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“If you spent your life concentrating on what everyone else thought of you, would you forget who you really were?”. At this point in Picoult’s story, Alex must figure out how to discipline her daughter, Josie. Alex and Josie are in a supermarket where a crowd of people was watching them. Alex had recently been promoted to a judge. The crowd sees Alex calmly talk to Josie instead of yelling at her, which is what she would have normally done. The crowd, which reflects the norms of society, has high expectations of Alex. The crowd expects Alex to show restraint and not yell at her daughter since she now occupies a leadership role in society. As a result, Josie is not scolded; instead, Josie is foiled in her attempt to misbehave.
All members of society are expected to abide by certain expectations. These expectations for women vary from women’s leadership to the wage gap to this paper’s issue: women’s sexuality. Women can either choose to either follow society’s expectations or choose their own path. Edna in The Awakening and the narrator in Lust are hurt by society’s view on women’s sexuality, whether they defy it or not.
People wonder where these expectations come from in the first place. According to Mottier, the start of society’s expectations of women’s sexuality came from the Greeks and Romans. These expectations were created because, in a society where the social and civic status of women was extremely low, male anxieties centered on the need to stabilize masculinity by establishing and policing gender boundaries. Male gender identity was fragile, since masculinity was not founded on the possession of a male body (because the body was seen as unstable and at risk of slipping into femininity), but on the aggressive performance of masculinity in everyday life, including in the sphere of sexual interactions. If these pressures did not exist, then Edna and the narrator in Lust may not have to deal with society’s expectations. How do both protagonists react to society’s expectations of women’s sexuality? Overall, Edna decides to rebel against society’s expectations while the narrator in Lust does not.
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, is about Edna’s different awakenings from her duties as a housewife to her own individual. There are many awakenings that Edna experiences in this novel. However, for this paper, the awakening that will be focused on is her sexual awakening. Based on the novel, Edna’s society expected women to be committed to their husbands and have no other lovers. This is proven by the quote “ …the Creole husband is never jealous; with him the gangrene passion is one which has become dwarfed by disuse” (Chopin, p. 33) The Creole husband does not expect women to be disloyal since the husbands have no passion themselves. Edna originally follows this society’s expectation before the start of the book.
Edna starts her awakenings when she realizes that she is unhappy and no longer wants to be just a housewife; she then decides to change to improve her lifestyle. For her sexual awakening, Chopin decides to have Edna turn to Alcée Arobin. Though the relationship between Alcée and Edna is purely sexual without any emotional attachment, this relationship was important for Edna’s overall awakening. Edna’s awakening eventually came to an end when Robert, who provokes her emotional awakening, leaves Edna. As a result, she enters the ocean and commits suicide. During the walk to the beach, she thinks about her relationship with him and the effect it has on her suicide:
“To-day it is Arobin; to-morrow it will be someone else. It makes no difference to me, it doesn’t matter about Leonce Pontellier, but Raoul and Etienne!’ She now understood now clearly what she meant long ago when she said to Adele Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children”. (Chopin, p. 267)
The impact of the awakenings caused her to think that suicide was the correct answer on how to move on after her awakenings. Edna feels like the parrot in the beginning of the story, where the parrot spoke “… a language that nobody understood, unless it was the mockingbird that hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence”. The mocking-bird resembles the people in her awakening where they thought they understood her, but they didn’t understand it fully. If she did not defy society, she would not have committed suicide, but she also would not have been awakened and would have been a depressed housewife. No matter if she defied society or not, she still would have been unhappy.
Lust, by Susan Minot, is about the narrator’s sexual experiences with various men and the damage it has done to her emotionally. She was not always want to be sexual. She described her choice to lose her virginity in these words: “I met him the first month away at boarding school. He had a halo from the campus light behind him. I flipped.” (Minot). Minot uses this quote in order to give a naïve and happier side to the narrator and to show her youth when she lost her virginity. This contrasts from the end when she talks about sex. She describes her after sex feelings as such:
“After sex, you curl up like a shrimp, something deep inside you ruined, slammed in a place that sickens at slamming, and slowly you fill up with an overwhelming sadness, an elusive gaping worry… After the briskness of loving, loving stops. And you roll over with death stretched out alongside you like a feather boa, or a snake, light as air, and you . . . you don’t even ask for anything or try to say something to him because it’s obviously your own damn fault. You haven’t been able to — to what? To open your heart. You open your legs but can’t, or don’t dare anymore, to open your heart… They turn casually to look at you, distracted, and get a mild distracted surprise. You’re gone. Their blank look tells you that the girl they were fucking is not there anymore. You seem to have disappeared.” (Minot)
She did not always follow the path of following society. At one point, the narrator does try to make an emotional connection with one of the boys whom she is intimate with; however, the boy is confused about why she is trying to connect, so she decides to take back her expression of her emotions (Minot). However, the men in the narrator’s stories have changed the narrator from wanting sex to only giving it because of society’s expectations of her instead of creating an attachment. Society’s expectations of women’s sexuality hurt Edna from The Awakening and the narrator in Lust, whether they conformed or resisted those expectations. There are still different expectations of sexuality based on where someone lives.
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