Friday, November 25, 2011

Male vs. Female Sexuality

I know we've discussed sexuality a number of different ways and times throughout the semester, so I want to ask what everyone thinks about how the topic has developed. Specifically, how does sexuality compare in books with male (Robinson Crusoe, Tristram Shandy) protagonists versus those with female (Fantomina, Pamela, etc.) protagonists? Think about how the (potential) presence of these issues affects this topic:
  • The order of the syllabus (reading Crusoe for our first primary novel, for instance)
  • Presence of homo-eroticism primarily in male-oriented stories
  • Use of female-oriented stories as "moralizing stories"
  • Sexual innuendo
This is a very wide open topic - but I'm thinking that Tristram Shandy and Fantomina/Pamela would be good places to start in terms of sources.


  1. Personally, I think that the most interesting male-female comparison comes in looking at Robinson Crusoe and The Female American. Because the stories themselves are so alike, it makes comparing the gender dynamics that much more compelling. In my opinion, Unka only acheives such high status on the island by forsaking those characteristics traditionally considered feminine. For example, she asserts authority in the form of a male statue in which she lowers the pitch of her voice so as not to hurt her own ears. She also takes on the traditionally male role of colonizer, preacher, and political leader on the island. In fact, the only truly feminine role she portrays is that of a wife at the very end, and even within that role, she is still seen to exercise the most agency; her husband is dependent on her; he is in lover with her. She's only in it because it's what's expected of her.
    In contrast, Robinson is more similar to Pamela in that he makes exhaustive lists, is more open with his struggles of faith, and seems to fail a lot more often than he succeeds. Moreover, he only manages to convert one person rather than an entire island of people, and he is constantly fearful of his surroundings.

    What do you make of this comparison (Unka and Robinson); who do you find more masculine, and what do you see as the consequences of those gender roles within the novels?

  2. This is interesting because you raised a point that I believe would also go well with Jesse's earlier post about homosociality. The fact that Crusoe only converted one person speaks to the level of male intimacy within his story, which I believe shows a more feminine side to his book. I feel that Unka is the more masculine character because she challenges social roles that affect entire populations. Crusoe only had to challenge his father's opinion, which his brothers already had done. He followed their lead, while Unka could be considered a leader of men.

    One thing that I find interesting is the lack of overt sexuality in either story. While Pamela and other stories are focused on "moralizing," these two are dominated by class struggles rather than sex. What do you think this says about the character comparison? Personally, I would expect a lack of sexuality in a male based story because the female texts are considered moralizing texts. It seems that authors believed that female readers needed to learn how to navigate the class roles of society, while males already knew how. I think the lack of sexuality in FA comes as a surprise, and makes us view Unka as a more masculine character. Also, the gender roles in these stories are less rigid in the latter half because each character is on an island nation that is far away from their home. They are allowed to impose their own standards, which allows us to see their true natures.

  3. I think Robinson Crusoe, and subsequently The Female American, stand out as novels amongst all the novels we've read this semester. Sexuality has played a huge part in all of the novels we have read because it plays a huge role in regular society. Sexual attraction and interaction is fundamental to how we interact with others and so forth. Typically, we see the male protagonists are more forward with their sexual attraction because at the time, it wasn't considered "ladylike" to express emotions like that. But, in some instances like Fantomina vs. Pamela, we can see a very large difference in this expectation. Fantomina is a woman who is very open about her sexuality, while Pamela is not. Likewise, Beauplaisir and Squire B play the role of opposites, one who is not as forward and the one that is very forward, respectively.

    What I found interesting was a lot of the "moralizing" stories for women were almost de-moralizing. Essentially they just told women to hold out until they were married and then anything goes. It sort of made women solely good for sex and bearing children. Obviously I'm looking at this from a more 21st Century view, but I still think that they are demoralizing. Fantomina is shunned, so to speak, because she is so open about her sexuality while Pamela is celebrated for holding out until marriage.

    Sexual innuendos I thought were more prevalent in these 18C novels we read than some of the books that I read today. It's interesting that sex and sexuality was more hush hush back then, but was written about more. Perhaps because the time was more quiet about sex that sexual innuendos were...I wouldn't say more common, but were definitely expressed more often in literature than they are now.

  4. I agree that the role of "sexuality" and gender is most prevalent in the comparison between "The Female American" and "Robinson Crusoe". Since these stories have such similar plots and settings, we can more easily compare the role of the female as a leader, versus that of a male. I agree with what was said by Keena about the amount of people both Crusoe and Unka converted gives Unka more leverage as a "peaceful" figure who makes sacrifice, while I found much of Crusoe's narrative to be self-involved. This does make Crusoe's role much more "feminine" than Unka's, since he has less "success". Many literary analysts and critics have actually referred to Crusoe's role as the beginning of the "domesticating" role of the eighteenth century.
    I also think it is interesting that in many of the novels we have read, women are used as the tools for the "moralizing" of the stories. The lessons we learn as readers tend to be taught through the mistakes of the female protagonists. The only story in which morals are taught through the male are "Robinson Crusoe", which is greatly devoid of any female characters, and "Tristram Shandy", which draws interestingly on the male figure as the figure of perfection. Through many of these novels, we see female figures as being weak, flawed, and emotionally unstable, while the male figures are level headed and wise.
    In addition, a good number of the eighteenth century novels we have read moralize around the idea of sexuality and virtue, which is constantly the indicator of "goodness" in a character. What then, is the moralizing standard for the male characters, seeing as this "virtue" is never applied to their own sexuality. Eighteenth century novels bring out many interesting questions of gender, and like previously mentioned, the issues of sex and sexuality are not treaded on lightly; they are obviously apparent in many of the novels we have read.

