How can the binary oppositions between men and women be understood in the poem? Does Whitman have a feminine side in his poetry, subverting his expected masculine role in the nineteenth century?

Binary oppositions between men and women in Song of Myself can be understood by allowing for the role of gender to change depending on the part of the poem that’s under investigation. In part 1, there is no explicit mention of gender. In section 7, the gender binary is present but not rigid. In part 11, the gender binary is present and rather inflexible.

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The binary opposition between men and women in Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself can be understood in multiple ways. One’s comprehension of how the gender binary unfolds in Whitman’s long work will depend on what section they’re looking at and their concomitant interpretation.

If it’s the first section in the spotlight, it’s possible to argue that the binary is absent. There are no genders or gender pronouns present in the first part. Here, the speaker appears to mix everyone together regardless of gender. “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” states the speaker. This suggests a humanity that’s situated on a melting pot of atoms and not divided up by gender.

However, one might claim that the speaker is Walt Whitman, a man, so gender is implicitly present. Thus, when Whitman says that his atoms are everyone’s atoms, and vice-versa, he’s alluding to gender oppositions by contrasting his masculine “I” with a “you” that could very well be female.

Elsewhere, Whitman seems to alternately uphold and dissolve gender oppositions. In the penultimate stanza of part 7, Whitman declares, “Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female.” Here, gender binaries are explicitly present, but they’re immediately subverted. They’re not binary, at least not for the speaker, because both are for them—the speaker doesn’t feel the need to claim only one gender.

In other places, however, the gender binary seems critical. In part 11, gender does not come across as readily fluid. Think about why in this section, the 28 male bathers and the 28-year-old woman are depicted with less gender flexibility.

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