Helene Cixous’s “The Laugh of Medusa” is written as a plea for women to write, in order to embrace changes that must be made to better the lives of all women. These changes include allowing themselves to thrive outside of domestic activities and to embrace all of their passions. Cixous urges women to use their bodies and physical beings as instruments of power. She opens the essay by stating, “Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing.” Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy embraces Cixous’s plea by writing about women, for women, and deeming her writing as ‘gospels’, which essentially means the ‘absolute truth.’ The poems within the collection are empowering for women, especially “Tall,” which describes a woman who is “bigger than any man” (Duffy 5), who continues growing and can see her reflection in the mirror “behind the top shelf” (Duffy 29). Although the speaker keeps growing and is illustrated and having a large impact on the world, the poem concludes by stating that the speaker is “colder, aloner, no wiser” (Duffy 46). I find it interesting that being alone is merged with being “no wiser,” and I think that Cixous’s argument can be applied to this. As one woman grows, if she does not develop and share her knowledge then she has no real effect on the world. As “Tall” demonstrates, the woman can be the largest thing in the world, but if her largeness has no impact on growing others, then she gets lost in the world. Cixous’s plea is for women to read her writing and help to spread her cause for the advancement of women. Women need to use their bodies, and as Duffy exemplifies the immensity that they can become, to create what Cixous describes a “body without end, without appendage, without ‘principal parts.’” This allows words to transcend the physical being, or the text on the page, but for the words and passions engulfed in these physical things to be set free and become a movement within the mass of people. The space that women occupy would then no longer be confined to one place; particularly the place of the domestic sphere, but allow women to grow and thrive as a mass in the world.
During our excursion to the British Museum, I also noticed something interesting that relates well to the idea of women succumbing to societal expectations. The Greek sculptures all portray the “ideal male body” in about the same light as it is illustrated today: the Adonis. However, the female, whose sculpture was located in the middle of the room surrounded by males, was nothing like how women are expected to look today. Her figure was realistic: curvy, not a defined stomach, well-nourished, and still equally as beautiful without being the stick-thin model that we see advertised today. I find this interesting because while women have gained a lot in the way of equality and fought oppression in so many areas, we still police our bodies to fit a nearly physically impossible mold. More books like Feminine Gospels should be written, the poetry empowers women and provides encouragement that physical beauty is not the only thing that makes us strong.
Blog Posts by Feminists in London TODAY.
Videos of Duffy Reading