Gender Roles in Aphra Behn Society

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Work, Life and Gender Roles in Aphra Behn Society

Gender Roles in Aphra Behn Society

Aphra Behn, a controversial and female author is one of the notable literary critics throughout the centuries (Canfield et al, 221).the literary plays she documented during the period of restoration were very popular on the stage. Similarly, her poetry and fiction were successful. Gallagher (97) asserted that “the feminine interest now giving importance to Behn as a pioneer in professionalism in women began to emerge.” Moreover, she used her literary work to address politics, social commentary, money, sex, power, relationships, ideal and virtue. However, her major writing focus was on gender roles.

The essay will examine the of gender roles through the through the work of Behn of “the rover”. According to Hutner (198), the play of “the rover” criticized the arranged marriages through the inclusion of societal criticism. To understand better the play of “the rover,” it is of great importance to understand the relationship of her life to her writing, her society she lived and perception of the women’s roles. The rover provides an oral criticism of the expectations of the society, denounces ideas of forced marriages and lastly the accompanying authority of the parents.

The rover is about of sisters’ Florinda and Hellena who are attempting to make an escape from the fates of their male members of their family have decided for them, in addition to a band of English cavaliers in Naples who are burnished at the carnival time. Link (109) observed that the men are promiscuous and gay; there is the loyal Belvile, Wilmore, the rover, blunt and the negative Fredrick, the low comedian squire of the country. Belvile met and rescued previously the Florinda from being attacked by Naples, and eventually fell in love with her. Forinda, on the other hand is destined for a pre arranged marriage. However, Hellena is destined for a convent. The escape of the sisters to carnival is where they meet the cavaliers. Furthermore, Florinda loves back Belivele and Hellena and Wilmore falls in love. However, Angelina Bance, the gorgeous courtesan complicates things. She is also in love with Wilmore although she has Pedro, the brother to Hellena and Florinda and Antonio, one of the potential future husbands of Florinda fighting to get her attention.

The plot of the play has complicated series masking, intrigues, and overall character confusion. There is love, rape, sex, anger, betrayal, jealousy, despair and joy. The play finally ends with marriages of Wilmore and Hellena and Belvile and Wilmore.

According to Markley (68), the main conflict in the play of the rover originates from the arranged marriage idea. This is attributed to the own experience of Behn and her marriage which was arranged and unhappy.

The sexual discussion and action are completely uninhibited, as was customary in Restoration plays.

As is common with so much of Behn’s work, particularly her plays, one of the central conflicts of The Rover stems from the idea of an arranged marriage, which we can likely attribute to Behn’s own experience; the little information that is known about her marriage has led scholars to believe that it was unhappy, more than likely owing to the fact that it was arranged (Todd). Behn, alone of her contemporaries, took a stand against this practice; her contempt for arranged marriages was a bit of a revolutionary idea, something that went against all accepted ideas of parental authority (Woodcock 51). However, despite her distain towards this concept, Behn is obviously not encouraging a complete overthrow of society’s expectations of females; even while Florinda and Hellena are “rebelling” against their father’s wishes, they keep themselves firmly within their gender roles. Hellena only escapes a convent by becoming the wife of a philandering libertine who is after her fortune, and Florinda is in no way attempting to eschew the traditional role of a wife.

Just as society places value on women by their possession of certain characteristics, Florinda also uses these traits to judge her own self-worth; as she tells her sister “I understand better what’s due to my beauty, birth, and fortune, and more to my soul, than to obey those unjust commands (I. i. 26-28). She continues to argue her point against her brother: “Let him consider my youth, beauty, and fortune, which ought not to be thrown away on his age and jointure” (I. i. 93-95). This passage is important in that it demonstrates why Florinda rebels; the very traits that she believes should allow her to choose her own husband are the same traits her male family members exploit to essentially sell her to the wealthiest bidder. As Anita Pacheco explains it in her essay “Rape and the Female Subject in Aphra Behn’s The Rover,” “these exacted and reductive valuations open a space for rebellion and a bid for self-determination, for Florinda’s pride in her self-worth clearly chafes at the exploitation involved in forced marriage.”

Throughout this play, it becomes apparent that there are several major ways that men in society maintained their gender roles. One of these is through rape. In The Rover, rape is used for several different reasons. For Willmore, it seems to be a sort of seduction, or just a diversion, but for Blunt, rape is a means of exacting revenge upon women in general for the actions of one woman in particular. For Robert Markley, in his essay “’Be Impudent, be Saucy, Forward, Touzing, and Leud:’ The Politics of Masculine Sexuality and Feminine Desire in Behn’s Tory Comedies,” the reason Behn’s “heroes” “violate conventional standards of sexual morality… is to [legitimize] aristocratic notions of birth and worth.” This is sort of a blanket explanation for the sexual behavior of men in this play.

Blunt is a perfect example of someone who uses rape as a means of enforcing gender roles. Though a woman tricked him, allowing her male companion to rob him, his rage seems directed entirely towards women, with no consideration for the man. One can assume this is due to his feelings of emasculation. The way he sees it, the only way he can regain his manhood is to prove that he does in fact have power over women, and rape is the easiest way to do so. Frederick’s immediate acceptance and even assistance in regards to Blunt’s intentions towards Florinda is yet another example of the mentality of that society.

All of this together makes it seem as though both Behn and society perceived rapes to be trivial, just an extension of gender roles. However, Pacheco might not being correct in saying Behn makes Florinda the target of rapes due to her attempt at rebellion. Hellena also tries to “make her own sexual choices,” yet she experiences no negative setbacks as a result (except, one might argue, her eventual marriage to Willmore). Instead, it seems to me that Florinda is the repeated target in attempted rapes because the love she feels towards Belvile makes her a vulnerable object. Theirs is the only love in the play not based entirely upon lust or money, and as a result they are scorned, in a sense, because that type of love appears to be rare in a society where money, not love, is the focus. However, it must also be noted that these rape scenes were included at least partially for the comedy that they provided. The first scene with Willmore and Florinda is extremely comedic, and may not have been viewed by audiences as a means of enforcing gender roles.

The Rover is an excellent example for the.............

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