"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Toxic Femininity–The Vixens And Harridans Of History And The Persistence Of Misogyny Today

Betsy Braithwaite never considered herself a succubus, an infernally castrating woman, a harridan without limits, an ambitious, irreconcilably demanding soul out to remove the blight of masculinity from the face of the earth. But she was a biliously deconstructing woman whose sexuality was used only as an unaccommodating, vexing tool to tempt men into the stocks, onto the stakes, and  burned to a crisp.

Image result for images harridan

She never looked back, nor had an ounce of reflection in her.  She never questioned the origins of her willfully misandrous nature, one which made even the slightest reference to virility laughable.  Imagine, she said, cock and balls skewered, basted, roasted, and hung from every streetlamp in America, macho maleness sliced and hung out to dry publicly, then fed to the wolves. 

Her more socially engaged, dependent sisters urged  temperance and counsel – wait till the time is ripe, they said.  The process of justice and gender rights may be too deliberate and slow to our taste, but currency takes time; but Betsy wanted nothing do do with this prevaricating, temporizing female nonsense.  The time is now!

‘And what might that be?’, asked Father Coogan in the confessional as Betsy confessed pre-crime, forgiveness for sins not yet committed but forgiveness nonetheless.  Jesus never stipulated the condition of his forgiveness and redemption, so Betsy took it as blanket sovereignty.  As long as she was honest about her intent and fully and impartially committed to its execution, she could be pre-forgiven, as good as forgiven ex post facto.

She intended to confiscate the wealth of the family treasury, send the patriarch of her husband’s family into senile isolation, assure her responsibility for all wills, the adjudication of all codicils, and the dunning, final expulsion of those found unworthy and traitorous to family interests.   Who was going to stop her?  The weak-kneed Cousin Albert?  The fey, kimonoed Bertram? The Peckham old maid sisters living in penury and on the state in West Haven?

Betsy’s problem was not lack of initiative or will, but one of intelligence.  She simply didn’t have the wits to match even ordinary husbands and lovers.  Her plots were transparent, her deviousness obvious, and her intent exposed.  As much as she wanted to be like the most toxic women in literary history  - vixens, harridans, and murderously ambitious women who served in the finality of their bloody territorial claims; and as much as she wanted to see blood spilled by her hands like the hands of Lady Macbeth, Goneril, Regan, Tamora, and Dionyza, she was but a puny inconsequential player in gender games.

Image result for images lady macbeth

Lady Macbeth was the standard-bearer for all Shakespeare’s harridans – she was manipulative, calculating, and destructive; and derided her husband’s vacillation and weakness.  He was less than a man, she said, useless and afraid.  ‘Unsex me here’, she cried to the spirits, relieve me of my female inhibitions and docile, obedient nature, and let me be as bloody as men. It is I who will kill the king, empty the throne for my husband and rule Denmark. 

Every man fears a Lady Macbeth – an amoral, supremely confident, selfish, and intellectually powerful woman; a woman without bounds or perimeters; a woman of mad brilliance and fearful strength.

Goneril and Regan have no use for their father, King Lear, and less for their weak, unambitious, cowardly husbands.  They are even more evil than Lady Macbeth whose murderous ambition twists her mind.  Lear’s daughters see no imaginary blood, only the real blood shed on their way to the throne. They are without principle, sentiment, or remorse.  They are killers who have abandoned any sense of propriety and decency. 

Dionyza, like Lady Macbeth is married to a man of fragile sensibilities, passivity, and reluctance.  She is the one who must promote the interests of their daughter and who plots to kill the daughter of Pericles, a girl of particular beauty, charm, and grace who casts Dionyza's daughter in a homely, dim light. She, like Lady Macbeth, has no hesitation, no second thoughts.  Her husband is without consequence or influence, marginalized, unmanned, and hopeless; a man of tepid morality and lack of resolve.

The feminist heroine of heroines was Laura, wife of the patriarchal, insufferable, weak Captain of Strindberg’s The Father. She led the pompous fool to believe that the child they were raising was not his.  It was of no consequence whether Laura had bedded and won a lover’s heart or not – it was the intimation of the thing, a corrosive, infectious, viral idea that was more destructive than the truth.  Just as Othello was destroyed by the semblance or appearance of Desdemona’s infidelity; and just as Posthumus plots the murder of his wife  because of the insidious, baseless, mentally addling rumors of her unfaithfulness, the Captain goes mad, the victim of uncertain paternity and the imagined sexual encounters of his wife.

