A body of one's own: Representations of women's bodies in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Anne Sexton, and breaking free of the gendering patriarchy
Rowell, D. (2019). A body of one’s own: Representations of women’s bodies in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Anne Sexton, and breaking free of the gendering patriarchy (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13562
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13562
Waxing, shaving, plucking, eye-brow tinting, hair dying, makeup, diets, plastic surgery – if all women were instantaneously in love with their natural bodies, millions of people would be out of work. For centuries, women’s bodies have been sites of patriarchal control: are they too fat, too thin, too loud, too quiet, too modest, too revealing, too innocent, too experienced? The list of dichotomous expectations goes on for miles, but what remains most important is that women act like women, look like women, and are attractive to men. Unfortunately, what it means to be a woman has not been democratically chosen by women – the Western patriarchal power structure has dictated expectations of gender for centuries, and is showing no sign of ceasing. This thesis looks at the representations of women’s bodies, specifically the breast, hands and mouth in the poems of Emily Dickinson and Anne Sexton. Through body-focused language and metaphor, the narrators of the poems illustrate the extreme and debilitating nature of patriarchal control. The reader sees the effects of this control on the bodies and lives of multiple women. Breasts are commodified, idealised and turned into sites of fragmentation, hands are cut-off and stripped of power, and mouths are punished if they attempt to question or raise their voices. The work of several theorists, and viewing the poetry through a feminist Foucauldian lens, reveals the extent to which women’s bodies are focused on, criticised and controlled. Dickinson’s and Sexton’s narrators do offer some light: it is not all doom and gloom. They show that through the narratives of those the patriarchy oppresses, a conversation can begin, a call to rebellion can be sounded, and that even if people are too weak, they can still undermine and subvert power until their voices and bodies are heard – until they can be unshackled from the enforced gender binary the patriarchy uses to control and punish those who are not conformist, white, able, cisgender men. A creative component in the form of a poetry collection, We Wash Our Hands in Fire, is also included in this thesis. The creative work explores many of the themes addressed in the thesis; it seeks to further understand Dickinson’s and Sexton’s poetry by using a poetic medium and lens, and exploring forms similar to those of the two poets. The poetry is also intended to add another voice to the body-focused, rebellious chorus highlighting patriarchal control and challenging it.
The University of Waikato
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