  5. In response to Dayna's final point, I think that open sexuality was deemed a "burden" that a man would face so a woman wouldn't have to. Although it would put women in often uncomfortable positions, a male character could theoretically handle the negative public opinion he would receive if his display of sexuality was inappropriate. Take our class's general relationship with Squire B for example. Most people hated his character in our class discussions. However, if he were a real person, our focus would be on his actions rather than Pamela's - which is something an 18th century author would believe he is better suited to handle than her. Since we probably wouldn't know the full story, we wouldn't judge Pamela for going back to him.

    This is not to justify Squire B's actions, but the idea does epitomize the flawed male character a little bit more. Rather than presenting some perfected view of a man, as you pointed out we see in Shandy, it shows the idea of a man being a man and handling the social dirty work. Even in Female American, Unka has to use underhanded tactics in her attempts to display masculinity. She needs to deceive the natives by using the statue of their own religion against them in order to gain their trust. This affirms the idea that a masculine character must be prepared to push social lines and risk criticism in order to be truly masculine - which pushes the idea of the perfect man more toward the flawed man rather than Shandy's image of a perfect man. Sexuality as a moralizing tool (for males), in this case, is one that is oft overlooked because it is not the primary function of a male's role in 18th century society.

  6. I'm not sure that I agree that Squire B's actions prove that he was willing to take on societal criticism in place of Pamela. I don't think that the male characters in the novels we've read this semester purposefully used underhanded tactics or partook in scandalous behaviors to benefit the female characters or exempt them from societal scorn. Rather, I think eighteenth century authors wrote slightly dangerous male characters because it was unthinkable for a woman, or at least a female heroine who readers would admire or seek to emulate, to behave in that manner.

    Furthermore, I don't think it's the pushing of these boundaries that proves masculinity. The opposite may be true for women (staying within these boundaries does prove femininity and virtue), admirable male characters, like Lord Orville for instance, refrain from stepping outside the lines of propriety, yet assert more masculinity than other risky characters. In my opinion, the Female American, rather than supporting the existing methods of masculine/feminine expression, tends to break them down.

    I think Keena was very right in pointing out that Unka is more or less devoid of sexuality, which, interestingly enough, does result in her seeming more masculine. I think this is exactly what makes the Female American not fit within the bounds of typical eighteenth century fiction. Unka doesn't exude masculinity because she's willing to break down societal limitations, but because the new roles she takes on are those that were typically consigned to males.

  7. I think what's more telling about sexuality in these novels is the differences of the portrayal of sexuality between novels written by women vs. men. For my final assignment, I am reading a book that explores desire and female novelists in the 18th century. The author claims that female novelists used desire to create a sort of "self" for their female characters. For me, male authors, like Sterne or Richardson, write female sexuality from a completely different perspective. Burney's novel used Evelina as means to form a fully developed young woman who did desire a man. I think that we tend to forget the author's sometimes when we read novels and I think it's extremely important to remember the different intents and experiences that female authors had compared to men. Sexuality is definitely a point where I feel the two groups would separate. Female authors had a particular stake in what they were writing for they still served a subordinate role in society and creating a strong female self would be especially important. Sexuality became a tool for creating female selves.

    The Female American and Robinson Crusoe are good examples of this. Being written by a woman, The Female American obviously had a difference purpose with sexuality versus sexuality in Robinson Crusoe. Unca's character was almost asexual to create a woman with a strong sense of self.

  8. Taylor, I don't think that any of these characters intentionally tried to protect feminine values or characters, but this turned out to be their roles because of their brash actions. Their role was one they filled as a necessity to create a definite gender boundary for both genders. Thinking about it, I guess this interpretation is limited to certain characters, but this type of character was necessary to do such things.

  9. I think that Unca is supposed to be the Prototype for the traditional American woman, she is the only woman that we have read so far who doesn't need a man to survive, she replaces her need for sex onto other mediums like converting natives to Christianity which is important for British colonization. She has other focuses besides men which is how the American woman is typically viewed as; super-independent and no need of a man. However if you compare Unca to Evelina who i sopposed to sex with anyone besides her husband, Unca seems more likely to be open about the topic of sex becasue of her agency. I would imagine if Unca were to bring up the topic of sex it would be more businesslike than romantic.