Women's Sexuality

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One aspect that without doubts was of central importance in the discourse about gender and about why women were considered unruly and a danger was women’s sexuality, which threatened Early Modern English men and husbands, including Leontes and other male characters in The Winter’s Tale. Because of the separation of the worlds of men and women, the lack of communication and knowledge of each other led the men to fear and doubt all that involved the feminine sexual realm. In particular, men thought that women’s empowerment through sexuality would destroy the existing social patriarchal order. The consequence were the double standards in the treatment of male and feminine sexuality, which can be examined in the use of distinguished insults for …show more content…
Eve’s sexuality and desire had resulted fatal for Adam and for the whole humanity, as her evil seed was thought to live in every woman, whose sexuality was consequently to be feared. In The Winter’s Tale, Leontes is the perpetrator of this idea to the extent that, from a figment of his imagination, he creates a plot of adultery of which Hermione is guilty. He abstracts her individual behaviour and includes her in the corrupted category of women. He also recalls the time of his existence before the corruption of women, when Polixenes and he were children and did not have to worry about women’s temptations and manipulations. From this point on, there is an escalation of rage and blame that Leontes puts on Hermione, a blame that is also connected to childbirth and her new maternity. The fact that he cannot have access to the actual birth, which is granted only to women, renders him powerless and adds to the doubts of his paternity not only of the newborn, but also of their previous child, Mamillius, who physically …show more content…
She is also the one who legitimises Hermione’s newborn and acts, therefore, as midwife, who, according to Elizabeth D. Harvey, was a very important but dangerous job in the Early Modern English society and, more than ever, in this play. The midwife was the person who assessed virginity, diagnosed pregnancies and cared for the newborns. She had a great responsibility, but could also scheme with the assisted woman against men, for example by lying about the virginity of the woman (qtd. in Gulik Rosenfield, 100). For these reasons, men feared this female figure and Leontes despises Paulina. He even accuses her of being “a mankind witch” (WT, 2.3.69) when she tries to tell him that Hermione is innocent. This exchange tells more about men’s insecurities than about female sexuality itself. According to Gulik Rosenfield, the patriarchal order is questioned in The Winter’s Tale through the representation of how female sexuality scares Leontes, in the part of the play set in Sicily, and Polixenes, in the part set in Bohemia. Because the society was structured so that women were powerless, the fact that frustrates and destabilizes Leontes is the realization that they can do more than any man can do: they

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