to be a strong, independent young woman who will make a way for herself in this world whether she finds her handsome prince or not.

Philosophically, I am as anti-obedience as the rest of my oppressed sisters, but as a mother I can't help wishing from time to time that my little proto-feminist would just once put her damn shoes on the first time I ask.

But she knows how to say "No!" and mean it. That is progress.


  1. I don't think it's ever going to change. It seems no matter how far some women seem to progress, there are others whose belief in some god or some man will let all their decisions be made for them. Sometimes I think we'll just have to look for good female role models in literature and give up on the females out there in the real world.

  2. It really hits you in the face when you have a boy and a girl the same age.

    He can go for a walk around our neighbourhood after dark...she can't unless he is with her.

    He can hang around with a large group of girls and be admired. She hangs around with a large group of boys and I get the phone call from her grandparents telling me that "people" will think she is a slut. (I have never figured out who these "people" are whose opinions should be so influential in our lives...they were around when I was a kid too).

    He can grab any semi-clean item from his bedroom floor and head off to school without comment. Anything less than pristine hair and make up for my daughter puts her on the receiving end of a running appraisal which would destroy the self-esteem of an Amazon.

    Is it obvious that this subject has been the topic of many a dinner time conversation?

    It has been proven time and time again that when the women in a community are empowered, socially, politically and especially financially that the whole community prospers...yet this fact is still not commonly accepted...in a lot of cultures...including our own.

    Oh the rant I could go on...LOL...great post no plot.