Men’s Idealization of Women Satirizing
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reflected a patriarchal system, where the functions of a woman were motherhood and household duties. Gender and class roles were determined, as a rule, by men. Jonathan Swift, as a satirist, reflected the leading positions of misogyny, almost without hiding it. However, his work The Lady’s Dressing Room contains not only a satire of non-women and the process of their care for themselves. This work analyzes Swift’s work from the point of view of male idealization of the female image, comparing it with Pope’s burlesque The Rape of the Lock in the aspect of the women’s dressing room. In this case, male expectations are a critical point: given the predominance of the patriarchal system, these expectations are fundamental in shaping the image of the ideal woman. However, the satire of the time exposed misconceptions in men’s expectations about the humanity of women and the fact that the sexes have much more in common than they thought.
Through the incredible discoveries of Strephon, Swift’s satire extends not only to women but also to men’s attitudes to these facts. The women’s dressing room is where any woman is left alone with herself, being watched only by servants. The patriarchal system no longer left an island of solitude for ladies. Many secrets of the self-care process are hidden from men, which they do not even think about. They often see women in their best form: after various procedures on the skin, appearance, and in the best clothes without any flaws. However, women are also people with all the natural needs men are endowed with. Men’s expectations set the bar so high for a woman’s appearance and even behavior that men even stopped associating women with human needs, considering it something unacceptable and impossible.
Such surprise is described satirically by Jonathan Swift. The natural smells of the human body and traces of cosmetic activity from the first seconds shock Strephon, who secretly entered the shrine of Celia (Swift 379 5-12). Female beauty, sung by men in various art forms, is given with great difficulty: it takes much time, strictly defined creams and products. Nevertheless, women themselves strive to match male ideals because, in the society of that time, only beauty could distinguish a girl from others. Swift is not so ironic about Celia’s room; he only states the facts, as he does about a man, calling Strephon a rogue (Swift 379 13). More and more frightening images reinforce Strephon’s surprise.
Surprisingly, Swift, with his style, seems to sympathize with the main character, laughing at his amazement far from openly. The decoration and life of the women’s room in the expectations of a man are equated to the standard of beauty that women strive for in their appearance. At the same time, Strephon’s surprise is presented through the prism of deceit and deceit on the part of Celia (Swift 380 17-18, 39-42). Male expectations have created many additional boundaries between a man and a woman, significantly increasing the requirements for the latter, depriving them of the possibility of a typical human manifestation of various needs. Strephon perceives the labor with which Celia’s beauty was achieved not as labor but as the concealment of an unsightly terrible secret that discredits all her beauty.
First of all, the root of Swift’s satire lies precisely in the plane of understanding of discoveries by Strephon. The protagonist is ready to accuse Celia of lying, of involvement in foul deeds inside her room, completely forgetting about her beauty and the fundamental fact that she is also a person, not a goddess. However, the image of the goddess Celia exists only within the framework of society, light, and male expectations that evaluate women with a look. As a rule, attention is not even paid to the personal space of a woman. Consequently, many men do not even wonder how much work it takes to maintain their appearance. Strephon turned out to be one who wondered but was not ready to receive an honest, straightforward answer.
All graphic and even scatological images in The Lady’s Dressing Room are presented with somewhat caricatured but repulsive details. They acquire an ironic nature due to the constant prism of Strephon’s reaction. Comparing the expectations of men and women regarding the true human nature of girls, what is an extreme surprise for the first, for the second is daily worries, the norm. Such a contrast shows how far apart in terms of understanding were men and women during the period of the patriarchal system. Without such awareness, at least at the most primitive level, the progress of acceptance, equality, and humanity concerning the female sex was impossible. Even being a misogynist, Swift did quite a lot of work in this direction, opening the eyes of many men of that time to the women’s humanity.
Such an exit from the status of goddesses brought quite expected disappointment or other negative emotions in men, taken to extremes by Strephon. The male gender faced a paradox: the patriarchal system significantly elevated a man over a woman, while female beauty was often identified with the divine. The debunking of the myth, figuratively, lowered female beauty to the earthly level but at the same time equalized both sexes in their humanity and needs. Swift could write this work to offend the female representatives, to dissuade men of the naturalness of their beauty, but as a global result, the author reduced the gap between the sexes in the patriarchal system.
Detailed descriptions of the images did not even cause Strephon to associate with his waste products. Sweat, dirt, and even Celia’s most fantastic feature for Strephon in her ability to also defecate shock the protagonist (Swift 379 21-24; Swift 381 115-118). This understanding is dearly given to Strephon, who can now not perceive female beauty. This fact is connected not with the fact that the hero has lost his sense of beauty but with the fact that there is a highly unpleasant, long, artificial work, opposed to nature, behind the beauty. ‘Gaudy tulips raised from dung’ were a harsh truth for men of that time, but a high degree of surprise and disgust was dictated solely by the patriarchal system’s initially inhumane and unequal attitudes.
Comparison and Contrast
In his parodic heroic poem The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope also refers to the description of the women’s restroom. Even though both Pope and Swift use the genre of satire, grotesquely exaggerating various aspects of the story, their approaches and goals are fundamentally different. Swift most clearly contrasted the male and female sexes, directly confronting the man with the female way of life and describing his reaction. On the other hand, Pope had the goal of giving an ordinary everyday event an epic scale, concluding with satire and irony, as a rule, in the technique of hyperbole. Sylphs surround the main character with care, hinting just at the religious subtext of female beauty, preserving the image of her sacredness, even emphasizing that this work does not belong to Betty, Belinda’s maid (Pope 555 1.144-148). The Baron’s attack on a particle of this unearthly beauty is somewhat similar to the contrasting motifs in Swift’s narrative, but in this work, they are intentionally depicted in a caricature.
Strephon also wanted to touch the beautiful, imagining that the life of the beautiful Celia would also be full of divine order. Pope depicts this life precisely as it exists in male expectations. However, even in this case, the man strives to break into this shrine with destructive goals. As a result, Strephon in Swift’s work behaved similarly, destroying the divine image of Celia’s beauty. These interpretations suggest that the patriarchal system creates illusory male expectations regarding the female sex, with extremely high demands ready to collapse when the truth is revealed. At the same time, satire, by and large, concerns men; for women, their way of life is not news. As a result, the authors pursued different goals in their literary works, but they turned out to be similar in giving a sacred meaning to female beauty and demonstrated attempts to discredit it. Even if Swift and Pope intended to use satire against the decoration of the powder room, for the most part, the irony touched the foundations of a patriarchal society that shapes the mind of men, which was not ready for the simple truth about humanity of women.
Pope, Alexander. “Rape of the Lock.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: Volume 3: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by Bronte, Black, Joseph, et al., Broadview Press, 2012, pp. 548-562.
Swift, Johnatan. “The Lady’s Dressing Room.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: Volume 3: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by Bronte, Black, Joseph, et al., Broadview Press, 2012, pp. 379-381.