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Feminism in Fifth Business

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Matthew Ferreira

on 2 June 2014

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Transcript of Feminism in Fifth Business

In Book 2 we are shown more of Leola's poor character in her use of
Dunstan as nothing more than a temporary replacement for Percy while he is away, and her fickleness is once again made known when she leaves him so quickly. Dunstan himself quotes her flaws numerous times throughout the novel; he considers her a "pinhead" whose letters are "barren of content" and "ill-expressed", a clear indication of how shallow and undeveloped her personality and intellect is.

Dunstan clearly demonstrates his dislike for his mother, expressing
his relief when he learns of her death, another clear indication of the lack of respect for womyn in the novel. He is not shy with expressing his feelings, and admits upon learning of her death he "felt the loss so little" and explains his mother had "eaten [his] father, and [that he] was glad [he] did not have to fight any longer to keep her from eating [him]". This ungrateful, misogynistic attitude towards his mother is an embodiment of the stereotypical housewife/mother, whose importance to the family is overlooked, shrouded in the shadow cast by her role as the "strict, serious parent". Dunstan affixes his mother with "good, ignorant, confident women", whom "one grows to hate".

It is in Book 2 that we also meet one of the few female characters
whose positive qualities outweigh their faults. Diana Marfleet is independent, intelligent, ambitious, and tenacious,
not to mention caring and nurturing. She is a nurse,
which despite being fairly stereotypical also
indicates a more modern and feminist way of thinking.
Dunstan stresses that she is an individual, with her
own unique identity. Her apparent "flaw" is that she
is motherly, the reason Dunstan chooses not to remain
romantically involved with her. This adds to the
negative light shed on mothers, and the degrading
atmosphere cast over women in roles of power or
control over others.
Book 2
book 3
book 4
Davies’ depiction of women in the traits of Mrs. Dempster are
degrading and insulting; the fragility, sensitivity, weakness and delicacy she demonstrates from the very beginning of the book are all parts of the stereotypical depiction of a petite woman, which Davies has used, either intentionally or unwittingly, in a slight towards women. She then progresses into a new stereotype; demonstrating dimwitted and ditzy characteristics, an incompetence as a housewife and mother, and an innocence that can only be described as ignorance. Her descent into madness leaves readers with a certain apprehension and distrust towards her character, and contradict Dunstan’s own opinions of her. Her act in the gravel pit only fortifies these pre-existing flaws, and adds on that of a unintelligent and easily manipulated creature with no sense of self-respect or decency. Considering she is, according to Dunstan, the most significant female character in the novel, her role holds more precedent than those of the other females, and the poor portrayal of the most important female character in the book is a clear indication of the lack of consideration Davies has for women.

Leola is shown to be fickle, dim-witted, indecisive and naïvely
trusting, as she forgives Percy for his act of infidelity immediately, with no hesitation or contemplation of the possibility that this act demonstrates something of his character which could have a detrimental impact on their future relationship. There is also the possibility that she is simply after his wealth; either way she is shown to have negative qualities which reflect on the overall representation of women in the novel.

In book 4 Boy Staunton shows a misogynistic personality. He treats Leola with casual
abuse. He shows his blatant disregard for women when he asks Dunstan to look at the naked pictures of Leola with them. When Leola objects he forces her to look at them with him and Dunstan. Boy does not care that he is humiliating her. All he cares about is flaunting the fact that he married Leola and Dunstan did not. Boy further expresses his complete disregard for womyn when he fails to show any care for Leola's feelings when she discovers the note from one of his mistresses. He says that she should not worry, and that her position with him is solid.

Another Misogynistic character in Fifth Business is the venerable Padre Blazon. He
tells Dunstan that when he was younger, women would practically throw themselves at his feet because he refused to be tempted. He depicts women as temptresses and sluts. Even as an old man he seems to hold nothing but contempt for women.

When Dunstan places Mrs. Dempster into the mental hospital he feels that this is the
best thing that he can do for her. He sought to get the custody to take care of her and once he had her he had no idea what to do with her. He seems to take interest in the poor condition of the place where he has put her but he does not care enough to do anything about it. He should have looked for a better solution than merely dumping her like some unwanted garbage bag. Dunstan shows that he has no regard for Mrs Dempster. If he really cared for her then he could have stopped taking his extended trips to help care for her.

Leola may be the stereotypical female character, however Dunstan says that "A woman can
go just so far on the capital of being a pretty girl." Dunstan is trying to say that Leola's looks are useful to have but they will not get her everything that she wants. Leola still needs to be able to work and do thing on her own. This is a feminist view given by Dunstan regarding Leola's position with Boy.
Boy begins to see other women behind Leola's back while he's in the
city, without thinking much of it. But when Leola wants to train as a nurse, she's told not to because she would be changing bedpans and urinals, and washing naked men. This is seen as a double standard because of the fact that Boy is running around with a multitude of other women, while Leola is stuck at home, "surrounded by the haze of sanctity that was supposed to envelop an engaged girl." (113)

The reason Boy feels no guilt or remorse about these sideline girls
is because to him, they knew what they were doing. They were experienced in fields that Leola never knew existed. And though he fell for a girl for a few weeks (Dunny calls them "pashes"), he was never in love with them like he was with Leola, and he uses this excuse to brush off these pashes. Despite this, Boy says he wants to be perfectly fair to Leola, which he isn't being at all.

