Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Edna St. Vincent Millay

            In Mr. Searles' presentation about Edna St. Vincent Millay and in our discussion of her poems, I found a reoccurring theme of female independence and not conforming to society's expectations about women. Mr. Searles spoke about how vocally against World War I Edna was, which at the time of the War was not a women's "place" in society to speak out against the government in a War fought by men. This notion was not something Edna would be comfortable with, she was becoming a public figure with her poetry and knew her voice was important and would not be censored by expectations of a society that was not equal to men and women. But, that was not the focus of her bucking societal expectations, her main poetry focus was on sexuality. She was promiscuous, having an open marriage with her husband, and her poetry showed her love of lust. In her poem "The Penitent" she talks about how "My Little Sorrow would not weep, My Little Sin would go to sleep" showing her lack of care for society's expectation that people will be regretful and guilty about their "bad" behavior, but for her, it did not matter. She laters says that "if I can't be sorry, why, I might as well be glad!" showing that she is going to continue to be herself, and whatever that may entail, regardless of the opinion of the many in society that don't share her values and views.

           All the talk of Edna's sexuality and her going against society's expectations of what a women is supposed to be like reminds me of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. In Friedan's book she speaks about how women are viewed as housewives and bred to be housewives in society and are not thought of equally of men. She goes on to identify specific examples of media subliminally and not subliminally pigeon-holing women and making them aspire to be housewives. Friedan talks about women finding their own identity, yet she disagrees with Millay's view of sex and seems to not respect a life of promiscity, and prefers finding Self-Actualization as described in Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. This is a digression from Millay, but the principle of being your own person with an identity that is not dependent on society's expectation is still the same. In some ways, it seems as if Friedan was influenced by Millay, as a women who was not afraid to use her voice to be her own person, and whatever that may entail.

         Mr. Searles' presentation in conjunction with the reading and my prior knowledge of Friedan's book have expanded my view of early feminism and the empowerment of women finding their own identity. Mr. Searles talked about all of Edna's work, but she was not a product of her husband or any man as her father had left, she was her own women who spoke for herself and went against society's sexual expectation of women. Friedan spoke for herself and was surrounded by women at Smith and developed a voice for the Second Wave Feminism movement that led to a more accepting and equal society, with less expectations about what a gender is supposed to be. This synthesis of the two has provided me a look into the past to see how we got the accepting (for the most part) culture we have now.

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