Friday, March 14, 2008

Heterosociality in Bradley & Cooper's 'Maids, not to you my mind doth change'

Because Bradley & Cooper where able to openly express poetry depicting an idealized and homosexual relationships under the a masculine pen name, it might be worthwhile to analyze the depiction lesbianism in relation to heterosexuality as it appears in one specific poem, 'Maids, not to you my mind doth change.'

I selected this particular poem because of Bradley & Cooper's direct reference to the male gender and its implied significance as a symbol of the dominant and pervasive institution of heterosexuality. The first stanza begins:

Men I defy, allure, estrange,
Prostrate, make bond or free:
Soft as the stream beneath the plane
To you I sing my love's refrain;
Between us is no thought of pain,
Peril, satiety.

Contained within the first string of verbs are a variety of implications for the Bradley & Cooper's particular relationship to heterosexuality. To defy is to issue a challenge, an attempt to sieze or resist power in a relationship. To allure is to attract or tempt, to manipulate desire or promises of possession. To estrange is to turn away or alienate the affections of others, to make them hostile or unfriendly. Then to prostrate is force another into a position of submission or humility, while bondage and freedom equate to servitude and emancipation.

Bradley & Cooper's mention of defiance and prostration are obvious references to power, for heterosociality is traditionally patriarchal in structure, yet Bradley & Cooper's use of power are for the purposes of subversion; they do not wish to be free from this power dynamic, but to reverse the traditional 'passive' role forced upon women in heterosocial relationships and instead defer this role to men: matriarchy.

Allurement and estrangement are the second pair of opposites to appear in the first stanza, and this implies the deliberate act of manipulating the opposite gender and its desire to possess and control the other. This is significant because while the previous binary suggested what essentially amounted to a role reversal among men and women, this second binary of allurement/estrangement implies that Edith & Cooper intend not to reverse their genders and become copies of men, but to maintain their gender, their feminine identity, and its defining characteristics as the opposites of me in order to alienate and manipulate the other gender. This plays upon a significant and often primordial fear often manifested in mythology and fairy tales: that of the female seductress who uses her gender to control and manipulate men, ultimately in an attempt to facilitate their destruction. Edith & Cooper instead appear to use this archetype as a declaration of independence and identity.

The final binary is perhaps the most interesting: that of freedom and servitude. The enslave men alone would imply a desire for a complete and self-perpetuating role reversal: a matriarchy that enforces itself in the same sense that patriarchy continues to exist in contemporary heterosociality. However, the prospect of freedom is also mentioned; Edith & Cooper not only entertain the notion that the opposite gender is entirely without power and susceptible to their manipulation and whims, but also that men too might be freed from this relationship: that both genders need not exist in conflict, one always subserviant to another. While seemingly contradictory at first glance, the potential for freedom implies the creation of a new dynamic and relationship between the sexes, and nothing less of a possible revolution in heterosociality. The poem itself is far from explicit, but these are the implications that might be drawn from the verse of Edith & Cooper's 'Maids, not to you my mind doth change.'

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