Sunday, September 12, 2010

Problems with the relation of sex and gender in "Orlando"

As Orlando sails to England after transforming from a man into a woman and leaving the Gypsies, she evaluates her new status as a woman. After reveling in the delights of the flirtatious games men and women play, such as the slight resistance she puts up against the captain's offer of serving her some fat with her corned beef, she playfully fantasizes that she may throw herself overboard just to be rescued [115]. She then, however, reflects upon what she, when she was still male, would think of a woman that did such a thing. She continues to examine her general expectations for women in general:
She remembered how, as a young man, she had insisted that women must be obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely appareled. "Now I shall have to pay in my own person for those desires," she reflected; "for women are not (judging by my own short experience of the sex) obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely appareled by nature" [115].

Orlando then continues by listing what she must do in order to be seen as publically acceptable by men, or to be "feminine." In the quote above, she realizes that those characteristics are applied to women because of their sex and because of a man's view toward them, not because those can be called naturally feminine. At this realization she declares that she will not be a slave to such views of femininity. However, she eventually succumbs to societal pressures and she conforms to them through most of her life, besides when she begins dressing as she did when she was a man and prowling the streets of London.
However, the simple biological transformation does not change Orlando internally. She still takes comfort in nature and in her poem, "The Oak Tree," and striving to find what to do with herself. Those aspects of women seen as femininity cannot strictly be applied, and in the time at which Orlando considers them, are almost requisite for a woman. Though at one point Orlando does resist, only to fall back into the norms forced upon women. But what is argued is that these gender norms labeled as feminine or masculine are not naturally male or female, but are taught and forced on those sexes.

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