In chapter 2, Dunny says that he liked the fact that Colborne was a
boys' school because he never wanted to teach girls. He says that he didn't think they are best served by the kind of education devised by men.

"I did not want her, but it annoyed me that Boy had her. I had not only learned about physical love in splendid guise from Diana; I had also acquired from her an idea of a woman as a delightful creature that walked and talked and joked and thought and understood, which quite outsoared anything in Leola's modest repertoire of charms. Nevertheless - egotistical dog in the manger that I was - I keenly resented the fact that she had thrown me over for Boy and had not the courage to write and tell me so." (114-115)
book 1 Questions
If Leola had stood up for herself and told Boy about what she wanted do you think that their marriage would have differed at all?

Do you think Leola's attempted suicide is a show of how without a loving Husband or Lover a woman cannot be happy?

Book 2 Questions
What do you think the author's intention is when he places so much emphasis on Dunstan's apprehension towards motherly figures?

Should authors from more sexist eras be judged just as harshly as those in the modern day?
Which is worse: the portrayal of women as degrading and insulting stereotypes, or a direct comparison to men, showing women to be inferior?
From your own observations and perspective of the book
beforehand, do you believe that Fifth Business is in fact misogynist?

Presented with this information, has your opinion of misogyny in Fifth Business changed? Do you believe that the novel is misogynist?

Do you think that the misogyny in Fifth Business was intentional? If so, what was its purpose?

book 3 questions
Do you think that, as is the
case with Dunstan's belief that girls are best taught differently than boys, that there are certain things that suit one gender better than the other? If so are these things sexist, or merely facts of life?

Why do you believe it is
generally more acceptable in society for men to have had multiple relationships whereas for women it tends to lead to the idea of "spoiled goods"?
Book 5
In book five we are introduced to Liesl, who Dunstan describes
as “the ugliest human creature [he] had ever seen.” There is a paragraph-long description that talks about the details of Liesl’s ugliness. Throughout the chapter, Dunstan makes a habit of continuously bringing up her physical appearance. He is initially so overwhelmed and transfixed with her appearance that he fails to see past it. It is only after some time with her that he grows accustom to this and begins to notice her other traits, such as her awe-inspiring intellect. The physical appearance of women is often placed above other aspects in terms of their importance, and I think the message Davies tries to convey in this book is that appearances aren't everything; in other words, you cannot judge a book by its cover. We see a stronger bond between Liesl and Dunstan as they have a large conversation with Eisengrim over lunch.

“Liesl became less ugly after an hour or two.” Dunstan had
thought to himself while they talked during their lunch. He mentions her clothing and how it looks like men’s clothes: again he is focusing on the outer, materialistic and tangible aspects of the woman, not the actual woman herself. He even states that “If [he] had been in her place [he] would not have worn men’s patent-leather dancing shoes—size eleven at least...” Dunstan soon finds Leisl to be more attractive mentally, because she is very intelligent, and that was something that caught his attention. Throughout the rest of the chapter, Dunstan does not talk about her physical appearance as much as he had before he knew who she actually was.

In a feminist point of view, men focus on women’s appearance
first and foremost, which can leave the person who is beneath the skin, to be someone who is rejected.

Book 5 Question
Book 1
In book one, the women are portrayed
as flat characters whose motivations are never explored or included in-depth. Most of the women in book 1 are reduced to singular character traits, such as beauty, or promiscuity.

Mrs. Ramsay is portrayed as a woman that has a
lot of power, both in her marriage and in the town, and this is one of the reasons she tends to be viewed in a poor light. Dunny views his father poorly because his wife has more power than him.

Even Mary Dempster, who should have
a very rounded character, is put on a pedestal by Dunny. She is never seen as responsible for her actions. That responsibility falls to her husband because he is supposed to "control" her. Her saintly status is viewed by Dunny as a valid reason to forgive her actions.
Introduction Question
Why do you think Leola chose to stay with Boy despite his infidelity and impatience? Does this show patience and tolerance or foolishness and poor judgment?

How would you differentiate between a misogynist book and a book with occasional misogynist tendencies? What is the limit on misogynistic "slip-ups" before a book is deemed sexist?
book 4 questions
book 5 questions
Do you think that Liesl's unattractiveness was an effective method of conveying the intended message?

In your opinion do women generally consider physical appearances as important as men?
book 6
Denyse Hornick is "a power in the world of women".
Her success in the business world is a testament to feminism. But take the time to analyze this deeper and you can see that it is just the opposite.

First and foremost, the fact that successful womyn
are so uncommon in the novel as to warrant noteworthiness indicates an imbalance in power.

Secondly, Denyse is portrayed as selfish,
arrogant, and manipulative, none of which compliment the image of the working womyn, instead leading readers to associate successful womyn with negative traits. It implies that either to be successful womyn must become manipulative and arrogant, or that as a result of becoming successful womyn will develop said flaws. Her intelligence is described as her "masculinity of mind", a term with clear implications. She has also apparently "sacrificed so much of her feminine self in order to gain success in the business world".

"Boy had always been fond of the sexual pleasure women could give him, but I doubt if he ever knew much about women as people,"

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