Gender roles. Sticky topic aye? All that patriarchy nonsense with men on top, women on bottom (not in the fun way either). If you don’t understand it, don’t fret. You’re not alone, you are also probably apart of the 41% of people supporting Donald Trump. Clearly you do not know any better, but it’s okay I am here to help. Today I am going to explain this concept by illustrating where gender roles were at in the 1960’s and 1990’s through the analysis and comparison of two Gwen Harwood poetry; “In The Park” and “Later Texts: I”. But let me guess, you’re not exactly Shakespeare when it comes to thinking about poetic techniques (fun fact: when shakespeare was 18 he married a 26 year old woman who was three months pregnant! Scandalous.) Well buddy old pal, in reference to poetic techniques I have your back. I’ll break it down nice and simple just for you, it will be like biting into a nicely baked sexist, patriarchal red velvet cupcake (clearly Trumps favourite flavour), Yum! After that I am even going to explain where gender roles are at now and where it is headed in the next five years, Yay! That means thinking is optional for you, not that you Trump supporters make most of that option anyway.
How many times have you told your female friends to “Go make me a sandwich”? Whilst it’s a funny joke when you’re about 12 or you say it ironically it’s a big part of the stereotyping of women. It was long thought that a woman’s primary role in life was to stay home and provide for her husband, be that in the means of yes, making him many, many sandwiches and providing him with babies (although I dare you to tell the next woman you see to “Go make me a baby”) and later on caring for these babies. Gwen Harwood is an Australian writer who criticised these traditional ideologies and reflected on advancements in feminism during the 60’s in her sonnet “In The Park” under the pseudonym Walter Lehman. We can assume she uses this pseudonym to protect her identity from antifeminist groups and even for her to get her work published as it was very difficult for a woman to get her work published during this time period. ‘Glitter is like…my favourite colour’, I have taken this wonderfully worded answer from Miss Carolina herself to open up your mind to the exploitation and dehumanisation of women in which Harwood references “Her clothes are out of date”. I am of course talking about beauty pageants, if you’re a little slow just like our good friend Carolina. These are over dramatised parades which feature half naked women strutting their dolled up bodies like Barbie after a hit of ecstasy (and a two year long anorexia battle) and are about as controversial as the ‘Growing Up Skipper Barbie’ (if you twisted her arm her boobs got bigger, was meant to teach the kids about puberty or something). By suggesting that the protagonists clothes are out of date Harwood is challenging the stereotyped view of women being useless and dumb by suggesting that this attitude is out of date.
This of course links on to the 1968 Miss America protest, enacted by New York Radical Women aimed at liberation for women and brought widespread media coverage bigger than Kanye’s ego. Now the point of this blog is to discuss gender roles so now I have outlined the attitude of men and how women are presented as being dumb we can move on to their roles in family. Harwood mentions the protagonist to have three children, no mention of a male figure until the end of stanza one leading into stanza two “Too late to feign indifference to that casual nod” this enchantment captured the reader’s attention up until the man speaks (ugh, men) “But for the grace of God..”, he is essentially denying any responsibility he has for these children by praising God that he did not have a family with this woman. Ruuuuudddeee. Furthermore “flickering lights” create an ironic romantic image to a scene that for all other considerations is very unromantic because the man is literally abandoning her, but this of course is all part of a woman’s job during these times. She resides submissive to the male figure and focuses on the job of a woman, motherhood, “it’s so sweet to hear the chatter, watch them grow”, “rehearsing the children’s names”, and yet Harwood criticizes this by outlining how draining the chore is for the protagonist “They have eaten me alive”. Her children have sucked the life out from her, stripped her of her identity and dehumanised her much like how the beauty pageants do.
Coincidence? I think not.
Next item on the agenda is “Later Texts: I” and this solely focuses on the shift in values from the aforementioned in the 60’s to the 90’s, again I’m going to be referencing some literary devices SO DO NOT FALL ASLEEP, I promise to make this interesting for you. It starts off with a familiar line “She sits in the park”, OMG it’s almost like Harwood is using intertextuality to link this one as a kind of sequel?!?! However it’s apparent that the protagonist (we can assume it’s the same woman from context of the poem) regrets writing the previous text and “Better the memoirs of a mad sex kitten” during the 90’s this ideal sex life the protagonist wishes for reflects on the accessibility of oral contraception and abortion clinics became more widespread. The removal of a pseudonym allows Harwood to accept the credibility of her name and work, “The sonnet nestles in a new anthology” poetry and writing are Harwoods life and this is reflected as the protagonist discusses this profession rather than being a mother. In 1990 the Riot Grrrl movement in Olympia sought to give women power and control of their artistic expression which gave empowerment to women seeking not only careers but artistic ones such as the protagonist of “In The Park” outlines and in which Gwen Harwood experiences. “Later Texts: I” is further linked to “In The Park” as the intertextuality “…flickering lights…” are mentioned, however in this instance the male character that appears “Stop You bloody fool! A young house father” is there and takes ownership and responsibility of his child which symbolises the actions men take that they are to account for, “Cursing a child who’s pushed another in the pool…” in 1991 the TailHook Scandal occurred and involved US Navy and Marine Corps who engaged in ‘indecent’ behaviour (that woohoo option on sims after you’ve spent 20 mins using cheats to get flirty enough) and were made accountable. This time around the father is also presented as being an important figurehead in children’s life, an understanding that Vice President Dan Quayle brought to attention when he criticised the decision of Murphy brown in 1992, a fictional TV character portrayed by Candice Bergen for mocking the importance of a father bearing a child alone, and calling it just another life choice. This movement of gender roles within the household is portrayed in “Later Texts: 1” as a positive progression from the oppression of women in the 60’s to the 90’s.
Almost* over. Almost* done. I know what you are thinking dear friend, why has this crazy woman been droning on for approx 1235 words analysing pointless poetry by Gwen Harwood for no good reason now? Maybe you have found this interesting, to tell you the truth I have tried to make it bearable for you. Maybe I’m desperately trying to finish this at 8:46 pm, these are just things we will never know. Just like we don’t completely know where the concept of gender roles are headed in the next five years from now but using the analysis from Gwen Harwood we can have an idea. For myself, in the next five years I see development in equality happening at a much faster rate than previous decades due to the increasing number of children being raised in families who are pro equality and pro choice, I do not however see a near time period in which women will not be shamed for sexual encounters or where sexist jokes will not be considered funny. Furthermore I have used similar poetic techniques that Harwood has encaptured in her poems exploring gender roles in the 1960’s and then again in the 1990’s to present with you an idea of where gender roles are currently at in present day society. Enjoy!
She sits on the bench. Tugging at her short skirt
The train rushes by, ejaculated
Quick Up the rails that ascend from the dirt
Disciples catch her attention, sated
but hungry from the events of last night
The memory consumes her, eats her alive
“God look at her now, she can’t be too tight”
The mocking, the taunting. Will she survive
Through the events they have caused, yes they were
there. They must have forgotten for she cops
all the shame. Train lights flicker, then comes to
A halt. Once last glance, and fixes her slur-
ring though, a single grind and then it stops
Holds her head high, ChooChoo.