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Patriarchy and misogyny are the harsh reality that women of past centuries and the women of today are faced with. Women constantly fall victim to the harsh and unfair treatment of men. In today’s society, women have a stronger voice in their lives and the media. Actresses like Anne Hathaway have voiced their opinions by saying, “A man told me that for a woman, I was very opinionated. I said, ‘For a man, you’re kind of ignorant’. However, women have not always had those opportunities. In the novel “Fifth Business” by Robertson Davies, it is evident that the female characters struggle with their lives within, society, relationships, the upper-class world, objectification and business when examined with a feminist critical lens.
First, the female characters in the novel struggle with their daily lives in society. In chapter one “ Mrs Dempster”, Mary Dempster went missing one night. Mary was known for wandering the streets and offering people rotten vegetables so the town knew she must have wandered far. A search party set out in hopes to find Mary Dempster safe. The search party headed towards the pit which was a large hole of rocks that was owned by the railroad company. The pit was not large in comparison to the number of people set out looking for Mary. When making a remark to the size of the pit, Dunny says “How big it was I do not accurately know, but it was big and prejudice made it seem bigger”. Mary was found by Dunny in the ‘pit’ engaging in sexual intercourse with a tramp. There is a striking difference between the way men and women would have been treated in society. Mrs Dempster was deemed slow and delusional for her actions although, a man would have been deemed generous or heroic. There were many opinions made about Mary and many were quick to judge her. The other women were especially harsh because they all had a standard to live up to. Dunny said, “. . . but the opinion of their wives made it impossible”. Mary refused to live up to an imaginary standard made by men and was criticized for her actions. Mary Dempster is a perfect example of a woman being disrespected by society.
Second, the female characters in the novel have difficulty with relationships due to the actions of men. In chapter two, “I Am Born Again”, Dunny met a nurse named Diana. Diana helped Dunny to regain strength and confidence after the war. Diana was fond of Dunny so she cared for him as a mother would have. Diana fell in love with Dunny and was planning their future together. Diana; having been married before, engaged in sexual intercourse with Dunny and showed him what an adult relationship truly is. Diana waited so desperately to be married to Dunny however, he refused as he could not bear the fact that Diana had created who he was. Dunny used Diana to show him how to be physical in a relationship. It is evident that he did so when he says, “I will say nothing against her, and I shall always be grateful to her for teaching me what the physical side of love was… the best medicine I got”. Dunny did not love Diana as she did to him but instead, saw Diana as a tool that he used to satisfy his needs selfishly. It is evident that he did not truly love her when he said, “I liked having her in love with me; it fed my spirit which was at a low ebb”. Diana was forced to endure emotional distraught due to the actions and selfishness of Dunny.
Third, the female characters in the novel are tasked with unrealistic expectations by men of the upper-class world. Leola Cruikshank was a ‘small town girl’ with not very much wealth to her family’s name. Leola fell in love and married Boy Staunton, who would soon become one of the wealthiest people in Ontario. In chapter four, “Gyges and King Candaules”, Boy deemed his wife unprofessional and forced her to change the ways in which she dressed, spoke and forced her to engage in activities like tennis and maj-jongg. Leola seemed to have been lagging in Boy’s constant growth and success. Leola was identified as useless and could only do so much as to appear pretty. Dunny said, “A woman can go just so far on the capital of being a pretty girl”. Leola was an embarrassment to Boy; he so desperately wanted to change his alleged helpless wife. Boy worked Leola so much that she grew worn out and tired. Boy traumatized his wife emotionally when she did not behave. Dunny remarked, “When this happened Boy would give her what he called “the silent treatment””. Leola was an immensely loving and caring wife who boy ceased to appreciate because she was not fitting enough to portray the perfect trophy wife of a wealthy man.
Fourth, the female characters in the novel are forced to live with being objectified by the male characters. In chapter four, “Gyges and King Candaules”, Boy asked Dunny to develop photographs he had taken. Dunny agreed to develop the photographs however, he was appalled when the photos were revealed; the images were nude portraits of Leola. Dunny confronted Boy about what he had done, however instead of feeling any remorse or guilt, Boy bragged about how beautiful the images were, making Leola very uncomfortable. It was clear that Leola was very distressed when she said, “Boy, please put them away or I’ll have to go upstairs. I don’t want Dunny to see them while I’m here”. Boy did not consider the feelings his wife has as he thinks of her as a trophy or object to be displayed. Boy was under the assumption that a woman has no other purpose than to be a spectacle for other men. Boy appreciated having power over his wife and belittling her. Dunny said, “He seemed to enjoy Leola’s discomfiture; it was educational for her to learn that her beauty had public as well as private significance”, further proving that Boy knew he made her feel disrespected and like an object. Leola fell victim to the harsh and disrespectful treatings of her own husband and was disregarded as a human being by a man.
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