Carol Ann Duffy was born and raised in environments in which poverty, religion and strict adherence to traditional perceptions of gender distinctions, the low-income communities of Glasgow and Stafford during the 1950s and 1960s. This, combined with being the only girl among five boys, helped shape her political and literary views. Duffy’s family is Roman Catholic, and the strictures associated with orthodox adherence to Church tenets were anathema to women prone to assert their independence. These formative experiences, and her acknowledged homosexuality, could very well explain her very feminist attitudes.
Whether Duffy “hates” men can be debated, but the content of her work certainly can lead one to that conclusion. The bitterness she exemplifies in her poetry and her pattern of flipping gender roles in history and literature most definitely display a deep-seated resentment of the traditional role males assumed throughout history. No better example of this disdain for the male-dominated culture and for the sublimation of female aspirations to those of men is the opening to “Haversham,” inspired by the character from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations:
“Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it
so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes,
ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.”
One of Duffy’s most famous poems, one entirely consistent with her penchant displaying resentment and hostility towards the traditional roles of genders in society is “Mrs. Beast,” a scathing indictment of the fairy tale image conjured my men that subjugates women to inferior positions:
“Beauty and the Beast. Father stays overnight in mysterious palace and takes a rose. Must promise daughter to animal (or she goes voluntarily).”
In “Mrs Midas,” a classic example of the role reversal prevalent in Duffy’s work, the narrator is a heterosexual relationship, and feels affection and longing for the man she has abandoned, but, again, fears male dominance, both physically and spiritually:
“What gets me now is not the idiocy or greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here. . .
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
I miss most, even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.”
Clearly, not all of Duffy’s poetry exhibits a strong strain of reverse-misogyny. In “Anne Hathaway,” Duffy reveals a more tender, affectionate vision of heterosexual relationships, as in the following:
“ . . .My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.”
While Duffy’s poetry is inarguably hostile to men, that hostility is a product of the way women have been treated in traditional cultures throughout human history. She does not condemn men so much as rail against the way men have been taught to treat women.