Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Similarities of Gender and Race

In honor of Shakespeare’s 100th birthday, Rhodes College invited two scholars to speak about their experiences editing and studying the works of Shakespeare. Dr. Callaghan presented the first lecture on her experiences in editing a soon to be published edition of Taming of the Shrew. She began her lecture discussing her concerns with the book’s audience and the importance of the book cover. She had to make the decision of how Kate should be conveyed offering three different options. The first was a black and red outline of a woman’s eye and brow. The second was a comical picture of Kate and Petruchio smiling in an animated manner. The third was a picture of Kate and Petruchio displaying the patriarchal culture by Kate’s resemblance of a puppet. Her mouth is open and hands clasp together with Petruchio standing behind her to imply he is the puppeteer. Dr. Callaghan expressed her concern with the first image on the book, because it helps to guide the reader to a certain interpretation. It didn’t take her long to decide that the option number one best represented her perspective. In her editing, she did extensive research on the history of this time, specifically the issue of gender inversion. She asked the question where is the boundary between erotic intensity and rape, and used the example of a “shrewish woman.” There seems to be some idea that women may like restraint and force, and consent seemed to be blurry in the time period. She then looked at the other works of the time to show a comparison such as the character of the Greek nymph, Daphne. Dr. Callaghan emphasized the attractiveness of a chase, and the motivation that comes from an inability to possess something of desire. As a woman editor dealing with these types of issues, Dr. Callaghan refers to the Taming of the Shrew as an emotionally difficult play. There are many controversial issues such as gender, class, and the innate tendency to strive to be superior.

            In my psychology of gender class, I found there to be many interesting parallels to race. In Invisible Blackness, Charles Mills chapter on Alternative Epistemologies critics Rene Descartes’s Cartesian sum. As we learned, the Cartesian Sum is a detached observer, individualistic, and objective in isolation. There are benefits to use this perspective as a model for our perceptions, because it allows us to separate mind and body to offer objectivity and independence of what people think. Yet, the claims are not universal and cannot apply to all. The view is extremely narrow and shows the world perceived by the white male. Mills emphasizes the need for the alternative epistemology and offers gender as an option as well as race. There seem to be many parallels between the historical inversions Dr. Callaghan spoke of in her lecture, which are evident in the Taming of the Shrew. Dr. Callaghan emphasized the importance of the cover’s portrayal acting as a guide to the audiences’ interpretation. It was interesting to find that the play was written directly before the years of Descartes, who claimed the white male as the norm. In the play, Kate’s actions were observed from the male perspective. Dr. Callaghan’s question of what is rape and the idea of consent was not an issue for Petruchio. He says, “Will you, nill you, I will marry you,” showing his demand for the wife to conform to his ways. Just as the cover of a book influences the reader, Shakespeare’s plays in the late 1500’s and early 1600s seem to have impacted the culture as illustrated through Descartes and the audience. His writings parallel the character of Petruchio that the white male is the norm and superior.  The historical perception of race has been evident through our studies of the philosophers. But just as men are the norm in gender, white seems to be the norm for race. Although our nation has made great strides in creating equality, there remain issues regarding the topic. I feel that Dr. Callaghan’s referral to the importance of the audience needs to be associated not just with gender related issues, but also with race. She took a full ten minutes to describe the different options available and explained how people would interpret the book just by the cover. If more people focus on the audience and create more attention to details could this create a new norm, not just the white male that Descartes portrayed? 


  1. I think that Courtney makes an excellent point in incorporating the gender aspect into the racial realm of the course. I have found several parallels in my women’s studies class with our philosophy of race class this semester. The same feeling of oppression being perpetuated through what society dictates as the norm, whether by race or gender, is constant. I think Courtney offers a compelling argument when she calls for attention to the audience in regards to how these norms are portrayed. In the beginning of the semester we examined the early waves of feminism and how they were subjective in only considering the white female. Gender like race has a wider audience and by widening the audience within gender to include race, class, and sexuality the norms have slowly eroded and allowed for new interpretations and explanations within the study.

  2. This is a good post, and I think that a lot of intellectuals do make the connection between race and gender. This semester I took a women in world politics class, and I often referenced our philosophy class because there was so much overlap, especially in gender and racial subordination and existing and marginal populations.
    And Charles Mills definitely discusses this in the Racial Polity chapter. He writes, "The origins of patriarchy remain a subject of bitter dispute, but even if it is not, as radical feminists claim, traceable to the origin of the species, it is obviously far older than white racial domination and arguably more foundationally embedded in human interrelations." (Page 122)


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