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Feminism in Macbeth. Germaine Greer. In 1970, Germaine Greer was one of the biggest “voices” in the feminist movement Her novel, The Female Eunuch (pronounced yoo -nah and meaning ‘castrated man’) was a best seller and is still seen as a “feminist handbook”

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germaine greer
Germaine Greer

In 1970, Germaine Greer was one of the biggest “voices” in the feminist movement

Her novel, The Female Eunuch (pronounced yoo-nah and meaning ‘castrated man’) was a best seller and is still seen as a “feminist handbook”

The text examines the historical definitions of women’s perception of self and used this to critique modern consumer societies, female “normality” and masculine shaping of stereotypes

negativity and feminism
Negativity and Feminism

In the 1960s and 1970s, feminism was about empowerment and fighting for equality

Feminists, in general, are looking for a fairer society in terms of the restrictions and expectation of gender

In the 1990s, some people in society started to view feminism in a very negative way

The term “feminazi’ was coined

Originally this was meant to describe a particularly militant feminist, but it has very negative consequences (just think about the connotations of the word Nazi!)

feminist criticism
Feminist Criticism

When we, as readers, examine a text through a feminist discourse, it is not our job to judge feminism as a movement

What we actually do, is apply some feminist theories to the text we are reading and develop an argument based on whether a particular text can be read through a feminist lens

feminism and macbeth
Feminism and Macbeth

Lady Macbeth tries to take on masculine characteristics or qualities, in an effort to make herself stronger

In doing this, she belittles Macbeth by attacking his masculinity

She often tells Macbeth to “be a man” whilst wishing she could literally “be a man” as women are too “soft” to commit murders

feminism and macbeth1
Feminism and Macbeth

Macbeth depicts a gender reversal

The roles that men and women play are questioned: What is it to be masculine? What is it to be feminine?

We see that Lady Macbeth emasculates her husband by insinuating (and sometimes outright stating) that he is not acting as a man should

This perpetuates a commonly held belief that a man lacking physical power, strength and will is a sissy (or a woman) and therefore he loses respect.

a feminist criticism
A Feminist Criticism

In light of these examples, it is very easy to see how a feminist reading of Macbeth is possible

Given that feminists desire equality between genders, Lady Macbeth’s belief that only men can be strong, brave and cruel enough to commit murder perpetuates gender stereotypes, for example;

Woman are not as strong as men

Women are supposed to be submissive and do as they’re told

Women are meant to be the damsel in distress: never the hero

feminist criticism cont
Feminist Criticism cont…

In contrast to this, Macbeth breaches some commonly held masculine stereotypes, for example;

Men are in charge; they are always at the top

As husbands, men tell their wives what to do

In this way, we can see that Shakespeare is subverting “traditional” gender roles or stereotypes in Macbeth.

how can we argue through a feminist discourse
How can we argue through a feminist discourse?

To present a strong argument for a feminist reading of Macbeth we must outline our parameters of what is included in “feminism”

We must provide specific examples from the text AND from feminist theory

We must ensure we develop a thesis statement that “closes the loopholes”- in other words, an argument that is clear and defines you position

an example
An Example

According to dictionary.com, feminism is a ‘doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men’ (ref). Feminists are concerned with the ways in which gender stereotypes are perpetuated and supported throughout society, including via literature (ref). Many texts in the literary cannon can be viewed with a feminist discourse in mind. Juliet Dusinberre claims that “in the sixteenth century the idea that women had consciences which might operate independently from men’s, might even judge and oppose the male conscience, was revolutionary” (ref). With this in mind, it is clear that the way in which Shakespeare plays with ‘traditional’ gender roles in Macbeth was revolutionary. Through Lady Macbeth, Macbeth and Macduff, Shakespeare subverts and calls into question many gender assumptions. Of course, the way in which women are presented as trouble makers (and the obvious link this holds with the Bible: the way that Eve ‘caused’ the exile of mankind vs. how Lady Macbeth ‘caused’ the downfall of her husband) can be made, and in this light, many feminists may be critical of Macbeth and its perpetuation of some female stereotypes. However, in relation to feminist ideas of subverting traditional gender roles held by society, Macbeth is arguably a text that positively attempts to encourage society to question unequal gender stereotypes.