Reading about/as/through the gender critics…

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:00 pm by Dominique

Hi all,

Alessandra Cervinaro and Cassandra Ramlochan have agreed to be our main bloggers this week. They will continue the discussion we began at the end of class on Thursday by composing an analysis of The Turn of the Screw using a gender studies approach. Using the steps outlined on the handout you received in class, and selecting a useful “passage” (as modeled in class) that will support a gender-focused analysis, each main blogger will write a carefully-structured paragraph of 500-550 words using the guidelines below. These paragraphs should be submitted by this Monday at midnight.

First, consider the questions we addressed from a feminist perspective. (See the handout from last class on 11/1–also in your email box–especially for Steve E. who didn’t get a copy in class! A lot of feminist issues overlap with gender criticism–just remember what we said about gender critics approaching gender as a social construction.) Think specifically about how gender and sexuality were conceived of when the text was composed and/or published. See the gender criticism essay assigned for Thursday in the back of The Turn of the Screw about two central historical factors that make gender an interesting and challenging topic in the late 19th century: Oscar Wilde being put on trial for homosexual behavior and the rise of early women’s rights movements. You’ll want to acknowledge these historical circumstances as you dive into your analysis.

Then, focus on the following two-step method. Don’t think about responding to these questions in list form–rather use them as a guide to construct a fluid paragraph. If you focus more on some parts of the questions and leave others out in order to develop your ideas, that’s okay!

1. (More descriptive) How are gender norms established: What kinds of gender norms are present in the text? Are specifically gendered codes of behavior explicitly or implicitly dramatized in the text? (Are certain things assumed about how “males” and “females” should behave–how they should dress, interact, pursue a career, etc?)

2. (More analytical) How are gender norms transgressed: Do characters transgress general social codes of gender? If so, how does the text respond to this transgression? If not, why not? Do characters exhibit unexplained desire (or desire without a coherent object of that desire)? Are characters depressed or melancholy for reasons that are relatively unexplained? How are same-sex friendships described? Are these more or less passionate than opposite-sex couplings? Are these friendships seen as problematic?

When you think about how to craft your paragraph, try using the following outline:

I. In a sentence or two, establish the historical and cultural importance of gender issues at the time James is writing and consider why such issues might be reflected in James’s text, whether consciously or not. (This is where you establish your motive for using this particular critical approach. Alternatively, if you were using post-colonialism, you might discuss how the author is invested in/aware of how imperialism. If you were using psychoanalysis, you might want to note when the text was published in relation to Freud’s work and why the notion of the unconscious would capture people’s attention at that time.)

II. Describe the way gender roles are treated in the text more generally (see question 1 above). The purpose of providing this context is to help set you up to focus on one specific illustration of the way these roles are enforced and/or transgressed later on in the paragraph (and later on in an essay, if you were writing an essay).

III. Include a “passage” (carefully transcribed, properly indented, and cited, please!) that will allow you to focus in on one character, one relationship, or one type of gender “norm” that you can then analyze in more detail (thinking ahead to how you will use question 2 above as you cite your passage).

IV. Present your analysis of the passage, responding to some aspect of question 2 by highlighting the implications of specific language used or assumptions made in the passage.


Commentators should do this same exercise in a shorter form–in 150-200 words, by Wednesday at midnight–providing only one sentence for each part of the outline. While these paragraphs will clearly not be as well developed as those of the two main bloggers, this a useful approach to test out anyway; I hope it’s one with which we’ll grow more comfortable during the remainder of the semester and beyond this course.

This is also a model that I would like to see all of you adopt in your second paper, which you’ll be working on over the next four weeks and which I’ll tell you more about on Tuesday! I loved that we found a way to think about the Snickers commercials as feminist critics at the start of last class (thanks, Victoriane!). The upcoming paper assignment will allow for more of a similar kind of cultural analysis.

