Grading Feminist Theory
The poem “Marks” by Linda Pastan is a short piece that focuses on a housewife’s duties being graded by her family as if it were her homework. The wife is graded by her husband, son and daughter using different three grading systems, each time being told that she could do better, but ends by saying that the family should “Wait ‘til they learn / I’m dropping out” (10-11). In an interview on “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer” with Jeffrey Brown in 2003, Pastan said that “I think I've always been interested in the dangers that are under the surface, but seems like simple, ordinary domestic life. It may seem like smooth surfaces, but there are tensions and dangers right underneath, and those are what I'm trying to get at.” This poem reveals the same attitude that Pastan has towards domesticity and is screaming out for a feminist criticism. By examining traditional gender roles, the way that society defines femininity through this poem, how the woman is portrayed in the eyes of her family and the idea of the good girl/bad girl opposition, some hidden agendas of the poem are introduced through a feminist criticism. In the 1960s, the feminist movement started to renew the “old tradition of thought and action already possessing its classic books which had diagnosed the problem of women’s inequality in society, and (in some cases) proposed solutions” (Barry 121). The
Tuohy 2 theory then “became a dominant force in Western literary studies in the late 1970s” (Murfin 158). Feminist criticism today is “one of the most vital currents on the contemporary academic scene. And our literary history is being substantially rewritten, not only through the presentation of neglected works by women…but also by the inclusion of a growing body of important work by contemporary women writers” (Birkerts 1651). It is one of the most rapidly growing areas of literary study. Feminist critics “believe that a powerful dynamic underlies our social conditions…Feminist critics look to the radically unequal distribution of power among genders” (Birkerts 1650). The three major areas of study for feminist theory are, according to Beginning Theory by Peter Barry: 1) the role of theory; 2) the nature of language; and 3) the value or otherwise of psychoanalysis (123). In each of these areas, the relationship with feminism is explored. The role of feminist theory is to explore the ways that females have been represented in literature. Feminists also try to establish a more feminine way of writing, which is more flowing and graceful than the traditional male-dominated writing style. They also strive to disprove Freud’s theory of penis envy in terms of the actual organ and use the term “social castration” to show the same idea of women not holding the power in society. Feminist theorists strive mostly to break the binary opposition that is male/female. In each set of binary oppositions, they are “hierarchically structured; reason, for instance, is valued over emotion by the masculine-dominated culture” (Murfin 158). In this opposition, male is valued higher than female, which accounts for the masculine centered society. “Marks” strives to show that male should not be the higher opposition; in fact, they should be valued the same.
Tuohy 3 In this poem, the speaker and her family seem to adhere to the traditional gender roles that exist in society. Nancy Chodorow, who is quoted in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, “challenges the assumption that is it in women’s nature or biological destiny to ‘mother’ in the broader sense, arguing that the separation of home and workplace brought about by capitalism and the ensuing Industrial Revolution made mothering appear to be essentially a woman’s job in modern Western society” (185). Although these gender roles have existed previously, they really showed up after the Industrial Revolution because many men started to work...