From Segmented Bodies to Categorizing Mass Groups: Enhancing the Collector’s Set

 

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The Thunderer

 

by Simon Cropp

In her novel Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin explores the thoughts of a Knight serving in an alternate world where Hitler’s armies have won and continued to reign far into the future. The Knight thinks to himself, “Women’s only reason for existence, to bear boys and nurse them to eighteen months. But if women cease to exist themselves? The world will be rid of an intolerable ugliness” (11). When considering Knight Von Hess’ thoughts about the role women play in this futuristic world, a conclusion can be drawn: women are rendered mere objects. Women function only as wombs to continue the Hitlerian Empire of men, though these objects must exist or the entire empire would collapse.

When we think of objectification in modern society, Von Hess’ thoughts are perhaps a reflection of the most extreme scenario. From breast exploitation to the segmented body, American culture seems aware of the fact that women are sexually objectified, yet despite this awareness, progress seems sickeningly slow.

Browsing through headlines about sexual objectification of women, the focus seems to be laid at the feet of the media. Advertising, television, and movies all have a role to play in the fetishizing of women as things instead of people, pieces instead of whole entities. But then, women were certainly objectified before the onslaught of mass media to the degree these articles discuss. In fact, Burdekin’s vision of a world where women were reduced to a single function occurs in a time and space without all the terrible vices modern media warns is the cause of sexual objectification.

Consider the recently discovered words of presidential candidate Donald Trump. “When you’re a star they let you do it.” This sentence was uttered nearly a decade ago when Trump explained to another man how much sexual leeway he has with women. In his view: he has all of the leeways because he is a star. A star created through the massive media machine of television. His claims that he can do most of what he wants to a woman because he is rich, he is a star, obviously, this behavior reduces a woman to an object that can only be acted upon. But because women are not objects, this video has given rise to another discussion surrounding the presidential candidate–one of sexual assault. In Burdekin’s world, recourse does not exist for women, but in America, the citizenry want to believe there is justice for this kind of behavior–whether or not Trump’s actions were real or locker room talk.

Leaders found themselves at odds with their party’s representative after this video surfaced, but I am not cynical about their motives in defending the count noun “women” from Trump’s statements. I am cynical about the objectification that continues to occur in their defense of “count noun women.”

House speaker Paul Ryan said, “I am sickened by what I heard today.” As were many of us, I hope. He also said, “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.” And here is the ugly other side of objectification. The collecting of objects. The protecting of objects. Championing that which cannot protect itself because it lacks agency. To revere, to show deep respect for someone or something, to show profound regard for this thing or person. Because the count noun women all must be revered, because they are things worthy of being collected. They are not individuals, they are mothers, daughters, sisters, etc. We must revere that, I think, because we revere that collectible mass thing with not a single unique quality among its individual parts. It is strange that scientific studies show how men see a woman as a collection of parts instead of her whole self, but then so quickly, to fix this, a woman cannot be rendered into a single person, but only a mass collection of things easily categorized into two or three roles. Mother, sister, daughter, caretaker, etc.

Burdekin shows the complex, dark depths to which sexual objectification can take us, but our modern reality shows us the other side–the equally problematic issue of objectifying with the eyes of a collector protecting his prize.

 

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It Suits Me: The Importance of Naming – Stacy

In her Novel on Yellow Paper, Stevie Smith had to choose her character names and attributes with care to avoid offending those who served as models those characters. By selecting to use events from her actual life, she risked the threat of libel. Smith had to learn to refashion and blend fiction with fact to create alternate tellings of her real life stories and events. In showing so much care to protect herself from those who would sue her, Smith shows she would go to the same amount of care in crafting for her alter ego, her semi-autobiographical self, an interesting and provocative name to suit not only herself but the events she’s recreated in her novel. Smith created for herself a name to hide behind and create subtle and not so subtle differences in real life events and fictional events, and in a way, she treated herself as a character within her own novel, protecting her own name and life events against libeling herself. In creating her own likeness, Smith is able to show those aspects of Pompey’s life which matter the most to both the author and character.

