The Decameron: Misogynist or Feminist?

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The Decameron: A Feminist or Misogynist text?
Giovanni Boccaccio is one of the leading Italian writers in the 1300s and has been considered as the father of Italian writing style through his composition of one hundred novelle. The Decameron continuously pictures women not as the objects of discussion but as the active producers and interpreters of their actions. Women are portrayed as they are or as they should be; they are shown to be as aggressive as men are while at the same time they can be submissive whenever they need to be. In many instances, Boccaccio depicts women as protagonists who do not readily accept the traditional role – being subservient to men and having no voice in the male-dominated society–, make their own decisions, and are ready to face the consequences of their choices. Boccaccio also uses the fictional protagonists to imply that women need to stand up for themselves to gain equality in the society. His representation of women is undoubtedly a characteristic of a feminist text (Lalwani). Yet, The Decameron is also interpreted by some people, who think that men are superior to women, as stories depicting a mildly misogynistic view of women because they think Boccaccio wanted women that do not readily accept the traditional role to receive a barrage of criticism; however, such myopic interpretation of The Decameron is absurd because Boccaccio did not portray women in a despicable or reprehensible manner, but praised their decisions to act against the traditional role. In order to prove that Boccaccio’s work is a feminist text, this paper will look at the stories that Dianeo, Pampinea, and the queen share to show that The Decameron is not a conflicting collection of misogynistic and feministic narratives but purely a feminist text. Boccaccio uses the voice of his raconteur Dioneo to signify his thoughts on the tension between maleness and femaleness in the story of Ricciardo (X, II). Boccaccio’s depiction of Ricciardo’s wife may appear radical at first: she pretends that she has never met Ricciardo, her husband, before in the court so that she could live with Paganino of Monaco; it can be tempting to think that the portrayal of Messer Ricciardo’s wife evokes misogynistic feeling because lying is reprehensible. After cautious contemplation, however, it develops clearly that the story of Ricciardo is, in fact, a feministic text. Her action cannot be used to indicate that this story is misogynistic because Boccaccio uses the element of immorality to imply that even though inappropriate behavior shown by Ricciardo’s wife cannot be justified, her decision to lie in the court is based on free choice and, thus, constitute the greatest freedom she deserves. When she meets Ricciardo in private, she says, “Life with you was all loss and no gain as far as I was concerned,” (Boccaccio 185) attesting to the fact that she was not treated with respect and love that she deserved. Her actions show strength of the women of the Florentine society by showing the resolve against Ricciardo and by standing up against her husband’s treatment. She defied the traditional role that women needed to be subservient to her husband and made a decision to stay with a man that she truly loved. Moreover, this clearly indicates that the consensus of the women at the time was to be loved and to be treated well by their husbands because she expresses her disgust at Ricciardo’s treatment. Her action is a rebellion and power struggle against men who probably had upper social standing in the society as gender played a vital role in Boccaccio’s era. Boccaccio accounts the distressed strategy of a woman trapped in the wrong position at the wrong occasion to praise the radical action that Ricciardo’s wife takes to get away from Ricciardo. Her defiance against the tradition that women need to be subservient and submissive is a living proof that the story of Ricciardo serves to validate the claim that The Decameron is a feminist text. By...
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