I have been increasingly fascinated by the ways in which feminism plays a role in Wilde’s work and life. I do not think, like Kiberd, that Wilde had any sort of “lifelong commitment to feminism,” however, I find that his work includes a diversity of roles for women that I haven’t found in other classic works by male authors (40). Wilde’s women are not as confined to tropes, and while they do not actively fight against societal standards, they often work from within the system to make their own agency.
But as we continue reading, I have been thinking more and more about how the threads of feminism in Wilde’s work connect to his own identity as a decadent and as a queer man. We have talked a bit about how many decadents had the tendency to focus on the beauty of the male form and disregard the female form, but after reading “Gross Indecency,” I have been thinking more and more about how queer men and women would’ve interacted and related to each other.
This inclination was mostly stirred by Queen Victoria’s lines in the play, relating to the punishments for homosexual relations. The fact that the law only applied to male homosexuality was surprising to me, and even more so was Queen Victoria’s statement that “Women don’t do such things” (Kaufman 68). I would think that this law and the statement by Queen Victoria about it, especially considering the greater context of it being enacted by a female ruler, figurehead or otherwise, would cause a great deal of anger and strife between queer men and women. While queer women were confined in other ways, in this area, they had less pressure to conform and mask their queerness than their male counterparts.
But this type of anger is not really present in Wilde’s work. Sure, there are a lot of emotions of anger and grief at society and the double standards it contains in his writing, but he never targets these emotions onto women. And to me, this feels like a really cool aspect of Wilde’s strange feminism that I would like to explore more of.
One thought on ““Women Don’t Do Such Things””
I wonder if Wilde’s silence on women and the lack of interaction between queer men and women during this time (at least visibly) may have to do with the social separation of men and women in general. The sexes were segregated by social spheres. Men and women had different opportunities, expectations, and rights. The great crossover between the lives of men and women was in marriage. Because marriage may not have interested queer people as much, at least in the traditional sense, this may have separated queer men and queer women even further.