So, we’ll begin Tuesday’s class by returning to the handout on writing around “passages” from Thursday and briefly talking more about gender criticism. Then we’ll discuss Alessandra and Cassandra’s paragraphs. Next we’ll do…well….something else.**  And then we’ll end with a discussion of the next paper assignment. **In preparing for that “something else,” please make sure you have reviewed The Turn of the Screw, as well as your notes on psychoanalysis, feminism, and gender criticism, looking at any critical essays assigned for each of those lenses.  You may also want to practice using the paragraph structure above on your own so that you can see whether you run into trouble; if you hit a wall, contact me to show me how far you got, or stop by my office on Tuesday. As many of you have already realized, we might think we understand a critical lens when we’re discussing it in class but when we try to apply it in writing that can be a whole ‘nother ball game.

I’m looking forward to seeing you next week and will do my best to leave comments on the final versions of your Heart of Darkness essays by then.

Have a great weekend,



Print Friendly


  1.    acervinaro90 said,

    November 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    In class we have been discussing gender roles specifically toward “The Turn of the Screw.” We have discussed the generation differences between the women in the story such as; Mrs.Grose and the Governess. Moving on to gender criticism I began to take a look at the time period in which Henry James wrote this book. A little background on gender criticism; it’s based on attitudes “toward sex and sexism, sexuality and gender, language and literary canon.” (Murfin 334) Also a main difference that you would automatically distinct between feminist criticism and gender criticism is that gender critics believed that gender is not only what someone’s sex is, but it’s also what the society places upon them to be. During this time homosexuality was being viewed as something gross and indecent and it was actually considered a crime. Other then homosexuality women were also in a crucial point because they were being looked at as objects rather than equal human beings. James was described as a person who looked as women with a sense of respect unlike most men. Gender roles definitely play a role in this story. Females and males were viewed differently and there were different expectations for them. For example Flora had to act angelic and innocent because she was a girl and Miles even if he misbehaved, wasn’t called on it because he was a boy. In the story we can see the gender differences between Miles and Flora. Miles was very outspoken about his feelings especially when voicing to the Governess that he didn’t want to be there anymore.
    “You know, my dear, that for a fellow to be with a lady always—-! …. He neither blenched nor winked. The whole thing was virtually out between us.”Ah of course she’s jolly ‘perfect’ lady; but after all I’m a fellow, don’t you see? Who’s—well, getting on.” (James 84)
    We can see how even though Miles is trying to be respectful; he is hinting to the Governess that a lady is not enough he must have more than that. By the words that Miles uses we as readers can understand that even though the Governess is older he doesn’t have that much respect for her. He is a young boy and is calling the Governess dear and basically hinting to her that he needs a man in his life.
    “I want my own sort!” It literally made me bound forward. “There are n’t many of your own sort Miles!” I laughed. “Unless perhaps dear little Flora!” “You really compare me to a baby girl?” (James 85)
    In this small passage Miles basically tells the Governess that he wants to be around his own sort. He is shocked and almost embarrassed when the Governess compares him to Flora who he sees as just a baby girl. Miles sees himself as superior to Flora and in a way also to the Governess because he is a male. It’s the way that males are “supposed” to act. I think throughout the whole story we can see the way Miles talks to the Governess and the way Flora does. They have this illusion of how they are supposed to act because that’s what society has put on them. Even Mrs.Grose wants to ignore the fact that Miles is acting out because that’s how “boys ought to be.” In that phrase we can see the way that different genders are depicted to act a certain way and if they don’t they are seen as different. Miles spoke to the Governess in whichever way he pleased. An assumption that can be made is that; Miles wasn’t doing anything wrong because he is a boy. The Governess tries to fit both the role of a female and male. When Mrs.Grose asks her to report what was happening in Bly she didn’t want to because she didn’t want to be seen as a failure.

