In both The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine De Pizan and Wife of Bath by Geoffery Chaucer, the female protagonists show their power by behaving in ways typically displayed by men. In this essay, I will argue that both women in these stories are powerful in the way that they possess traits that are commonly viewed as masculine. Some may argue that these characters portray negative stereotypes of women that aren’t truly powerful, however, I believe both Christine and the Wife of Bath behave in powerful ways.
In The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine Pizan draws her power from being adequate to men. The Book of the City of Ladies shed light on the strength and unification of all women. This text constructs a strong feminist argument that goes against the patriarchal society in which it takes place.
The Book of the City of Ladies follows the interaction between the author, Christine, and three allegoric figures who represent different virtues. One day while reading a book, Christine is saddened by the writing, which she considers to be an unfair portrayal of women. In response to this, Christine says “no matter which way I looked at it and no matter how much I turned the question over in my mind, I could find no evidence from my own experience to bear out such a negative view of female nature and habits,” (Pizan, 783). From the text, it’s clear that women in this story were often subjects of oppression from their male counterparts. Christine’s narrative suggests that women in this text were objectified and treated as second class citizens by men. Christine is then joined by three allegorical female figures representing three virtues: Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. These women tell her “our aim is to help you get rid of those misconceptions which have clouded your mind” (Pizan, 785). The women instruct Christine to build the City of Ladies. They tell her she is to populate the city with the most intelligent, seasoned women. Once they have completed the city, Christine speaks to the women of the city, reminding them to uphold the principles that lead to the construction of the City of Ladies. The city serves as a sanctuary for women where they can be free of oppression from men.
In The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine draws her power from being equal to men. In doing so, Christine defends her rights as well as the rights of other women to live peacefully. The City of Ladies serves as a gentle celebration of women. By creating the City of Ladies as a safe space for her kind, Christine did something that was previously only done by men, this action is a power move in itself.
Geoffery Chaucer’s character, the Wife of Bath, shows her power by behaving in a way that was only seen as masculine at this time. The Wife of Bath begins with a group of pilgrims sharing stories while on their quest to visit the shrine of Thomas Beckett. Of these storytellers was the Wife of Bath, or Alyson. From her tale, we learn that the Wife of Bath is a wealthy woman and has been married five times. We also learn of the abuse she subjected her husbands to. The Wife of Bath admits that her first three husbands were favorable mostly because they were of old age, wealthy and submissive — easier for her to manipulate. She admits to using her verbal and sexual advantage against her husbands to trap them in compliance. The Wife of Bath reveals that she once accused her husband of having an affair, starting an argument in which she would bombard him false accusations. She staged these fights because she knew her husband would quickly feel bad and give her whatever she desired. She even admits to taunting her husbands by refusing to give them sexual satisfaction until they fulfilled her financial desires. The Wife also depicts herself as sexually experienced, and believes in women having multiple sexual partners, as men did. To be this confident in one’s sexual experiences was something only men did in this story, therefore the Wife of Bath is displaying her power by behaving equivalently to men.
The Wife of Bath is a powerful character not only because she is a strong, knowledgeable woman, but because she behaves similar to how powerful men are assumed to be able to do so. Her story implies that she lived a blissful life, which was uncommon for a woman during this time. After all, the Wife of Bath is partially deaf as a result of being beaten by a previous husband, so the fact that she is living happily is somewhat of a power move. The Wife of Bath is frightening to the other pilgrims because she is a woman who holds traits that were only displayed by men at this time. She is stubborn, intimidating and unapolagetic, she wants sex, financial oversight, and authority. She is someone who has overcome the limitations imposed upon her in order to rise up above oppression. These traits are some that would typically be seen by a man in a story like this. By giving the Wife of Bath these powerful characteristics, Chaucer makes a statement against the views of his time by saying that a woman can do anything a man can. The Wife of Bath’s source of power comes from dominance, fear, manipulation, role reversal, and just plain sneaky tactics that have allowed her to take advantage of her husbands.
Some may argue that these characters portray negative stereotypes of women, however, I believe both Christine and the Wife of Bath behave in a powerful way that celebrates women and their strength. Both characters demonstrate values that were previously thought to only belong to men. Christine is brave, smart and celebratory. The Wife of Bath is strong, clever and unruly. The female protagonists in The Wife of Bath and Book of The City of Ladies are both two powerful women.
By writing women in roles of power, both Chaucer and Pizan challenge the patriarchal views that were so heavy during this time. The lives of women in these texts often consisted of oppressive treatment and forced seclusion. By showing the complications that these women were forced to endure, both Chaucer and Pizan tell the stories of women who hold power against their male counterparts. In these stories, both Christine and the Wife of Bath serve as examples of women who defied what society told them to do. In these stories, the female protagonists hold their power by behaving in ways typically reserved for men. Through their work, Chaucer and Pizan confirm that both women are powerful in the way that they both display traits that are commonly viewed as masculine.