In Novel on Yellow Paper, great importance is placed on the name of protagonist Pompey Casmilus. In his article “Stevie Smith, ‘A Most Awful Twister’”, Stephen James call Smith’s moniker choice “a sheer oddity of using two male names for a female protagonist (a gender bending tendency that persists through the work of ‘Stevie’ nee Florence Margaret Smith)” (243). However, it’s not simply important that Smith chose for the protagonist two male names, but the names of two males whom Smith considered powerful through history and mythology. By selecting two powerful males, Smith is, in a way, harnessing for herself the power of not only the male gender, but that of the two individuals: Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, a respected Roman military general; and Casmilus, an obscure name for the Greek god Hermes, who a quick internet search informs us is the Greek god of boundaries, merchants, travelers, and thieves, served as a messenger of the gods, and acted as an intermediary between the divine and mortal. Armed with this knowledge, the first word in Novel on Yellow Paper, Casmilus, takes on deeper meaning. The name first comes to the reader in the form of one of Smith’s poems, and as such recalls the feeling of one invoking a Greek muse. The calling of Casmilus feels like a petition for intercession to that realm between fiction and reality.

In looking at the words of Smith’s poem, one can see the importance of the aspect of hiding one’s identity. Smith’s poem begins with the lines “Casmilus, whose great name I steal, / Whose name a greater doth conceal” (Smith 9). By admitting that she’s stealing the name, the speaker of the poem reveals a sense of dissatisfaction with her own name and an interest in hiding or concealing her own identity by sidling herself along with the “name a greater doth conceal”. In disguising her identity with Hermes, the god who travels between, we can see the importance of Pompey’s concealed identity and gender from the reader, and possibly from herself. Pompey conceals her identity through her clothing choices and through the words she uses to describe herself, a girl and a woman. Even Pompey’s choice to remain unmarried and immersed in the male-dominated corporate world could be seen as a screen to conceal her gender. Pompey clearly traverses the in between realm just as her namesake.

As important as the names are which serve as Pompey’s new suitable name, the name Pompey replaces (and conceals) is equally important: Patience. Pompey states, “Patience I was christened, but later of when I got grown up and out and about in London, I got called Pompey. And it suits me” (Smith 20). Not only does a refusal of the name Patience go against the very act of being patient, it goes against her christened name, and, therefore, against the patriarchy of religion. However, the name does show passivity in that she “got called Pompey” rather than the stealing of her surname as the beginning poem claims. In this instance, Pompey does not inform the reader of the circumstances of how she earned the nickname of Pompey and does not disclose the person who gave her the nickname. It may not seem important; however, if the giver of the nickname was a male, she could just as easily be falling under the rule of the patriarchy again by allowing one of its members to name her. However, in true Pompey fashion, she might have given up the virtue of patience in order to claim the name for all its meretricious decay and elegance that suits her just fine (20).

James, Stephen. “Stevie Smith, ‘A Most Awful Twister’”. Essays in Criticism, vol. 66, no. 2., 2016, pp. 242-259. Project Muse. www. http://eic.oxfordjournals.org/content/66/2/242.full.pdf+html.

Smith, Stevie. Novel on Yellow Paper. Virago Press Ltd. 1936.

 

Better the Devil You Know

I was honestly a little disappointed with the ending of Lolly Willowes. I was reading with the expectation of some great awakening in Laura that would free her from the life she has been forced to live. I thought she was going to be independent, but instead she is merely passed on to another man.

Throughout the novel, Laura is handed from her father, to her brother, then she is briefly alone (but still seeks out a man in the form of Mr. Saunders). When Titus comes to Great Mop, she is once again under the authority of a man. Satan provides her escape from Titus, but still he owns her, she is not independent.

Laura seems to consider belonging to Satan to be a better option; she even seems to think she is free. The choice to become a witch seems to be not a choice at all, but rather something that happens to Laura. She has been chosen by Satan, not the other way around.  Laura’s relationship with Satan reminds me of a captive with Stockholm syndrome and the captor who completely controls his victim. As Naomi mentioned, Satan tells Laura “you are in my power. No servant of mine can feel remorse, or doubt, or surprise…you will never escape me, for you can never wish to” (210). This quote suggests that Laura has no agency and that she can no longer feel anything. She will be happy as a witch because she has no other option.

Satan, in this sense, seems to represent just another member of the patriarchy. A man who takes Laura under his authority. I suppose for a woman like Laura in a society like London in the 1920s there are no options. If she has to be under someone’s control might as well be the devil.