goatunit (goatunit) wrote in malefeminists,

consider it a litmus test

I'm curious as to how many of you find this excerpt from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck inspiring and powerful versus its being a patriarchal reaffirmation of "a woman's place." It's worth noting that this novel was written in 1939.

Ma was heavy, but not fat; thick with child-bearing and work. She wore a loose Mother Hubbard of gray cloth in which there had once been colored flowers, but the color was washed out now, so that the small flowered pattern was only a little lighter gray than the background. The dress came down to her ankles, and her strong, broad, bare feet moved quickly and deftly over the floor. Her thin, steel-gray hair was gathered in a sparse wispy knot at the back of her head. Strong, freckled arms were bare to the elbow, and her hands were chubby and delicate, like those of a plump little girl. She looked out into the sunshine. Her full face was not soft; it was controlled, kindly. Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family., the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.

I personally love this paragraph and think it's an excellent description of one of the many forms of strength exhibited by women. But I also wonder if my being male might make me somewhat predisposed toward the glorification (or justification?) of a woman's traditionally servile position.

Cross-posted to feministthought and malefeminists.
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I like that description. I don't see where it says that she's servile, or weak, or in inferior position to anyone. Quite the opposite, she strikes me as an adult -not a woman specifically, but a grown person -who's strong, wise and reliable. She seems to be the center of her family, but that does not mean she can't be anything else -and if you can, whether you're a man or a woman, take care of your family and provide them a centre, I'd say you have done well in your life and better than many. There's no trace of the Victorian woman ideal that's so creepy; that a woman should be or is weak, naive, innocent and should just be rather than do -quite the opposite, she is experienced, has worked hard, and that's what makes her what she is. Someone to whom her achievements and her loved ones are more important than superficial qualities.

Seems to me a perfectly good role model for persons of any gender?
Good question. I don't see this as patriarchal reaffirmation, and I tend to find that in a lot of things. ;) Maybe that's because I grew up around country people, and I think traits like this are worth celebrating even if they are a result of patriarchal conditioning.

I mean, I read this and think, "See what a great CEO she'd make?" Country women in those years were great leaders, because rural life leaves no room mere followers. I don't think our culture studies the difference between urban and rural models of femininity enough.

I'm going to add you to my flist. This was a great post.
Specifically with Grapes (I've not read it since high school unfortunately) there is some definite patriarchal undertones that run throughout the book but to take "Ma" out of a book and look at her as an individual I do think that she portrays a strong character in a time of hardship.

If anything I think you already pointed out the "glorification" of Ma by noting the novel's publication date and that it took place during the Great Depression.