Women. They couldn't live with 'em, they couldn't live without 'em. As you might have guessed from this poem, women were a problem in the 18th century. We are way, way before the era of feminism and equal rights, but by the early 1700s many women were insisting that they at least deserved a decent education.
Plenty of men (and women, too) felt that women were vastly inferior to the male sex, however, and those feelings are fairly obvious here in Pope's poem: think of the double-edged compliments our speaker pays to Belinda, or the negative portrayal of "female problems" in the Cave of Spleen.
On the other hand, The Rape of the Lock also lets us know that women don't have a fair shake because they are even more constrained and limited by society's rules and regulations than men are. Clarissa's speech is a fine example of this attitude, although it does advise its hearers to simply suck up and deal with the situation—ideally with a smile—rather than do anything to change it.
Are truly feminine women the ones who, like the Queen of Spleen, sigh and fade away with affected headaches and imaginary ailments? Are they like Belinda, sweet and pretty but totally superficial? Are they like Thalestris, tough girls quick to anger? Or are they like Clarissa, keeping good humor whatever happens? We're given a lot of models here. And little guidance.
Questions About Women and Femininity
- Do you think that the speaker of the poem likes and admires Belinda? Why or why not?
- Who is more heroic in the poem, the women or the men?
- Why are women more susceptible to disorders of the spleen than men are?
Chew on This
The Rape of the Lock is full of antifeminist misogyny and should not even be read by 21st-century women.
Women in the poem are depicted as being more in control of society than men.