“Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says, some women may feel?” Tess Durbeyfield
Man exploiting woman. What a clichéd topic. And yet a topic of importance nonetheless. I recently finished Thomas Hardy’s captivating novel Tess of the d’Ubervilles (1891) and found myself appalled as ever at the treatment of pretty, young things when males believe they must have their cake and eat it too. It’s disgusting. No matter how educated or kind, patriarchal influences have instilled the belief (in the minds of men at least) that it is perfectly OK to ravage the female mind and body…after-all they can repent later when their selfishness has reached its expiry date…when the damage has been done and the woman has no more dignity to face the world. It’s sick and it’s twisted. And yet it’s real. Characters like Angel Clare and Alec d’Urberville are not men that merely aggravate the pages of Hardy’s novel, they are men that have ventured to step out of the 19th century and mock us females even today. Yes I’m seeing Orwell’s pigs dressed in human attire right about now. Sometimes I can hardly distinguish some men from pigs, if truth be told.
When I reached the final page of Tess of the d’Urbervilles , I felt angry. I thought Tess was a spineless creature that could have, no should have, known better. I went as far as to call her an excruciating example of female fragility. You may wonder why I was being so harsh on a character that ultimately was the product of prejudiced times…and yet is that any excuse? Female empowerment has certainly come a long way since the Victorian era but the arrogant male, who sits prettily on his chauvinistic fence, displaying his holy face to the world while putting a noose around the necks of the unfortunate women who adore him…why does he still exist? Why do we let him? Perhaps, it’s because their manipulations are so charming and women have learned to absorb the blame too well. This was perfectly illustrated in the novel when Alec (the man who stole Tess’s innocence), scoundrel turned pastor, accuses Tess of leading him to unholy thoughts and beguiling him with her beauty. Because most men are incapable of recognizing depth (let’s just be honest) and so let’s blame superficial enticements, shall we.
“you temptress,Tess; you dear damned witch of Babylon- I could not resist you as soon as I met you again.” Alec d’Urberville
The blame is taken from Alec and forced upon Tess. Alec couldn’t possibly fess up to his faults (god forbid)…no no, it must be Tess’s fault. The saddest part about the novel is that Tess accepts the blame, the fault, the feeling of being unworthy. And that is why she incenses me. I cannot respect a woman who does not respect herself (or a man who puts a woman in that position). Till the end she loves unconditionally the man who had forsaken her, and even accepts an alliance with the wretched Alec d’Uberville (who is the sole reason for her descent into hellish reality). Are these our options as women? To smile sweetly when wronged and show our womanhood by forgiving? To endure pain till we commit murder and then drive ourselves ill to death? No. The strength of a woman lies in her intuitive ability to look pain in the face and laugh at it. Sounds a little crazy…but women are not made of sugar and beg your pardons. We will not bemoan our fate or cry from the adoration we give that is abused. We are trees that slowly grow, tall into the sky where sunshine kisses our faces and stars dance on our cheeks. Our roots are strong and will crush every injustice we face…while you, Sirs, sleep snugly at night thinking that you’ve gotten away with everything.
Featured art: Eydhen on Deviantart