    Alessandra Cervinaro

  2.    cass88163 said,

    November 8, 2011 at 4:37 am

    Cassandra Ramlochan

    The text “Turn of the Screw” was composed at a time where women’s identities in society were thought of as being lesser in relevance than that of men’s. Wealth, political office, control and influence was dominated, for the most part, solely by men, and women were viewed as accessories to men’s social and economic anatomy in marriage. Their pursuits were restricted to domestic matters only: taking care of their homes, husbands and children. James introduces the main character: the Governess, which takes on the role of training and educating two children, Flora and Miles. Priscilla L. Walton pointed out “…these servants were a source of controversy due to the problematic nature of single women an their sexuality” (Walton 349). The depiction of the governess was degraded because gender roles for women were to get married and reproduce. The governess did not fit into that conformity. We later encounter the governess fantasy with Quint as she gazes at him, however, initially she thought it was her employer; “he was in one of the angles, the one away from the house, very erect, as it struck me” (James 40). Her impulse toward Quaint gazing as she gazes back, and share visual acts; Walton describes serves as “marker s of sexuality and control” ( Walton 353). Such act from a female was considered indecent and improper. It’s considered “the rejection of patriarchal cultures definition of proper womanhood” ( Walton 343). The governess is never cast in a definite role in society and is never completely submits to what society at that time would impose upon her. James embodies the governess role as a woman as negatively, leaving Mrs. Grose as the one Flora will initially look up too.
    Miles on the other hand is spit between both genders. He shares a kiss with the governess, however, as Walton demonstrated, perhaps had altercations with Quint. Though, James does not blatantly illustrate Miles and Quaint’s encounter; Walton states that Peter Quint “sentinel’ gaze, represents that of homoerotic sexuality. Homosexuality during this time frame was considered
    gross indecency with another male person” (James 9). The battle between this role, ultimately incited Miles death.
    Playwright Oscar Wilde was convicted of this act, and James grew interest in the case , “he found it “hideously, atrociously dramatic…”(James 9). This stirred up some accusations on James’s gender role. James exemplifies the struggle in gender throughout “The turn of the Screw” based on society norms of the time being. Women as well as homosexuality was not accepted which caused great controversy during the Victorian era.

  3.    victoriane said,

    November 8, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    As Cassandra points out in the time during “Turn of the Screw” was written the women role was to care for the home and children. The men were superior to women politically, socially, and economically. These general roles were given to each female character in the story, the governess was the main caretaker of the home and children, Mrs. Grose was the maid, and Flora the innocent gentle little girl. Throughout the text its obvious there is a gender “norm,” women are perceived as unequal to men and even the woman agree to this “norm.” We can distinguish this “norm” in the following passage, “He ought to be here-he ought to help.” I quickly rose and I think I must have shown her a queerer face than ever yet. “You see me asking him for a visit?” No, with her eyes on my face she evidently couldn’t. Instead of it even- as a woman reads another- she could see what I myself saw: his derision, his amusement, and for the fine machinery I had set in motion to attract his attention to my slighted charms. She didn’t know-no one knew- how proud I had been to serve him and to stick to our terms; yet she none the less took the measure, I think, of the warning I now gave her. “If you should so lose your head as to appeal to him for me-” She was really frightened. “Yes, Miss?” “I would leave, on the spot, both him and you.” In this passage we can see how the governess tries to threaten Mrs. Grose with her “power” trying to make her feel she wouldn’t be able to care for the home without her.

  4.    emina said,

    November 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    In this week’s post both Alessandra and Casssandra make very good and valid points about the gender roles in the text, The Turn of the Screw. Alessandra brings in the differences between gender and feminist criticism. Gender criticism focuses on the fact that gender is constructed and focuses on all sexes, while feminists are only concentrated on women and their issues. Throughout the text, there are many examples of gender roles. “ Oh of their rank, their condition”-she brought it woefully out. She was a lady”. ( James 58)
    In this line, James gives the reader the definition of what a “lady” is according to this historical context. According to gender criticism, what a woman is, is constructed by society and culture. This is why knowing the time when this text is written is helpful in understanding. She was a “lady” because she was showing emotion. Then James goes on and says “Yes- she was a lady” (58). The emphasis of saying “lady” two times in 2 consecutive sentences shows that there is an importance to it, which James is trying to bring out to the reader.

