Concept “femininity”. Hemingway’s theory of omission
Over the last years, femininity along with masculinity have been widely discussed and defined. What do people understand from the term “femininity” is that it refers to “the distinctive ways of acting and feeling on the part of women” according to a Dictionary of Sociology from 1998. In this way, femininity is linked to women while masculinity is linked to men, but recent studies and researches tried to change these views and educate the people to avoid thinking anymore in binaries. Also, it is known that these two terms are clearly tied to our conception of gender which has evolved so much during the last years.
Characteristics as submissiveness, compassion, caring towards the others, elegance, fragility have been identified as feminine traits while competitiveness and power were defined as being masculine ones. However, time has shown that a woman can be as powerful and competitive as a man and, on the other part, men can take care of the others or be as sensitive as women are. Sexes are divided by nature, but not by gender as nowadays many people identify themselves as genderless and even nature is not unchangeable taking into account the fact that monthly around the world are born intersex people who are not anymore male or female, but both . Also, a new form of gender has evolved being called “asexual”, a term which is defined and analyzed in the book “Understanding Asexuality” as the lack of sexual attraction but also as a Western phenomenon or a protest against traditional categories of sexual identities.
Femininity is perceived different around the world. What is considered feminine in one country, may be very masculine in another and vice versa. Some things have changed over the time as the colors pink and blue which were associated pink with boys and blue with girls, but now it is exactly the opposite or high heels that were a masculine type of shoes now became the symbol of attractiveness for women and many more other examples as body alteration for aesthetical reasons. Many writers as Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan debated the idea of ideal feminine and contributed to the change of view upon women and upon femininity in general. In popular culture, there have been some serious issues with the proclaiming of Barbie as being the icon of femininity by Mattel in the United States which started a series of controversies around the world especially in China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Not only female writers, but also male ones wrote about femininity and its manifestation upon their characters. One of the most notable one is Ernest Hemingway whose short-stories and novels became prominent for their minimalist style and attitudes towards femininity. In “Ernest Hemingway: machismo and masochism” it is discussed the problem of his sexuality (many suspected that he was homosexual) and the tag of misogynist which was used by many critics while describing his persona. The question of Hemingway inclination towards misogyny and feminism has been on everybody’s lips for years and it is still a subject of debate today. Whether he was or not a man who hated the women his writings contain female characters that depict strength, intelligence, independence and emancipation. The “theory of iceberg” which was coined by Hemingway influenced the reading of his novels and short-stories. In order to understand his writings, this theory needs to be studied.
Known also as the “theory of omission”, the author talks for the first time about it in his book “Death in the afternoon”, a book apparently about bull-fighting but which is more than that for this sport becomes for Hemingway a sort of ritual: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”
In other words, the writer encourages the others to write fewer, but deeper. It is not the number of words that make a text good, but the feelings and reactions that it sends. The reader must see beyond sentences and phrases and sense the things that the author wanted to state. Alike an ice-berg the written text is only the tip of it and the meaning behind is the body of the ice-berg which is usually under the water so beyond the text on the paper.
This theory is essential in order to understand the attitude Hemingway has on femininity and how his characters are depicted and constructed. In some of his short-stories (“Hills like white elephants”; “Cat in the rain”) and novels (“The sun also rises”; “A farewell to arms”) Ernest Hemingway has built strong characters, with interesting personalities and also described the movements that occurred during his time as the “New Woman” and Ecofeminism which brought a new view upon the reading of his texts. From the “Flapper girl” to interpreting a text through its connection to nature, his minimalist style is a true characteristic of modernity.
“The sun also rises” and influences of the “New Woman”
This chapter focuses on the novel “The sun also rises”, it’s characters and the influence of the “New Woman” and how it is depicted by the author in the text. The novel was published in 1926 and was perceived by many readers as a “scenario of expatriate life outside the Prohibition-restricted United States” because of the setting (Paris and Spain) and the adventurous life the characters had there (both socially and sexually). The main characters (Jack Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn) travel from Paris to Pamplona, Spain to watch the bullfights but find themselves in a more complicated situation than they expected. The American expatriate Barnes and the Englishwoman Brett are involved in a love triangle with Cohn due to Barnes friendship with Robert and Brett’s affair with him. Lady Brett Ashley’s behavior is perceived as a specific one for the 1920s when bobbed hair, affairs and sexual freedom were signs of that time.
According to Rabinovitch-Fox the “New Woman” was shaped by a generation of women between 1890 and 1920 that challenged the gender norms and demanded freedom and independence. They activated in numerous domains as work, entertainment, politics and education and built a modern understanding of femininity which placed the women more in the public sphere than the private one. This new model became soon mainstream and influenced the socially changes of the twentieth century. From the Gibson girl to the New Negro Woman up to The Flapper Girl, these varieties of the New Woman brought something new, something inovative that would place the women in the sphere of modernity.
The “flapper” girl represented the modern woman, a woman who was not afraid to feel free and show it through her look and behaviour. The hair cut short, the make-up on their faces and the sexual liberation they were claiming, the flapper girl detached from the former looks and tight corsets. Usually identified with youthness, these women were depicted in advertisements for cars, cosmetics, clothing that pictured the modern life. Every woman could become a flapper girl regardless of her age because if they felt young, than they were young even though they were fifty or sixty. Their look was described as being androgynous or even boyish because of the slender figure and traits as smoking were seen as being masculine . In this way, the flapper girl is a whole new woman whose main job was not to bear children, but to be free from any point of view. The “new sexual order” of 1920s also discussed by Rabinovitch-Fox brought into attention the fact that the premarital sex, pleasure, sexual expression and commercialization were inclined towards heterosexuality and normality where homosexual desires and inclinations were excluded from. So, this new sexual order did not help in liberating the women sexuality, but to promote it toward and for men.
Through the character of Lady Brett Ashley Hemingway managed to portray the New Woman in his novel. Her relationship with Jack Barnes does not imply intercourse due to Jack’s impotence, but displays a more than friendly interaction. It was something usual for a new woman to have male friends. They know each other pretty well and act as old friends when they meet. However, he breaks frindship with Robert Cohn when he finds out that Brett had an affair with him. These attitudes reflect the changing of sex role patterns in the western society where the Victorian model was still in use. An Englishwoman showing American behaviour in Europe seemed an anomaly at the beginning of the twentieth century. Only Robert Cohn remains to the values at that century displaying a traditional, romantic character .
“Cat in the rain” vs. “Hills like white elephants”. Ecofeminism
This chapter deals with the link between the characters and nature and how feelings and actions are depicted around them. “Cat in the rain” was published in 1925 in the collection “In our time” while “Hills like white elephants” was published two years later, in 1927, in the collection “Men without women” both being heavily read and discussed by the readers and representative for the minimalistic style specific to Hemingway. At first, the action is quite similar: an American couple (married or not) is on holiday in Europe (Italy or Spain) and has a conversation on a specific subject (a cat out in the rain or an operation) which bears more then it seems.
The two short-stories can be analyzed from the ecofeminism point of view they imply characters which seem to connect with nature and the things around them. Greta Gaard describes ecofeminism as a theory that evolved from various fields and its “basic premise is that the ideology which authorizes oppressions such as those based on race, class, gender, sexuality, physical abilities, and species is the same ideology which sanctions the oppression of nature.” In this way, this movement tries to end the oppression of these targeted groups and to liberate nature .