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Gender Foucault

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By patelmi6
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1) How do the texts you have selected EITHER challenge or reinforce conventional ideas about the following discourses?
a. Gender b. Power (& Leadership) c. Identity d. Nature e. Culture

The societies encountered by the Theban woman Antigone is Sophocles' Antigone, and the 19th century Englishwoman Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre, can be seen as highly unfavourable and disdainful of women. Both Antigone and Jane Eyre struggle and resist against a society which places men above them, and which sees expressions of female autonomy and liberty as unfavourable trends. Antigone and Jane Eyre both live in societies where a patriarchal culture dictates how these women should act within society, and what type of behaviour is acceptable, and which isn't. The control and subjugation of women – and the way they express themselves – can be seen as a consequence of discursive formations which aim to define the intrinsic qualities of men and women. It is in this context that the stories of Antigone and Jane Eyre can be seen as challenging conventional notions of gender and gender stereotypes, a highly pervasive discourse which affects a cluster of other ideas. This essay will argue that the characters Antigone in Sophocles' Antigone and Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre are characters who challenge gender discourses which were very prominent during their time, and subsequently, the ideational influences which structured leadership, the creation of identities, opinions regarding natural attributes, and cultural . While Antigone lives in a pre-modern society dominated by males who take the subservience and submission of women to be a given, Jane Eyre is a young woman within modern society who also challenges residual gender discourses which have normalized the importance of men within society. The following paper will attempt to first understand what a “discourse” truly is, and how the discursive production of knowledge within society, a process best characterized by the French post-modern philosopher Michel Foucault. Focauldian discourse analysis can assist in understanding and demystifying the manner in which the actions and opinions of Antigone and Jane Eyre directly challenge conventional ideas of female subservience within Thebes and late 19th century England. The placement of males as the dominant figures within social hierarchies can be seen as a gendered discourse which manifests itself discursively. The placement of heterosexual males as the dominant figures within society is a a phenomenon that can understood as taking place “discursively” and through the aegis of discourses. In his highly influential book “Discipline and Punish” Foucault is able to describe how unequal power relations manifest themselves within society, a hierarchy which aptly describes the societies of Jane Eyre and Antigone which are dominated by the male gender and the discourse which normalizes this inequality. This is a phenomenon analyzed by sociologists Allan Edwards and James Skinner in the book “Extending the Boundaries,” where they analyze how clusters of ideas are generated through the discursive production of knowledge described by Foucault in his writings. “Discourses” influence who wields power and how this control expresses itself, and an analysis of “discourses” assists in explaining the significance of Antigone and Jane Eyre's resistance against gendered discourses. For Foucault a “discourse” is “closely interrelated” with power and knowledge, and it is noted that they are so intimately intertwined that “discourse” can be seen as “co-extensive with a field of power” (Edwards and Skinner 60). “Power” and “Knowledge” assist in generating discourses, and it is in this manner that gender discourses which subjugate women, such as those encountered by Jane Eyre and Antigone, can be seen as part and parcel of a unique way of understanding male power and the knowledge which he wishes to see permeate society (Edwards and Skinner 60). By analyzing discourses, such as those witnessed within Antigone and Jane Eyre, one becomes privy to how there are “links between knowledge, power and resultant discourses” (Edwards and Skinner 60). This emphasis upon “links” in Foucauldian thought is especially pertinent to our analysis of Antigone and Jane Eyre, and the manner in which their challenge against traditional and conventional gender norms in the respective books that have received their namesake, also have implications for the way in which other discursive formations, such as those relating the leadership, identity, nature and culture, are also questioned. Foucault believed that all discourses – because of their intrinsically oppressive nature and substance – possessed “internal contradictions” which exposed the false way in which they aimed to structure and explain reality in a skewed manner (Edwards and Skinner 60). Foucault argued that in order to understand these “contradictions,” one should “describe the contradictions and puzzles as they become apparent, as a 'tool for radical political action'” (Foucault 205). This final insight is very important to the present understanding of how Antigone and Jane Eyre challenge conventional ideas and views relating to gender, and how this can be seen as part and parcel of the “radical political action” discussed by Foucault and which witnesses these two young ladies radically voice their opinions in Antigone and Jane Eyre. Foucault does caution that when engaging in discourse analysis, and while aiming to understand how a particular discourse oppressively determines how a particular reality is to be understood, one must understand that a “discourse analysis recognizes itself to be a historically situated interpretation of a historically situated discourse related to a discourse and power for the people involved” (Edwards and Skinner 60). It is in this manner that Antigone and Jane Eyre – women who can be seen as feminist activists who are attempting to thwart the male dominated gender discourse within their societies – are themselves discourse analysts, and as such many of Foucault's ideas relating to discourse analysis have resonance with these two texts. Challenging a discourse by a discourse analyst requires one to understand “the regularities that determine the operation of a specific historically situated discourse, including social practices as well as the rules of written and spoken discourse” (Edwards and Skinner 61). Foucault believed that one must be very vigilant when examining a discourse in order to resist it, and when analyzing a discourse it is imperative that one “consider what conflicting groups of people are saying within the discourse” and that it is important to understand “who gets listened to most often and why, what the hidden agendas are, who gets chastised for their deeds or writings” and also “how the discourse becomes widespread and to whom, and how the existence of the discourse is said to be necessary and to whom” (Edwards and Skinner 61). These insights provide a rich cornucopia of insight into how power and knowledge intimately intersect with