Image result for images laura and the captain strindberg the father

Yet Betsy like all women tried to undo and unsex her man, bring him to heel, subject him to the doubts of an uncertain parentage, and drive him mad.  Women’s power over men is their control of sexual certainty.  No man will ever be privy to the truth of fatherhood.  It will always be hearsay, her word against hisk feminine prerogative and male presumption.    

Yet she felt sorry for Harry, her first husband and Declan, her second – sexual dummies but good providers.  She had all the Victorian impulses for practical, monetary gain, but none of the classicist's existential interests in genocide – the elimination of men.  

Shakespeare credited Rosalind, Viola, and Portia for outwitting the second-rate intellects of their suitors, but held their misandry in check.  They, despite their victories over their incompetent suitors, must put up with them. He gave the power of goodness to Perdita, Marina, Calpurnia, and Juliet; but his real sympathies are with Cleopatra, empress and  goddess of Egypt, seducer of Roman emperors, the most desirous but manipulative woman in the Empire.  

Antony was aware of her sexual allure and its political convenience; and knew that both Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great had been her lovers.  Yet Cleopatra’s allure and power of seduction were such that he could not refuse and he was brought to disgrace and ruin because of her.  

Poor Betsy Braithwaite had intimations of power and glory but only the flimsiest of weapons in her sexual arsenal to achieve them.

Othello warns his accusers of the treachery of women.  He did men a service by eliminating yet another untrustworthy, faithless woman.  Posthumus (Cymbeline) is virulent and absolute in his declamation of women – congenitally untrustworthy, adulterous, manipulative, and castrating.  They are procreative necessities, but scurrilous in their ambition.

Which is why women in the Muslim world are bagged, cloaked, veiled, and locked in their chambers.  If a man can never know the paternity of his children, then better take any and all steps to increase its certainty.  It is no surprise that patriarchy has been defined by female oppression. What poor peasant laborer wants to bring up a bastard and reward his cheating wife with the fruits of work? What courtier wants to claim the royalty or aristocracy of an unknown, a wayward seed planted by a carouser?

Which is also why the women of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Strindberg are so ruthless and unforgiving in their treatment of men.  Men are the enemy, the eternal opponent.  Their desire for dominance, patriarchal autocracy, and complete authority is quite understandable.  There will always be a sexual Waterloo, Agincourt, and Borodino.  The odds are equal and all bets are off.

Women, no matter how much they will profess love and affection for their husbands, are still in the business of corralling them, fencing them in, and limiting their opportunities to prowl.  It is normal for women to express their frustration at men’s seeming intractability and inability to reform.  Women have finally concluded that men are irremediable, ignorant pricks.

Men, no matter how much they ascribe to the feminist line, defer to the superior destiny of women, and while publicly abdicate patriarchy and male autocracy, endorse nothing of the sort. Sexuality and gender are hardwired and the emotional frills, petticoats, fans, and allure of women will return.  While there will always be an irrepressible Cleopatra or the devilish Goneril, Regan, and Hedda Gabler, most women will retreat into an accommodation with men, put armor aside; and live under a Pax Romana where traditional roles are restored.


Betsy Braithwaite was not quick enough to appreciate the distinction and had no idea what a world of sexual accommodation would look like. The theories of Machiavelli, brilliant exponent of realpolitik, could easily be applied to gender quarrels.  Let Lawrentian rules apply – let men and women fight it out for sexual supremacy in an existential war of wills; but let both be happy with the outcome.  Sexual epiphany is the result of sexual balance – no one cares who ends up on top as long as the positions are agreed upon and endorsed by both parties.

Image result for Images dh Lawrence. Size: 150 x 214. Source: www.britannica.com

An idealistic notion to be sure.  Women are more than ever hungry for the sexual, political, social, and personal power from which they were deprived for millennia, and a bloody, castrated, disemboweled masculinity must be the interim, the intermediates phase between female oppression and sexual parity.

Betsy loved the idea and saw herself as a latter day Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction and mayhem, a destroyer necessary for the rebirth of the world.  She, more practically, saw herself as a common street warrior, defender of the faith of womanhood, enemy of men, and Wonder Woman.

So, the age of radical feminism, the age of vixens, harridans, and succubae is far from over; and the New Age of sexual peace and equality is but a pinpoint in telescopic  vision. We are doomed to fight each other in perpetuity.  The war between the sexes is only the most obvious expression of human nature.  No need to hate Goneril and Regan; they are simply doing what comes naturally.                               

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