Male vs. Female - Who is better...

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Now before I even start this blog, I just want to say that I only used this extreme title in order to lure you into reading this very interesting blog. In addition, this blog entry is only examining Kolodny's essay and is not referring to a specific gender. Thanks!

"Immediately upon approaching the place, however, the very act of perception becomes sex coded: the men look at the house only to talk "about what had happened," while the women note the geographical topography which makes it, repeatedly in the narrative, "a lonesome-looking place'" (Kolodny 200).

Gender and literature has always been very interesting to me just as religion and literature has been.

Let me take your memory back a couple weeks when we were discussing The Yellow Wallpaper. Remember how many of the females in the class discussed postpartum depression, but many of the males talked about the husband or in my case, the religious symbolism.

It is interesting that specific gender interpretations are based on how something relates to that person. Take a part of the male culture, for example, and think about how they interpret a piece of literature. Usually we think about things that are familiar to us. This may be technology, science, fantasy, or common symbolism. On the other hand, a female may look towards nature, fashion, the perception of the female character, or simply female actions. I am not saying that one gender is better than another, but only that the male and female cultures are different when it comes to interpreting a text.

Moreover, does a text provide a gender bias reading or is that implanted in the text when the author writes a piece of literature?

It is interesting that Kolodny mentions how Perkins and Glaspell's stories are similar in how the male and female characters notate parts of a scene or event. An example would be seen within the quote that I chose above.

Here are a couple questions that I will leave you with.

Does a text have gender related scenarios in order to attract or conform to specific people/genders?

Also, does the reader’s critical lens lend a hand to why male and female genders look for specific literary devices or is it due to the fast-pace movement of today’s 21st century society and how they portray males and females?

Dr. Karen Droisen mentions gender roles in Glaspell and Perkin's stories. About three short paragraphs from the top of the page she mentions these two authors and gender.

Click here for the course web page devoted to Kolodny.

8 Comments

Derek, as usual, you ask some thought-provoking questions. And I definitely think that gender does shape how we perceive the world. And I certainly think that many texts are aimed at either males or females or at least deal with issues that are particularly interesting to that gender.

However, I also believe that Kolodny was putting too much stock in gender radically affecting how people perceive things. I think that at one point in time this was a lot bigger of an issue than it is now. I don’t mean to say that females have no difficulties in modern society (or for that matter that men have none), but I think that being female or male is just one of many factor that affects our perception of things. I talk more about this in my blog on Kolodny’s article; you’re welcome to check it out:
http://blogs.setonhill.edu/GretaCarroll/2009/02/gender_is_not_the_only_factor.html

As for today’s fast-pace society and it’s representation of women and men, I think stereotypes certainly still exist, but they are also different than the ones that existed 100 years ago. Therefore, I think the most important thing is for the reader to be aware that things have changed, so that they don’t view how women or men are represented as strange.

So basically, I think the most important thing is for the reader simply to be aware of this issue and to keep it mind as they read. But, it should not be the only thing the critical reader keeps in mind either. The effect of gender (at least in my opinion) is not more important than race, nationality, or other past experiences that shape the reader’s perspective.

I can see your viewpoint. The same can be seen with racism and how it was a big issue in the past, but has become a much more equal presence in today’s world – but still not fully equal.

I agree with you when you say that stereotypes exist in the world today. Just think about when you talk to someone on the phone. If you’re American then you will get one response, but if you’re foreign then you will, most likely, receive a different response.

Many people in the world today seem to perceive people of different backgrounds as though they are not the same as us. I believe that everyone is equal no matter what and everyone has the opportunity to present a new meaning on something. Take literature, for example, and how it can mean something different to an entire room full of people.

I, too, think that a reader should keep many of these issues in their mind while reading in order to get a well rounded view of the text or author’s meaning.

So, should a reader constantly think about these issues while reading or should they use a formalist approach and analyze the text for what it is?

Hmm, well, I guess as contradictory as it sounds, I think that the reader needs to do both.

I mean, I personally do not think that one should look at the text and nothing else. However, a lot of the techniques which formalists used I think can be carried over into our critiques of a work and be combined with other schools of criticism such as reader-response.

I really believe you need to keep all those things in mind and do a formalist reading. Not only will doing both things help you to provide counterarguments to other readings (since you’ll be keeping in mind what someone else might argue), you’ll also be better able to pick and chose which types of criticism you want to use, and it will help you to see parts of the text you might not otherwise have seen. The problem is that to keep ALL of these things in mind when you read a text is almost impossible. It basically means you have to read the text multiple times, which sometimes is impossible when one is under time constraints.

But, what do you think, Derek? Do you think we should use formalism while we’re reading or should we keep all these other things in mind? Do you think it is possible to combine reader response and formalism effectively?

