10 October 2014
The Female Struggle Against Male Dominant 1960’s Society
In an era where men seemed to dominate in the workplace, the home front and virtually every other aspect of life, women were expected to adopt the submissive role. They were encouraged to look, act and think a certain way that exuded femininity. The bar was set unrealistically high. Margaret Atwood brings to light the struggle for women battling external forces but more importantly their inner demons. Some succumb while others break free. In the novel The Edible Woman Margaret Atwood cleverly deflates the heightened ideals of femininity by exposing the raw realities of society in the 1960’s.
The ideal image of motherhood and marriage is demystified through the character of Clara. Through Clara, Atwood focuses on the roles of mother and wife as a representation of femininity in society. She achieves this by exposing the ugly truth about children and marriage alike. While the idea of the “perfect mother” is directly connected to femininity in the 1960’s, through Clara, Atwood gives insight to the realities of raising children with statements such as, “I don’t see how anyone can love their children till they start to be human beings again” [Atwood34]. Atwood exposes the inner female struggle of domestic woman verses educated woman. Although Clara is in a loving, nurturing marriage, her husband Joe feels as though”…it’s harder for any woman who’s been to university. She gets the idea she has a mind, her professors pay attention to what she has to say, they treat her like a thinking human being; when she gets married her core gets invaded….” The inner turmoil causes Clara such angst, that she appears to lose her core. She is not able to focus on reading or go back to her studies, nor is she able to fully submerge herself into being a dedicated mother. She is in a perpetual state of purgatory. Although Clara seemingly conforms to the ideals of society through her role as mother and wife, Atwood reveals that she is bitter and unhappy; she merely exists in this predetermined feminine role.
Atwood continues to deflate the idea of femininity through the character of Ainsley. Where Clara exists in involuntary conformity, Ainsley appears to reject these ideals. In the beginning Ainsley is the antithesis of the ideal woman in the 1960’s. Ainsley’s image is painted perfectly through the description of her belongings in her apartment. Marian says that, “…the bright paper flowers were Ainsley’s; so were the ashtrays and the inflatable plastic cushions with geometric designs” [Atwood43]. Ainsley is a flashy dressing, scotch drinking, opinionated woman who is a juxtaposition to the demure and proper ideal woman of the 1960’s. Her habits and mannerisms would be classified (by society) as masculine. The only time in which she exploits the feminine role is when she uses it as a tool to manipulate the opposite sex. She is cunning and calculating in the way she chooses to be “feminine”. In the ending chapters of the novel Atwood astutely uses reversal convention on the character of Ainsley. She subtly alters Ainsely’s view on society, until in the end she surrenders to society’s expectations.
Through the main character Marian, Atwood exposes the complex journey of liberation from society’s gender expectations. The reader witnesses the obvious and intricate transformation of Marian. Atwood introduces her, as the opinionated woman who is voiceless; in contrast to Ainsley, Marian does not question society. In the beginning of the novel Marian quickly takes on a submissive role in all of her relationships, an example of this is: her signing of the pension plan at Seymour’s; this action directly displays her fear of authority. Perhaps, the most evident proof of submission is the quickly developing relationship between her and Peter.