Do Women Need to Unsex Themselves to Gain Power? : Forgotten Womanhood, Capitalism and Clashes of Class in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls Ayça ATAKAN DENİZ
‘’Unsex me here’’ (Macbeth, Act I, Scene 5, 46)
Why did Lady Macbeth want to be unsexed and leave her womanhood behind in a play written by Shakespeare at the beginning of 17th century? What was her purpose when she asked this from the spirits? The answer is definite: power. All she wanted was being as powerful as a man. She wanted her excessive womanly feelings of compassion and fear to be taken away from her and to be transformed into a warrior. This was her vivid way of asking to be stripped of feminine weakness and invested with masculine resolve. Throughout the ages, women have symbolized weakness, redundant feeling of mercy and fear which have become stumbling blocks in front of their ability to gain power both in ruling and in business world. Without doubt, another reason for this was repression by male dominated, patriarchal world. However, as far as the findings of materialist feminism are concerned, it has been possible to observe that women could be transformed into cruel, man – like creatures and torture other women once they gain power in business world as a result of the sharp capitalist system. In this sense, materialist feminism tries to underline the role of the class and history in making the oppression over the women and in a way admits that although women are bounded with a term of ‘’sisterhood’’ they oppress each other when they are in different classes. In other words this refers to the collapse of sisterhood. Are these women really sisters or can they be transformed into enemies under the influence of capitalism and search for power? Materialist or socialist feminism emphasizes the differences which particularly refer to the social and economic differences between women, by positioning the gender oppression in the analysis of class and class differences. Radical feminism tends to deal with women’s oppression that lie in patriarchy and patriarchal male dominated world, materialist feminism deals with socio – political structures and historical and material conditions to explain gender oppression: From a materialist perspective women’s experiences cannot be understood outside of their specific historical context, which includes a specific type of economic organization and specific developments in national history and political organization. Contemporary women’s experiences are influenced by high capitalism, national politics and worker’s organizations such as unions and collectives. (Case, 1988) This point of view contains historical, political and especially economic dimensions as involving in the oppression of women and viewing women abused by capitalism and class differences. In other words, material feminism emphasizes the main and problematic differences between classes.
In Caryl Churchill’s play, Top Girls (1982), which was written during the tough application of capitalist system in Britain by ‘’Iron Lady’’ Margaret Thatcher, the abovementioned collapse of sisterhood is clearly observed. Since the play has no parts for male characters, it concentrates exclusively on the experiences of women. (Case, Sue Ellen, Feminism and Theatre, p.86) However, before dealing with these experiences and discussing on the play, the era which was used as the background of the play should be known and internalized.
Representation of Super Woman in Thatcher’s Britain
Many of the ideas and issues approached in Top Girls could be understood and interpreted more relevantly when placed in and examined according to the period when it appeared. The play was produced and performed in 1982, during the first years of Margaret Thatcher’s first term as Prime Minister of United Kingdom. She was later named by media as ‘’Iron Lady’’ for her toughness in speech. She was elected as Prime Minister in 1979 while she...