  5.    GordonWTam said,

    November 9, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    James carefully sets up a structure of gender roles throughout this text. Strangely enough, it is little Miles who sits on top of the food chain, but at this period of time, it was a gender norm. He was a male. It caused one very large issue with the governess, as she tried throughout the book to seize power from Miles, the male in this gender role. In one passage she believes she has gotten some control. This happens right after Miles is “admitting” what he has done to get kicked out of school.

    “He almost smiled at me in the desolation of his surrender, which was indeed practically, by this time, so complete that I ought to have left it there. But I was infatuated – I was blind with victory, though even then the very effect that was to have brought him so much nearer was already that of added separation.” [James, 118]

    I would say here it seems the binary of male/female has flipped. This “complete victory” the governess is tasting is that binary being flipped. Even though Miles (and James) supplied no details about what he has done and said, just the very act of him telling her what he did is good enough to flip the gender norm. Normally women would not have any information I’m guessing. It’s also quite interesting to add that at the end of the passage even though the governess has gotten this new power, she feels distanced from Miles. I think that it means the gender roles seriously have been flipped. The governess wanted it to be male/male, so she’d be on the same level as Miles, but now she feels on a higher level, and miles would be the female in this case, and that creates this new “added separation”.

  6.    joshuak314 said,

    November 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    At the time James was writing, society had strict guidelines for how men and women should act. We see all the females in “The Turn of the Screw” follow those gender roles, or seem to follow it when viewed by other people. The governess takes the traditional female role of caretaker of the house and children. Ms Gross is the maid(also caretaker of the house), and Flora plays the role of the polite and always happy girl who’s facial expressions and body language never truly express how she’s feeling.
    “You really compare me to a baby girl?”
    This quote by Miles shows he does not think his sister as his equal. He is stating his superiority of age and gender by stating she is a baby girl.

  7.    nadiab said,

    November 9, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    In “The Turn of The Screw “, it is evident that there were certain gender roles of the female characters. These roles were considered feminine and appropriate for the era in which this novel was written. The governess’s profession was considered feminine and suitable for a woman. For that matter, the employer hired a female to instruct the children. Thus, the role of a governess was geared only towards women because of its feminine aspect. Though the governess was instructing the children she took it upon herself to play a motherly role as well. By being motherly towards the children, this was not suitable for a masculine figure. However when the narrator introduced us to the governess, he notes how opposite she was in regards to the role of females in that era. He states, “I was much there that year—it was a beautiful one; and we had, in her off hours, some strolls and talks in the garden—talks in which she struck me as awfully clever and nice” (James 24). One could assume that the narrator’s outlook on females was that they weren’t clever or nice. Females in his perspective might not have been trusted solely on their appearances. Since they could not be trusted, it meant that females were considered to be sneaky. The fact that the narrator notes her cleverness indicated that he might have been fooled by her appearances. But when he communicated with her, he realized that she was clever indicating that there might have been a hidden factor to the governess which was not considered feminine.

  8.    beezy said,

    November 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    During the late 1800’s, when James wrote “The Turn of the Screw”, societal views of men and woman were unlike anything we see today. The expectations were higher for man; the pursuit of knowledge, attaining wealth, building a name for one-self into a respectable gentleman. Women on the other hand, were expected to care for man, his home, and their children. This established patriarchy is abundantly clear in “The Turn of the Screw”. Little Miles proves to be a formidable opponent to the governess. As a trouble maker, and current alpha-male the house, his behavior is quite different from that of his sister, innocent little Flora. As the male, Miles challenges the governess, testing her patience, but ultimately she wants to keep him and Flora safe from the corruption of the ghosts, fulfilling her obligations as governess of Bly.

    They are in my ears still, his supreme surrender of the name and his tribute to my devotion. “What does he matter now, my own?- what will he ever matter? I have you,” I launched at the beast, “but he has lost you forever!” Then for the demonstration of my work, “There, there!” I said to Miles. (James 120)

    The governess is doing her duty to the best of her ability. She has saved Miles from Peter Quint, thus keeping her word she gave to the master upon taking the position she was offered. Her love for the master, and her desire to please him clearly display a gender norm in the text. Her pride as the governess only strengthens her resolve to keep the children safe, thus win the affections of the master.

