Although my feminist convictions are far from new, it has only been in the past year or so that I’ve actually attempted to make myself aware of the relevant literature and the variety of perspectives. This fact has opened me up to some shocking realisations when I revisit things which I enjoyed in my childhood.
Having been on break from school recently, I found myself with the opportunity to do some reading and television watching which I had been putting off up to that point. Given the temporal proximity of the ides of March, I thought that a reading of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was in order. I was shocked at the levels of anti-female rhetoric. The misogynistic themes in Taming of the Shrew did not elude me when I read it in my childhood, but this was something I had missed.
Both of the major female characters in the play comment constantly on how their constitutions are weaker than their male counterparts. Their advices are continuously ignored, and they both end up unhappy due to their over-reliance on the men in their lives.
Finding misogynistic rhetoric in Shakespeare, however, is a bit like finding hay in a haystack. I won’t say that it’s acceptable, but he was a product of his times. When teaching the plays we can’t avoid talking about these themes, but ultimately one must admire his mastery of his craft. However, I have also watched some thirty episodes of M*A*S*H in the past week, and I was more than a little surprised at what I found, or rather, what I had missed as a child.
I must admit, I have special place in my heart for M*A*S*H; I have a penchant for quick witted one-liners, and Hawkeye Pierce ranks with Groucho Marx in the halls of the gods of that genre. However, despite Alan Alda’s contributions to and acknowledgements from the feminist movement later on, the first couple seasons of the show were replete with misogynistic slurs, sentiments, and acts.
I cannot and shall not deny the wonderful way in which they redeemed Hawkeye in the season seven episode “Inga”. For those of you who are not as familiar with the show, I shall provide a summary. A female doctor comes to visit the 4077th and shows up all of the main cast members. Hawkeye, as is his wont, falls for her. However, he has difficulty dealing with the fact that she is a talented and intelligent surgeon in her own right. Ultimately, he realises the error in his ways, but she is on her way out by that time.
It was a great episode, but it happened too late. Why did Hawkeye do so much to teach racists a lesson or two while not realising his own bigotry?
This realisation may not stop me from watching the show, but it has certainly put it in a new perspective for me.