Does Irving's portrayal of Dame Van Winkle in "Rip Van Winkle" make him seem anti-feminist?
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There are two relevant questions related to answering whether Irving's portrayal of Dame Van Winkle is anti-feminist or not. The first is whether you approach the question as a revisionist critic--taking Irving and the Dame out of context of their time--or as a traditional literary critic, sans revisionism. The second question is whether you wish to examine the Dame and Irving as representing a social viewpoint or as representing a literary viewpoint.
Revisionism in literature refers to the idea of reading and criticizing literature from a perspective of current social and cultural principles and ideologies: "the reinterpretation of orthodox views" of literary criticism. Revisionists aim to redirect consideration of literary canon through new avenues of thought, sometimes leading to restructuring of traditional ideas literature. For example, Gerard Carruthers (University of Glasgow) expresses the state of revisionism in Scottish and Irish literature by saying:
...[revisionist critics may see] revisionist interpretation of many Irish and Scottish cultural and literary activists as key players in the construction of a British literary canon. ... all cultural expression is seen to be ultimately sucked to the power centre of a super state.
Anti-feminism in literature refers to overt opposition to feminist ideologies that are said to illuminate patriarchal manipulation and subjugation by males of females as represented in literature. According to sociologist Michael Flood, anti-feminism asserts that social roles are divinely determined and that, as males and females share society, the social order before the advent of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s was the ideal for a dual-gender society.
Having said this, Irving, in context his own society, is actually presenting a literary parody and satire of the male-female role ideology of his time. One concept holding sway was that women were the "angels" of hearth and home and were far too delicate in sensibilities and physically to do more than instruct servants in how to run the home and oversee the governess or tutors who educated their children, while giving moral fortitude to their world weary husbands. Irving explodes this stereotype by making Dame Van Winkle robust and domineering in every sense. He also explodes this stereotype by having the sole survivor of Rip's generation be "an old woman, tottering out from among the crowd." So, from within his own time, Irving might be considered as having not portray the Dame with anti-feminist leanings.
On the other hand, from a revisionist standpoint, Irving's portrayal of Dame Van Winkle is anti-feminist as he reinforces the ridicule of women as harridans and nags who are irrational and hyper-emotional. Similarly, Irving's reinforcement of this negative stereotype continues when the sole survivor turns out to be a domineering old woman who has outlasted all males through her dogged nagging and terrorizing of good men. From a revisionist view, Irving might be said to definitely portray the Dame with anti-feminist leanings.
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