discourses, and it is through the minds of Antigone and Jane Eyre we are privy to the attempt to two women to challenge a gender discourse within their societies which has implications for a cluster of other ideas, namely leadership, power, nature, and culture. Foucault's belief that a discourse is heavily dependent upon these ideas – ideas and sub-discourses concerning knowledge and power – is pivotal to understanding how Jane Eyre and Antigone are themselves challenging the dominance of males and a discourse which favours their monopoly on power and knowledge. In Sophocles' Antigone the story's main character Antigone can be seen as a woman who is disheartened by the highly oppressive and dictatorial rule of the Theban King Creon, who often justifies his harsh ways by alluding to the “natural-ness” of male domination within Theban society. This feeling is manifest in Creon's mind, which can be seen as a component of how knowledge and power and intimately intertwined in this gender discourse in the following quote: "And no woman shall seduce us. If we must lose, Let's lose to a man, at least! Is a woman stronger than we?" (Sophocles 218). This feeling is expressed by Creon as he is being challenged by Antigone, who wishes to go against his harsh decrees and laws. Antigone views Creon's desire to physically desecrate her brother's body as a great shame, and although Creon is the King, she understands that he will not listen to her since she is a woman. Antigone hopes to go against this male-centered gender discourse by taking her brother's body and providing it with a proper burial, much against Creon's wishes. The highly contentious nature of this action – and how significant it is that Antigone is challenging the gender discourse of male dominance – is manifest by Creon's reaction: “The is guilty of double insolence, Breaking the given laws and boasting it. Who is the man here. She or I, if this crime goes unpunished?” (Sophocles 209). Creon sees Antigone's actions as a threat to the entire way in which Theban society is structured, with the discourse of male dominance deeply interwoven into society. Ideas relating to leadership and identity – with men naturally being fit to rule and dominate women – are also being questioned through Antigone's recalcitrant actions. Not only is she questioning conventional ideas relating to gender, but also the very cultural ideas which states that they are part of nature. It is in this way that Antigone's mission against Creon can be seen as directly challenging the cluster of ideas conceptualized by Foucault, which see the intersection of power and knowledge. Antigone's mission against Creon is quite remarkable, and witnessing a woman evangelize against a male-centered society – and the discourses which sustain it – is indicative of how significant Antigone's actions and ideas truly are. Antigone is very self-aware of how she is going against the grain of established norms within society, and she is very self-conscious of this reality. Her mission against the male dominated gender discourse is clear when she states: “They say no woman has ever, so unreasonably, Died so shameful a death for a generous act: 'She covered her brother's body. Is this indecent? She kept him from dogs and vultures. Is this a crime?” (Sophocles 218). These conscious statements by Antigone suggest that she is resisting the gender discourse of male dominance which dominates Thebes, and which is reinforced in society by Creon's heavy-handedness. The character Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre also appears to be a figure who challenges the discourses of 19th century England through her desire to obtain freedom and equality on par with that of men, and which is denied to her. Jane Eyre actively aims to challenge the discourse of male domination in England, and in the following passage she directly addresses how women are relegated to an inferior position in comparison to men:
“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex” (Eyre 112). Jane Eyre hopes to achieve a semblance of equality with men so that she can focus on the interests and pursuits which she holds very dear. She intuitively understands how a particular gender discourse that is in place within 20th century England determines what women's natural faculties may be, and the intersection of how this “knowledge” determines relations of “power,” just as Foucault had intimated in his own writings on discourse analysis. She states that women are expected to be “calm generally” but in reality “women feel just as men feel” and that they must be able to “exercise... their faculties” (Eyre 112). She is aware that the male dominated culture takes women to adhere to a particular identity, which takes women's nature to be very stereotypical. Women are expected to fulfil household duties, and this is something that Jane Eyre takes great issue with, since their own creativity and freedom is restrained. She views with great sorrow how it is truly “narrow-minded” that “more privileged fellow-creatures” (in this case men), say that women “ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings” and “playing on the piano and embroidering bags” (Eyre 112). This domesticated function is seen as “thoughtless” by Eyre who believes that women should be able to “do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex” (Eyre 112). This last idea relating to “custom” is highly penetrating, for it displays how women are oppressed on account of what is actually a discursive formation that attempts to create knowledge regarding their nature and identity, which does not bode well for their ability to express leadership and power. This “custom” is part of the gender discourse which Jane Eyre wishes to challenge, and it is through the perceptive views expressed by her in this passage that one is privy to her desire to go against this discourse and expose it for what it is – a means of creating unequal hierarchies through knowledge, and by extension, leadership/power. In conclusion this essay wished to problematize the male dominated gender discourse which forced both Antigone and Jane Eyre to engage in deep introspection regarding how oppressive it truly was. The assistance of Michel Foucault's theories regarding discourses provides Jane Eyre and Antigone's views/opinions with greater lucidity, since it was these women who wished to deconstruct the discourse of male dominance which limited them, and which intersected with ideas relating to leadership, nature, culture and identity. A cluster of ideas exist within the gender discourse encountered by these two women that operate together to place women in a subservient position, and it is through an analysis of each respective woman's own attempt at discourse analysis – and questioning the supposed normalcy of male centered society – that a clearer understanding of the oppression of gender discourses is obtained.
Works Cited
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Random House, 1943. Print.

Edwards, Allan, James Skinner, and Keith Gilbert. Extending the Boundaries. Altona: Common Ground Publishers, 2002. Print.

Sophocles, E F. Watling, Sophocles, Sophocles, and Sophocles. The Theban Plays. London: Penguin, 1974. Print.…...

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