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Edyn Rolls

English Literature
Dr. Bennet
2 May 2016
Guess who wrote it
Men and women, simply by nature, are very different. Even the
physiology of men and women provides clear evidence of their differences.
For example, women can give birth, men cannot. Men grow hair on their
chest, and women do not. It is interesting to see the different perspectives
on life, love, and tradition expressed by men and women. This semester, I
thoroughly enjoyed The Pillow Book, which was written by a female author. I
also found the stories of Shakuntala and The Epic of Gilgamesh very
interesting in the way that women are portrayed in them as well as
illuminating the importance of females in society. Generally, women are
portrayed quite differently through the eyes of a man than from the
perspective of a woman.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, written by a man, women are glorified and
valued for their sexuality. For example, Shamhat, open your embrace,
open your embrace, let him take your charms! Be not bashful, take his
vitality! When he sees you, he will approach you, toss aside your clothing,
let him lie upon you, Treat him, a human, to womans work! (Gilgamesh 89). In this example, Shamhat is being glorified for her sexuality and the
value her sexuality offers to the male. While Shamhat is encouraged to

behave in a way that would be pleasing to this man, it is interesting that


there is no concern for the loss of her purity. Perhaps this is because she was
a holy harlot, but I still find it interesting that she is not criticized or
condemned for having lost her virtue. The story seems to equate her worth
as a woman to the amount of comfort she can bring to a man. Even in
modern days, the moral code that frowns upon women who have intercourse
before they are married still casts a long shadow. While this expectation has
been changing, and even if very few follow the protocol, the societal
pressure still persists. The author presents the strong sexual power that
women, who are unmarried, have over men. Further, the author also
illustrates the power of sexuality and the significance of this type of comfort
to a man.
Throughout The Epic of Gilgamesh, women are seem as mechanisms
through which men could find enjoyment. Although women are instructed to
tame the men, women are also taken to bed by force. Another example
where women are treated as sexual objects is Gilgamesh would leave no girl
to her mother! The warriors daughter, the young mans spouse.
(Gilgamesh 5). In this passage, it is implied that women are being taken
advantage of by the king Gilgamesh; he has no respect for boundaries when
it comes to satisfying his desire for a woman. Tragically the women seem to
have no power, however, it also rather interesting that a woman can capture
the attention and focus of a powerful king. The contrast between the value
placed on a womans virtue and the kings disdain for this value when it

comes to his own desires is remarkable. It is fascinating, and rather sad, to


see this enduring double standard so artfully illuminated wherein men are
allowed to seek pleasure with many women while women are held to much
higher standards.
In comparison, although also written by a man, women are treated
more respectfully in the play The Recognition of Sauntala. Although women
in this work do not have a large place in society, they are treated justly and
fairly in terms of male and female relationships. The women still have a
secondary place in the relationships and are not powerful. However, the
women are treated with kindness and gentleness. For instance, Once, dear,
on your sweet arm it lay, and on my heart shall ever stay (Kalidasa 30).
In this passage, the King is speaking to Sakuntala. He is attempting to woo
her. The language used by the king is very gentle and tender. In no way
does one feel that the King is trying to pressure his young love in an
inappropriate or intimidating manner. Rather, the king seems to be
suggesting that his love for Sakuntala is very deep. The king seems to be
expressing empathy and sharing his own tender feelings with Sakuntala.
While the focus of the kings attention is still on his passionate feelings for
Sakuntala, the harsh brute of other literary works that has no regard for a
womans emotional well-being cannot be found in this king.
On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, The Pillow Book,
written by Sei Shonagon, a woman during the Heian Period, focuses on the
womans role in society. It is also interesting to see that in this book as well

