Is "Where are you going, where have you been" Feminist Literature?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oates's story is feminist in that it addresses the inequality of the verbal and physical dominance of a male against a female character. This control of a female over her own sexual identity constitutes a significant issue in feminist literature.

In her story, written after she read about "The Pied Piper of Tucson" in a 1966 issue of Life magazine, Oates examines Connie's behavior. Connie goes to places where older boys are because "she knew she was pretty and that was everything." Also, in her free time, she engages in her "trashy daydreams." Both of these activities contribute to her later predicament on a Sunday after the rest of her family leaves, and she remains home. Connie becomes vulnerable after two males, who have watched her before, drive up to her house. One of them invites Connie to come outside and see what is written on his car. But, Connie declines because there is something "hawklike" about his face as he is "smiling as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke."

Somehow this sexual predator knows her name, and Connie begins to become afraid. He tells her, "I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you." Further, he tells Connie that he is her lover, and he and the other boy have come to take her for a ride. She still resists, and the important feminist issue of the subjugation of women is represented by threats from Arnold Friend, along with his exercise of predatory behavior and psychological dominance. After Friend and his companion, Ellie Oscar, terrorize Connie and coerce her into going in the car with them by threatening that her family will be harmed if she does not comply, Connie feels "that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her . . . " Such victimization contributes strongly to the feminist issues explored in Oates's literary work.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The idea of social objectification of women and its implications lie at the heart of Oates' work. The fact that Connie is essentially stalked and seen as a sex object indicates how women can be perceived by a male dominated society.  Connie carries herself as the type of teen who envisions herself full of autonomy, yet is actually fulfilling a socially dictated role.  This reflects how thinkers like Oates suggest that women's conception of self has to be carved out understanding how a social element of identity control is present.  Oates' creation of Connie as a "modern" teen reflects this.  In addition to this, the idea of Connie's heroism is a highly Feminist idea.  There are certain conditions that women have to endure that men simply do not.  These conditions are present in the social order.  At time time of writing, one was not able to imagine the story having more validity and veracity if Connie were a young boy (Although a more modern reading of it could certainly see this as more understandable given what we now know of predatory behavior and child abuse and exploitation.)  The idea of a woman being singled out and terrorized by a man is something that resonates quite clearly today.  Such a notion causes a reexamination of social values, structures, and valences of power, a key component in Feminism.  In addition to this, Connie's heroism at the end, where she goes with Arnold in the hopes of saving her family, confirms the idea that women endure greater injustice in a social order.  Connie has achieved a level of maturation, at great cost to herself and benefit to others.  Acknowledging such an idea where victimization can yield to affirmation of voice is another Feminist idea.

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