Writing Group: Adam Hamilton's “Bluebeard and Aristotle’s Oikos: Iterations of Male Oppression”

Abstract: Marilyn Frye makes two claims in “Oppression” that I will address.  First she makes the insight that oppression need not always have an identifiable causal agent, but may be the situational result of a system or confluence of environmental and circumstantial factors (Frye 2014 [1983], 377).  This would mean that many individuals and persons are oppressed without there being an identifiable oppressor which we can quantify or to whom we can point.  Secondly, Frye claims that men are not oppressed as men, but only insofar as they are members of particular groups (Frye 2014 [1983], 383).  That is to say, heterosexual, cis-gendered males have not been oppressed as heterosexual, cis-gendered males (hereafter, HCMs), but rather chiefly as black men, low-income men, disabled men, et cetera.  This second claim, however, strikes me as false in light of her first claim.  While HCMs may often be in positions of privilege, that does not preclude their being oppressed by a confluence of environmental and situational factors.  That is to say, I will argue that HCMs are, in virtue of fulfilling certain social roles as HCMs, uniquely oppressed by environmental and situational factors, even though there may not be an identifiable causal agent. Further, I will argue for the claim that HCMs are made into vehicles of oppression by oppressive forces which affect HCMs directly.  Ultimately, I hope to show (1) that the oppressive forces which transform HCMs into oppressors of women and members of marginalized communities are not new forces, but ancient and pre-political, and (2) that scholars and artists have been aware of this dynamic since at least the 19th or early 20th Century.  In support of these claims, I will engage in an analysis of the “house” (hereafter, oikos) in Aristotle’s Politics Book I, and use Aristotle’s oikos to structure a literary analysis of Bluebeard narratives over time. In section (A), I will explain what a Bluebeard narrative is following Charles Perrault’s French rendition, and delineate the relevant aspects of Aristotle’s oikos which bear on such narratives. In subsequent sections I will discuss the following Bluebeard narratives in turn: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (B), Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (C), Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (D), and E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey (E). Although some of these narratives are ostensibly anti-feminist and pro-oikos, I will argue that despite appearances, even these 21st Century Bluebeard narratives are pro-feminist, as the oppressive dynamic itself is transformed into a mechanism of liberation for the HCM and his female companion. 

Werkmeister Room