    -Enes Mrkulic

  9.    terrylghong said,

    November 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    The role between women and man were different in James writing. At that time, Men were considered stronger and acting as the figure of hero. For example, man supposed to protect the family and woman stayed home to take care of their children. In the text, the governess stood up and overcame her fear. She protected the children from the ghosts “I was in these days literally able to find a joy in the extraordinary flight of heroism the occasion demanded of me” (p53). She enjoyed what she did and she was the screen of the children. She also realized that it was not going to be easy to do so because “I could succeed where many another girl might have failed” (p53). It took her lot of courage to break this boundary and finally became a hero.

  10.    amark916 said,

    November 9, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Both Cassandra and Alessandra touched on valid points regarding gender roles during the time James wrote this piece of literature. The text itself can be interpreted in so many different ways because it is filled with ambiguity all throughout. A gender critic would say that the governess is a “woman”, so she is expected to behave in a certain manner whereas a feminist critic would say that a “woman” can do and behave anyway that she pleases. The feminist critic empowers women and destroys traditional values and gender roles, whereas the gender critics believe that females and males both have roles in society and the gender critic does not center their focus solely on women. In this text both approaches can be easily identified. In “The Turn of the Screw” a feminist critic would argue that because Miles is male he is able to do as he feels with little repercussion while Flora has to be perfect. We see throughout the text where he challenges the governess and speaks to her as if he is talking to his equal. Meaning, there were times when I felt like Miles was a grown man because of the way in which he spoke to her. For example when they were walking to church and the governess asks Miles the reason he went outside of the house and his reply was “Why it was just to show you I could!” (84). A feminist critic would argue that because he is male he is able to dominate the governess who is female and in his eyes inferior to him.

  11.    brianfinnerty91 said,

    November 9, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    During the 1800s when Henry James wrote his short story “The Turn of the Screw”, women were looked down upon by the superior, which were the men. Women’s roles included babysitting and housecleaning. The women stayed at home and the men would go out in search for work to support their family with shelter and food. In James’ short story the governess represented the typical role of a woman back in the 1800s. She took care of the children by being their nanny. “I could succeed where many another girl might have failed; I was there to protect and defend the little creatures in the world” (James 53). In this passage we see how hard it was for women in the 1800s to get a job. The governess was lucky to get the job as a nanny because many women back than were either stay at home moms or had no jobs. The role of women back in the 1800s was expressed through the character of the governess.
    -Brian Finnerty

  12.    seng101 said,

    November 10, 2011 at 12:14 am

    In the 1800s women and men were expected to abide certain codes of conduct. Men were suppose to exemplify masculinity while women on the other hand were meant to be strictly feminine. In James’s The Turn of The Screw the female and male characters all follow that code of conduct. In the scene where the governess catches Mile awake in the middle of the night the reader can see that the characters play exactly the roles they were meant too. In this quote Miles is the one who seems to be in charge; “I went in with my light and found him in bed, very wide awake but very much at his ease.”Well, what are you up to?” he asked with a grace of sociability.”( James 92) Miles seems to be playing the role of the man of the house. He ask the governess what she is up to, when this conversation should be going to other way. The governess is suppose to be the caretaker and she is the one who I think should be the one asking “what are you up to”. The governess seems like she disregards the rude question and can only caudal him in order to coax him to give her a response.

  13.    Terry said,

    November 10, 2011 at 12:29 am

    “I was in these days literally able to find a joy in the extraordinary flight of heroism the occasion demanded of me…I could succeed where many another girl might have failed” (Conrad 53).

    The Governess’ views on gender relations are implied in this passage. It seems as if she still holds on to the traditional roles of her time, but at the same time is coming to a realization about her own capabilities as a woman. The Governess is being introspective and appears to be proud about her protection of the children from the ghosts. Back in the time the novella was set in, this was mainly the man’s job, with the woman being the nurturer. The Governess doesn’t make the full step to realize that women are capable of being the hero, but feels as if she is superior to most other women. The fact that she mentions the female gender specifically leads me to believe that she believes men are superior. Since she herself feels superior, this can suggest that she feels a sort of masculinity by being this hero of Flora and Miles. She is empowered at this moment in the novella because she feels like a man.

