Summary (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Elizabeth Bishop, who called herself a feminist long before the term became fashionable, understood women’s oppression and its concomitant masculine pretensions. “Roosters” rails against male “cockiness” generally and military power specifically. The roosters’ combative sallies and their treatment of the hens who are “courted and despised” are portrayed as senseless. “Roosters” begins by saying that violence is intrinsic to males, but the second half shows the roosters as products of violence as well as independently violent. Male brutality, the poem suggests, is also culturally conditioned.
Bishop’s feminism is strong in other poems as well. The intimidating animal in “The Moose” is a female. In “Exchanging Hats,” an “Aunt . . . with avernal eyes” stares with unnerving insight into a capering group. Bishop’s comments upon women’s subordinate position are often implied. “The Filling Station” indicates a woman’s influence by its plant, doily, and taboret, which pathetically try to make the greasy station attractive. The fact that the woman is anonymous and that one knows her only through stereotypical evidence comments indirectly on women’s derivative role. Bishop rebels against feminine stereotypes in “The Waiting Room,” in which the little girl anxiously focuses, like little boys, on her sexual identity instead of the traditional feminine concerns of men, money, or religion.
(The entire section is 373 words.)
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