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To better understand also exactly how this relates to the Wife of Bath, think about comedian Ali Wong. She has actually a stand-up comedy special referred to as “Baby Cobra” that depends on a recurring joke around her desire to be a housewife. She doesn’t desire to job-related, she says; she desires to remain home all day and watch Netflix and also eat snacks. Because of twenty-first-century female empowerment, however, she’s intended to be constantly doing things choose EARNING A LIVING and BEING INDEPENDENT. Ugh. Thanks a bunch, Beywhen.

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(I’m reminded of this joke every time I view something prefer “Remember the excellent old days when a womale could just marry a man for his money?” and I reblog it through #me. Of course I don’t actually want to marry a man for his money, however the sentiment speaks to a pervasive Internet subculture of postmodern-day irony that resonates via me, and also I require those tumblr notes.)

Ali Wong’s stand-up program really sings because she’s actively reveling in a stereotypical are afraid. We’re told that males are afraid of being tricked right into marital relationship, as per Kanye West’s iconic hit Gold Digger and also likewise eextremely sitcom in the background of cable TV. The Wife of Bath capitalizes on a comparable phobia. She embodies everything medieval guys are shelp to dischoose around women—she’s overtly sex-related, she’s not particularly attractive, she’s bawdy, and she weaponizes her sexuality to assert supremacy over her many type of husbands. She goes to great lengths to define the method she acquires, and enjoys, power (and also she even does so in what’s fundamentally the medieval version of stand-up comedy). The other characters are so put off by this that the Pardoner interrupts her to say that he’s now afrassist of getting married. It’s favor he just came out of the theater after seeing Gone Girl.

Look, I’m not saying the Wife of Bath is a clear expression of ironic antifeminism or that Chaucer was ahead of his time (I’m definitely not saying that; watch below). What I am saying is that sometimes it’s possible to subvert narratives to make points, and that this is a relevant critical lens with which to consider the message.

AUTHORIAL INTENT

This feels unfair, I know. How the hell are we expected to know what Chaucer was getting at once he produced the Wife of Bath? It’s not favor we can ask. He is dead, after all, choose some kind of idiot. Besides, I’m betting nobody was asking him around any kind of of this in 1410, greatly because they didn’t treatment yet likewise bereason everyone was busy doing points choose dying in childbirth and also being at battle with France.

But it’s worth noting that Chaucer was going through some legal trouble once he composed The Canterbury Tales. He was accprovided of (however never before charged with) “raptus,” which meant either “rape” or “abduction,” because reportedly in the Center Ages everyone believed it would be cool if words had multiple, wildly different interpretations. His accuser, a woman called Cecily Chaumpaigne, ultimately dropped the charges.

It was so long back that we will likely never before know what Chaucer was guilty of, if anypoint. But this feels prefer necessary context, offered that Chaucer created the Wife of Bath’s tale about a knight convicted of rape who acquires the forgiveness of a court of women led by Queen Guinevere. This is also worth remembering as soon as we take into consideration 1) Chaucer’s characterization of the Wife as an insatiable sex witch, and also 2) that the ethical of her tale is that what women want the majority of is “soveraynete,” or regulate. Chaucer is essentially telling us what he thinks women desire a lot of and also making use of the Wife of Bath’s character to execute so, which doesn’t feel specifically empowering.

That said…

THE FALSE DICHOTOMY OF THE STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

As people, we favor to dichotomize things. It’s neater that method. Things are either babsence or white, excellent or negative, waffles or tacos. We forget occasionally that points deserve to be gray, or neutral, or waffle tacos. This is what’s referred to as a false dichotomy.

Here’s a appropriate, contemporary example: the “strong female character.” I favor females in movies. I’m a big fan. But Hollytimber directors nowadays seem to think that letting a woguy be both strong and delicate is favor dividing by zero. They seem to think the two terms are mutually exclusive. They’re like, “You want a token lady character that have the right to shoot bulallows out of her eyes? NO PROBLEM. She doesn’t have actually any weaknesses or a lot by means of personality, however she CAN break a door through her face.” They don’t seem to realize that what obstacles convention is complicated female personalities, not female personalities that can punch things.

And false dichotomies go ago a lengthy means. The principle of fictional womales having to be one thing or the various other speaks to a details brand of Madonna-whore complicated that was simply DOMINATING the social zeitgeist in the 1400s. Woman-wise, in the Center Ages, you were either a paragon of feminine perfection or you could GTFO. You were gross, or you were exalted. And on a range of 1 to the Virgin Mary, the Wife of Bath was absolutely no saint.

What I’m getting at here is that—whether you’re a medieval bard writing biblical fanfiction, a Hollylumber film director, or a sleep-deprived college student living off Doritos—trying to shoehorn the Wife of Bath into a solitary category perpetuates the longstanding myth that woguys exist on a strict binary.

The Wife of Bath is, by my count, many type of things. She is:

StrongVulnerableSomeone who manipulated the constraints applied upon her to climb above oppressionCleverOften drunkA fictional character produced by a male whose background through woguys is unscrupulous at best

None of these points is much less true than the various other. You’ve most likely functioned out by now that I’m not below to execute your homework for you—not unless you have a teacher who’s cool enough to pose the question “Is the Wife of Bath a feminist portrayal?” and accept “I don’t know, maybe” as an answer. This is mostly bereason I’d acquire in trouble (I can’t just GIVE you the ANSWER, exactly how will certainly you LEARN), but also bereason I believe it’s the wrong question to ask.

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The Wife of Bath is a domineering, headstrong, and ambitious opportunist. She desires financial control, sex, and a subservient partner. In brief, what makes her so formidable to her fellow pilgrims is that she’s a woguy who possesses qualities typically associated with guys. By creating the Wife of Bath, Chaucer tells us what he believes to be true of the oppowebsite sex—yet in doing so he inadvertently reveals even more around guys than he does about woguys, and what he reveals is this: that what males are afraid a lot of is being treated the means they treat woguys currently. He acknowledges that culture has actually drawn a splitting line in between males and womales, and also he tells us men fear the blurring of this line, of subverting it, of erasing it altogether.

We’ll spend the remainder of our collective scholastic careers debating whether the Wife of Bath is feminist or not, however a much better question would be “What does Chaucer’s characterization of the Wife of Bath disclose about sex politics, and to what level is this true even today?”