Margaret Atwood

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What is Margaret Atwood's poem "The Female Body" suggesting about the female body?

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The central idea behind "The Female Body" is how women's bodies have been objectified and used by society. Throughout the poem's seven sections, Atwood constantly describes the female body as though it were an item being advertised. For example, in the first section, the speaker describes her own body as though it were an item that required upkeep, and in the second section, she describes her body as coming with accessories. This list of accessories contains a variety of sexualized clothing and a bed, only ending with a "head," suggesting that women are prized more for the sexual pleasure they give others rather than for their personalities or ideas.

Atwood's poem also illustrates how women's bodies are simultaneously desired and seen as taboo. In the third section, she describes the inner workings of the female body such as the digestive or nervous systems, then singles out the reproductive system as the sole one that "can be removed." The speaker further cautions that "Parental judgement can thereby be exercised. We do not wish to frighten or offend." This is meant to be a satirical look at how reproduction or any element of the female body in relation to it (such as menstruation or pregnancy) is often seen as offensive in polite society. The speaker takes these ideas even farther in the fifth section, where the female body is touted as the best way to sell merchandise or even sold as merchandise through human trafficking. However, this section ends with the speaker claiming that women's smiles are "a dime a dozen," suggesting that being young and attractive alone are not enough to give a woman's body much worth in the eyes of society.

At the end of the poem, the speaker describes the female body as though it were an animal that has wandered off. The speaker advises the male figure in this section to "Catch it," then entrap it within a pumpkin or a "high tower," or to leash it. Those early images evoke fairy tales in which figures like Cinderella or Rapunzel are imprisoned, but the leash is a far less romantic image, suggesting men see women as little more than pets to be controlled. This final section emphasizes Atwood's ultimate message about the way society sees the female body: as a thing to be controlled, used, or hidden away for supposed decency's sake.

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