I was appalled by what I witnessed over the weekend. A father selling his headstrong daughter to the highest bidder; the girl’s new husband depriving her food and sleep to break her will; and finally the menfolk gathering to boast who tamed whose woman best.
Yet I was just as dumbfounded that the community watching this spectacle – women included – was delighted by the goings on. No one seemed to get the message of The Taming of the Shrew: women should be subjugated by and subservient to their husbands, who are their lords, keepers, heads and sovereigns. Is this the idea mothers and fathers want their daughters and sons to learn? Did they take the time to discuss the misogyny and paternalism they were enthusiastically applauding?
Yes the play was written in another time and within a different context. And no doubt women, at least in democratic and developed nations, have gained some parity with men. However, the notion that men are the rightful rulers of women, families and communities persist even though hunter-gatherer societies have long ceased to exist save for the remotest regions of the earth. Most means of livelihood can be taken on by either sex, if given the opportunity. Women are now leaders of industry and government. Even in the battlefield, females have proven just as courageous and capable as male soldiers. Both genders can now provide for and nurture a family. Yet somehow, the thought that women are less than men, that women should be dependent on men, that men should be above all others is propagated and at times celebrated to this very day.
Case in point is Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell. In 1989, as a 34 year old army veteran with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business and while getting a combined law and second master’s degree; interning at the U.S. House Republican Policy Committee; and preparing to run for the Virginia House of Delegates, McDonnell wrote a thesis that promotes power relations of the 16th century and modern day theocracies. In the paper, he
describes working women and feminists as “detrimental” to the family; advocates for government policy to favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators;” and deems as “illogical” a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples. Although the politician claims he was younger then and that his views have changed, well, he wasn’t exactly a naive twenty something at the time and he is a politician who wants to be elected in a blue state. And sadly, there are millions of Americans just like him if not more medieval.
The thing is, why can’t a couple be equals? Why does one have to control the other? Why can’t both contribute and care in equal measure?
The thing that dismays me is how people don’t ask these questions and how they are very much like the defeated Kate, whose independence and thought have been tamed by manly Petruchio.