Macho Lit: Taming Female Protagonists

Patriarchy is as old as dirt. Naturally, classic literature is teeming with themes that celebrate virility and the male entitlement to “tame” the “shrew”.  Shakespeare, Shaw, (Jane) Austen, and the Bronte sisters were prolific in their macho fiction. Whether played straight or as a satire of macho doctrines, these works often beguie the reader into thinking that the “damsel” needs rescuing, a makeover, or both.

Genesis: Rachel sacrifices herself emotionally by marrying a liar, manipulator, and (psychologically) sibling-killer (who is already married to her sister). Then, she dies, after bearing his son.

The Odyssey: Penny, Penny, Penny… Why did you have to waste your energy and kindness on a pig, who abandoned you for twenty-five years? That guy’s a pig! (Almost a literal one, thanks to Circe).

Taming of the Shrew: Kate doesn’t want you, Petrucchio. Give it a rest!

Othello: Desdemona tragically falls for Othello’s bad-boy, RnB seduction techniques (possibly witchcraft). Othello is a typical abuser and womanizer (having schtupped Iago’s wife Emilia, earlier). Iago’s wrath is somewhat justified but not by making poor Desdemona the sacrificial lamb!

Pygmalion/My Fair Lady: Butt out, ‘Enry ‘Iggins. Eliza is fine, just as she is.

Jane Eyre: Jane, you stood your ground for so long. Why did you decide to give in to that emotional bruiser Rochester, with the crazy ex living right upstairs?

Wuthering Heights: Perhaps Cathy had a genuine physical illness, but the emotional manipulation from Heathcliff definitely exacerbated her condition.

Antony and Cleopatra: Cleo, you were successful enough, as is. The people of Egypt adored you! Why throw your life to the asps on behalf of two adulterers (Julius and Marcus)?

Turandot: Sure, the princess did not need to send every single suitor to the chopping block. The one, who did deserve it, was the surviving Caliph: His rejection of Liu (Turandot’s servant) led to the poor girl’s torture and death.

Madame Butterfly: Poor Cio-Cio-san! She could have lived a long and honorable life, if not for that jerk Pinkerton. All he wanted was some RnR with a happy ending, and Cio-Cio-san became his all-too-willing victim.

Miss Saigon: Madame Butterfly’s “American” remake

Swan Lake: Siegfried and Odette fall for each other but can’t be together. Odette suffers a sorcerer’s touch and becomes a swan. Evil queen Odille impersonates Odette, forcing Siegfried to kiss her and not his beloved. Odette, stuck as a swan, decides to commit suicide.

Yuukoku/ The Art of Love and Death: Mishima Yukio’s final stage play is a harbinger of his own demise. Takeyama Shinji decides to commit seppuku instead of betraying either his friends, who staged a failed coup or the Emperor, the coup’s target. Shinji’s bride, Reiko, is forced to accept her fate and join in by committing jig.

Kadosh: People in a small Orthodox town continue to live in a primeval bubble, while surrounded by the 2000’s. Rebecca and Meir’s life is a fairytale: an arranged marriage based on love, going on for fourteen years. The townsfolk has other plans: They see the childless union as a sin, thus forcing Meir to banish Rebecca to a tiny apartment and give twelve ceremonial dunks to a new, fertile bride. Rebecca faces the devastation with dignity– a bit too much dignity, perhaps. She doesn’t put up a fight but takes her own life, instead. All Meir can do is discreetly rush to her new home ands beg her to wake up… to no avail.

*** Comedic Examples:

SATC: Charlotte decides to convert, in order to marry Harry. She does so, out of love, but still…

Keeping the Faith: Anna gets all giddy after sleeping with childhood friend Jake and secretly decides to convert for him. Jake, meanwhile, won’t even acknowledge that she’s his girlfriend and instead keeps her at arm’s length as a f**kbuddy. Anna, you’re a free-spirited go-getter! What the heck?

*** A real-life example: the atrocious practice of having widows commit suttee (self-immolation upon the husband’s funeral pyre)