Very intruiging discussion you two! I think that there are definately labels on literature. They are fixed to appeal to males or females, black or white. If someone else reads it, great, and now the audience has expanded. That is what I found so interesting about O'Connell's essay. It pointed out Stowe's approach versus Melville's. They both have the same aim and moral (according to her) but approach it from two different emotional levels. I'm not saying that men don't have emotions, but generally, women and men do not see a situation the same and that's ok. I like hearing what other people think. I really wish that there were more males in my classes so I could hear a male's perspective more often. I really like having Dr. Jerz, also, because I've noticed that he does not look at literature the same way as the female teachers we have had, including his wife.

I think that the reader just needs to try to channel the "ideal reader" as much as possible. I'm not saying to not read a work and respond like you normally would, but you need to try to stay aware of things that you may often ignore in order to be a better and more rounded reader.

What do you guys think?

In response to Greta:

I think that a reader needs to look at a text for what it is, at first, but then they should refer to the different critical views that many people have.

You present me with an interesting question. I think that when a reader uses formalism on a text, then they are applying reader-response also. Let me try and explain. It is very unlikely that we can be "ideal" readers, but we can be formalists who analyze the text for what it is. So, if I look at a text than am I using reader-response unconsciously? Or are they two separate issues?

In response to Angela:

I think that anyone who reads a text will take away a different meaning. If I read "The Yellow Wallpaper," then I will have one meaning compared to you or anyone else. We may share certain ideas based on how we approached the text, but usually there will be many viewpoints.

I think that males vs. females are an important way to look at how a text receives specific stereotypes. Since most, if not all, women during the 19th century were excluded from working or having the same rights as males, then it a reader from the 21st century would have seen that the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" was being isolated from the world.

Do you believe that history places a "label" on specific texts or do you think that people do?

To both of you:

According to Dr. Droisen, an author places specific roles on characters based on their views of gender or situations.

How do you view a character's role in a text? Do you use reader-response or historical context?

I think that we may be too quickly placing works of literature into certain categories. Granted with novels, there is a specific audience which is frequently being addressed which is distinctly male or female. For instance, I doubt many guys are jumping to read Twilight (although as Angela pointed out, there are guys that like works like this too, and I think that’s great). Yet, at the same time if we look at another form of literature, such as poetry, the blurs between gender lines become more obvious. When it really comes down to it, we are all humans with the same type of feelings and emotions. If you prick us, do we not bleed? I cannot honestly think of any poetry which I would consider truly “male” or “female.” I guess what I’m saying is that while there are differences between males and females, I think they are predominantly attributed to each gender by a historical context and the society in which they live.

Derek, as for your question to me, I think what you’re saying makes sense. I think a lot of it just goes back to formalism being so hard to use by itself. Formalism lends itself to being combined with other schools of criticism. One could easily be doing reader-response through methods of formalism.

Angela, I agree with you that it is always interesting to hear the male perspective on literature and sometimes it is quite different from ours. Yet, at the same time, how can we differentiate what is caused by that person being male and what is caused simply by other life-experiences they have had? I think there are just so many variables that it’s too hard to just pick out gender and say that it’s the answer to all differences of opinion people have in how they view literature. In my experience, guys’ and girls’ perceptions are more similar than they are different. But it is certainly always good to have a male viewpoint for the times when there really is a difference.

As for your last question Derek, I think it would be difficult for an author not to place certain roles on some characters which are based on their views of gender or situations. However, I also think it is perfectly possible for an author to create only characters that radically differ from his/her beliefs in order to get his/her message across. In other words, just because an author creates a very strong female character in a work, does not mean that that author is necessarily a feminist.

As for whether I use reader-response or formalism, lol, I’m going to give you the typical literary non-answer: it depends. I think it’s important that the reader keep both of these things in mind, but which school would be most appropriate in the situation just depends on the work and what one is arguing.

Wow, you guys what a great discussion. Derek this is a compelling entry. The different views that males and females take on literature, or for that matter just about anything, is important. The reason I feel it is important is because it opens up a whole different perspective for each gender, or race if we are looking at racial issues. This could become a huge learning experience for every reader involved, especially if it opens the door to discussions such as this one.

As for reader-response and formalism, I agree with Greta, there is almost a need or requirement, if you will, that we use both to grasp the truth in the literature that we read. I feel formalism is a great school of criticism to go along with these different schools that we have been studying so far. When we combine the different areas of criticism we are giving ourselves more room to manuever within the text.

Cool post you got here. It would be great to read more concerning that topic.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Derek Tickle published on February 20, 2009 6:57 PM.

Comparing Truth with Language - Which do Poems Express? was the previous entry in this blog.

A Reader Must Stay on Course is the next entry in this blog.

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