As a birthday present, I received “The World’s Wife” which was written by Carol Ann Duffy in 1999, a poet I had familiarized myself with, at school. As I intently read every line of the poems she wrote, I was intrigued and fascinated at the way she had shifted the perspective of the well-known childhood stories and historical events, to the ‘forgotten women’ in the sideline. Having studied so much in school and university of works through a male perspective in abhorrently sexist times, I was tired of hearing about male characters and their pursuits, challenges, and feelings whilst women were brushed to the side, their only substance being what society and men expected of them and living up to every stereotype of that time. Duffy’s poems were refreshing therefore to read.
One of my favorites from this book was called “Little Red Cup.” By using the well-known story of Little Red Riding Hood by Brothers Grimm, Duffy expresses her leap into adulthood. Instead of Little Red Riding Hood being a naive scared and easily fooled little girl, the girl uses the wolf as guidance for the future, and she is intelligent and independent rather than someone who needs saving. Duffy herself stated that the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale was a representation of male dominance over English literature. This poem makes Red Riding Hood the leader of the story and a hero in herself, the allusion of ‘Red Caps’ have another connotation, giving to the Royal Military Police of the British Army. By changing the perspective, Duffy poses an interesting twist – the majority of the history of literature has been men assuming the characteristics of women and girls and posing them as sensitive and passive. Here, she flips this on the head by giving a voice to these voiceless characters.
This is just one of the Duffy’s poems, and it fits well as increasingly popular media are creating more female role-models in movies, television and social media. The other poems express varying perspectives and personalities, titles such as “Elvis Presley’s twin sister” and “Mrs Darwin” express the women who were overshadowed, but “The Devil’s Wife” expresses the evil and complex side of a woman’s character.
This poetry book poses an interesting question of the representation of females in all of literature and the stories we grew up with: are they a stereotypical version of women and do they affect the way in which we grow up?
I would say certainly they do. Children grow up looking for examples, and are no doubt influenced by what they see in television and books. Recently, Disney movies and the fairy tales that they have been based on, such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, have been said to be ‘outdated’ and having to be revamped for a new generation. While some argue that the 21st century is indoctrinating children into political correctness, fairy-tales undoubtedly were indoctrinating to girls in perpetuating the image of women being passive damsels who can only be saved by men and that marriage is the ultimate reward.
Whilst Duffy is not saying that her poems should be the revamped version, she understands the need for complex characteristics and the varying perspectives of a woman’s personality to be represented and understood, certainly for a modern audience.