  14.    awilliams108 said,

    November 10, 2011 at 12:46 am

    The “Turn of the Screw” state the text of male/female gender critic. This occured when miles himself figure he should of been on top, even when he ripped the letter up, he felt good but not so much as for the Governess. On the Governess side she wanted to be in the same race with miles, and to my understanding i would feel the same way because i would be so mad when a little child as miles not listenining me, i would want to be in control. The governess tried so hard to be in control of the house which was pretty tough. In for example Okonkwo (A strong and noble man) who had hung himself because nothing was going his way when the Bitish took over his village, similar to miles when he wasn’t getting his way so he died.

    To the ending of the book the Governess win the battle of empowerment and Miles lost, with her masculine behaviour in charge she was prone to be on top even on Mr.Grose or any one. In this text their would be alot of binary; Good vs Evil, Win/Lost.

  15.    kocampo100 said,

    November 10, 2011 at 12:51 am

    Both Alessandra and Cassandra have valid points about gender norms during the time the book was written. During that time women obviously did not have the same oppotunities as men. They were also not seen as equal. In the text, Miles being the only male present throughout the entire book has the most opportunites, that was the norm for the time period. Since he was a boy he was able to get away with things proving the men vs women double standard to be true.

    “I think, of the warning I now gave her. “If you should so lose your head as to appeal to him for me –” She was really frightened. “Yes, Miss?” “I would leave, on the spot, both him and you.”” (James 78)

    During this passage, the governess is threatening Mrs Grose that she can leave at any time that she pleases. This shows how the gender norms are trangressed. She is a woman acting as if she is the alpha male of the house. She completely dominates Mrs Grose and societal norms of how women should be acting. If the text were to be factual, the governess would definitely be looked down upon for her actions, during the time that James wrote this, it was not acceptable in society for a woman to have a voice and a strong and opinionated one especially.

  16.    emendoza said,

    November 11, 2011 at 12:58 am


    (sorry for the late)

    At the time James was writing this story, traditional gender roles favored male dominance. Women were seen as the weaker sex, and their capacity for job opportunities were limited to jobs that harbored feminine and maternal dispositions. Men were favored and in a way glorified and idolized over men, as seen throughout the novel, with the first presentation of this idea exposed when the bachelor is first introduced:

    “This person proved, on her presenting herself for judgement at a house in Harley Street that impressed her as vast and imposing — this prospective patron proved a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life, such a figure as had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel, before a fluttered anxious girl out of a Hampshire vicarage. One could easily fix this type; it never, happily, dies out. He was handsome and bold and pleasant, offhand and gay and kind. He struck her, inevitably, as gallant and splendid, but what took her most of all and gave her the courage she afterward showed was that he put the whole thing to her as a kind of favor, an obligation he should gratefully incur. She conceived him as rich, but as fearfully extravagant – saw him all in a glow of high fashion, of good looks, of expensive habits, of charming ways with women.”
    (James 26)

    In this passage James portrays the Bachelor with a sense of overwhelming manliness; apparently so manly and stunning that he was capable of sweeping the Governess of her first upon their first encounter. This overwhelming sense of manliness is again revisited at the house in Bly, when the Governess begins an unspoken battle for the title of “Alpha Male” with Miles, the Bachelor’s nephew, and only remaining male character in the house. The glorification of the Bachelor, and the emphasis on the description of his charming ways to swoon women over at first sight can be seen one of two ways, in my opinion. James could be emphasizing all these manly characteristics of the Bachelor in a satirical fashion; perhaps James is just poking fun at just how much people at the time seemed to idolize the Male gender. On the flip side, James could be elaborating exactly on how privileged it must have been to be a Male at the time, and how “easy” it was to undermine or “collect” the weaker sex.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar