Swift to Judge a Lady’s Dressing Room
Jonathan Swift shamelessly shows us his views about women in his poem “A Lady’s Dressing Room.” As such Swift has been been called misogynist throughout his satire. However I believe that while Swifts poem is offensive, it is important to remember that it is a satire, and as such shouldn’t be taken completely serious. I feel that Swift criticizes not only women here but men and human kind as a whole in an attempt to bring them to light.
Swift starts the poem off with a low blow to women, “Five hours (who can do it less in?)”(2346) Swift starts the reader out with a laugh here. Similar to a joke today about women always making a man wait while getting ready. Swift goes on to discuss the inventory of Celia’s room. We see as Strephon goes on and on the items get worse. Swift is describing here everyday items that all lady’s use at this time. More importantly he is trying to show how much women go through to fit the ideal of beauty. This eventually leads us to the conclusion that Celia shits. Through a bit of humor Swift is discussing how not only are all women the same, but women have to do the same basic needs then that of all men. In a sense it is if Swift is bringing the two sexes closer together basically saying we’re all the same. Swift criticizes women in a way that instead of the question being why do women do this it is rather why do we expect this of women? He is trying to bring up certain social aspects and challenge them, in an attempt to make the rest of society question norms particularly women. We see this happen with later works with that of Eliza Haywood, Lady Montagu, Mary Astell, among many other authors. These women question there place in society as well as these social norms, which I feel Swift is trying to envoke.
He brings the flaws of men up in a more subtle way however. It, like with women, begins at the very beginning whenever we see that Strephon has sneaked his way into Celia’s chambers. For starters I believe this is bringing to light certain perversions of the male psyche. Not only is he somewhere that he shouldn’t be he is also snooping around through things that he shouldn’t. While the text never really states why exactly Strephon is there, I think it is fairly obvious he is looking for a cheap way to get off. This doesn’t only pertain to Strephon but to males as whole, who are already more sexual, and do things such as buy prostitutes and cheat on their wives. Swift goes on to criticize his gender by describing Strephon’s reactions. When looking through her chamber pot it mimics that of Pandora’s box. In Strephon’s mind he this is his last hope that Celia isn’t as gross as he really think that she is. However we learn that in this instance Strephon’s experience is not like that of Pandora’s box. For with Pandora’s box we see that the last things that is left in happens to be hope. However in naive Strephon’s case this is not the same. In Strephon’s case all hope is lost, and he finds the fateful thing that seals his fate of all women and that is that they shit. Through his idiocy it seems that it is trying to mimic that of Men. In particular men that are stupid enough to not see these things in women. The poem goes on to tell us that Strephon is finally punished by the goddess of vengeance for his peeping and that now whenever he sees any woman his imagination is only going to think of the disgusting instances which had happened earlier. In turn Swift says a great line, ” I pity wretched Strephon, blind toall the charms of womankind.”(2349) Here the reader can see that Swift is directly criticizing Strephon calling him wretched. But more importantly he is calling him out on being blind to all of the charms of womankind. this specifically isn’t talking about a woman seducing him. It is more focusing on all the makeup and beauty they put on to impress him. He is blind to these “charms” because of what he has seen and that again this is going to carry over to all the other women that he will see.
Swift then brings his own voice into the poem in the last Stanza. He says that Strephon, “He soon would learn to think like me, and bless his ravished eyes to see such order from confusion sprung, such gaudy tulips raised from dung.”(2349) To me this simple line is saying a lot more than just Strephon will learn to think like me. I feel as if Swift is trying to compare his view to that of what everyone should think. Women dressing this way to be the way that they are brings a certain kind of order to the world. Not only this but knowing is only half the battle. Knowing in itself doesn’t make everyone happy, you have to accept that women go through this, that tulips come from dung. Swift is trying to say to women that yes we know what we do why you are alone and that is ok. However on the other hand it is stating that men should realize these pains women go through and should accept it.
Swift, Jonathan. “A Lady’s Dressing Room” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th Edition. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Stuart Sherman. 2010. 2346-2349. Print