as during this time, women had their own private outlets such as writing
poetry. For example, I turned to the Grand Counsellor, who was sitting just
outside, what on earth do I write? I begged him, but he only pushed the
paper to me, saying, Quick write something down yourself for Her Majesty.
Its not a mans place to give advice her here (Shonagon 19). Women
actually had aspects of their lives that were independent from men. The
women had autonomy, were portrayed as strong and capable, and their
strength created a sense of respect in the reader for these admirable
women. These women were not dominated by men. Rather than being only
in supporting roles or secondary positions that lacked strength, women had
roles and positions of responsibility such as the ability to own land or serve in
court. It is astounding that during this era, not too distant in time from the
other literature that the class has read, women had a voice in society.
Women are not glorified as simple sex objects in the novel. Perhaps this
reflects a difference between females and males during this era, regarding
the importance of sexual experience and the perspective from a woman
regarding passionate desires. Females are seen as normal people who
deserve to live life and experience the wonders that were existent during this
era.
In The Pillow Book, it is also interesting to see that women are more
willing to let their voices be heard. For example, People with any standing
ought to give their daughters a taste of society. They show them the world

and let them become familiar with its ways, by serving as attendants at the
palace or other such positions. I cant bear men who consider women who
serve at court to be frivolous and unseemly (Shonagon 22). It is interesting
to examine that women actually had a voice. They could say what they
wanted and found very little repercussions for this boldness. While it could
be that this freedom is particular to the Japanese culture, I believe the author
captured something that transcends a specific culture. Regardless of the
culture or era, even from an infantile stage of the worlds creation, women
wanted a voice. Women wanted to be able to contribute to society in
positive ways, to provide support, knowledge, and utilize their gifts and
abilities in individual situations. The author expresses the ways in which
women in The Pillow Book found significant and specific ways to contribute to
their society.
Many differences may be observed in the way women are depicted in
literature written by men versus literature written by women. Literature
written by men tends to portray women from a sexual perspective. For
example, in the story of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh sleeps with all the brides
before their wedding. In comparison, in The Pillow Book Sei Shonagon
portrays love-making as something between the man and the woman which
they share equally. The emphasis from the male authors on external actions
and themes contrasts with the female perspective of expressing the inner
thoughts and observations. In many cultures over many eras, women have
lived in male dominated environments. What can be seen in all three works

is that women demonstrate strength, but the way in which it is displayed is


different. The male authors seem to view the strength of women as
emanating from her sexuality and her ability to provide comfort in a harsh
world. Even the women in these works are perceived to understand the
power they hold over men through the anticipation of physical intimacy.
From female authors it seems that the strength of the female voice and the
desire to be heard is illustrated. This voice expresses depth and breadth and
perspective that is simply not a part of the works written by men.
In the literature that we have read this semester, all of the works
written by men, Lysistrata, Antigone, Sakuntala, and The Epic of Gilgamesh,
poke fun at women and their status in life. These works seem to see women
as limited in dimensionality and depth. In Lysistrata, the women go on a sex
strike. This examples illustrates the single dimension upon which the male
authors seemed to fixate, and is a jest at the only power women actually had
and how little choice they had regarding the passionate demands of a man.
In Antigone, the, the protagonist is portrayed as a strong woman as an
oxymoron to real life. In comparison, The Pillow Book and Sapphos Poetry,
the women are the main focal point of the story. They are seen as strong
competent beings. While the literature may be a reflection of the status of
women in the culture and historical time when the works were written, these
works reflect a sliver of reality for many cultures and many women over the
evolution of human societies.

One may appreciate how perspectives of men and women from


different cultural and historical periods are preserved through literature.
While considering the different works and the ways in which women are
portrayed, I realize that there are ways in which women still struggle with the
same problems with status as women did centuries before us. While men in
our culture cannot legally violate physical boundaries, many assaults do
occur, and there are other ways in which women are disempowered and
treated as less competent than men. Some cultures still treat women as
property of the men, and women have no voice. We have made progress in
the United States, and I am thankful to be living in an age where women
have many opportunities and rights. Still, women often are viewed as less
capable than men.

Women are still subject to a double standard. Women

are still struggling to find their voices. Maybe, one day, women will be seen
as equally valuable to men even though women may have different
strengths and abilities that they bring to any situation. As a society we can
continue studying and learning about the different perspectives and
treatment of women throughout history and modern ages. What we learn
can inform the dialogue in the University and other settings so we continue
positive transformation of societal conditions. Women have made significant
contributions to literature, and I look forward to learning more about past
and current contributions women are making.

Works Cited
Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin,
1972. Print.
Kalidasa. The Recognition of Sakuntala. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications,
2003. Print.
Shonagon, Sei. The Pillow Book. London: Penguin, 2006. Print