Reflection: High Expectations Where are the Ladies? - Section 3: Who are the Ladies?

 

The subject of women and culture is fascinating for high school seniors because they are beginning to develop a sense of the impact of culture on gender relationships and identity.  This lesson brings to light the disparities between cultures and their treatment of women and how often stereotypes demean women in a culture that once gave them power and prestige. 

In a class on Native American studies taught by Joseph McGeshick at Ft. Peck Tribal College I learned that with the advent of European settlers into the western interior many Native women gave up their power in exchange for technology that made their life at camp easier. Quite often women were willing to trade for cast iron cooking pots, steel sewing needles, cotton cloth, and other household items that we take for granted.  In the process of this trading Indian women were often subjugated by the white traders and their male relatives, becoming pawns in the early business deals. 

For Native women this loss of power has been devastating, and by listening to the contemporary voice of Heather Cahoon we can get a sense that the memory of a woman's status in her tribe and her status today bubbles at a conscious level.

Conversely,Wealhtheow's placatory speeches show how deep the masculine and patriarchal ideas run through Beowulf. If Wealhtheow has any concerns at all they are for her husband and sons.  She is at the most a suspicious barmaid unfit to serve as precursor to Lady Macbeth.

Finally Margaret Atwood's poem speaks to both worlds to the power of transformation shared by the siren and by trickster characters like Grandmother Spider. She wields power, but is ultimately powerless to step beyond the role of seductress or free herself from the cycle of seduction and death. 

Each of these selections offers students clear contrasts between gender and culture and encourages them to look below the surface of stereotypes of women. 

 

  Women and Voice
  High Expectations: Women and Voice
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Where are the Ladies?

Unit 5: Beowulf
Lesson 7 of 12

Objective: SWBAT - identify markers of later, Christian additions made by Beowulf scribe.

Big Idea: Examine the silence of women in the text as well as the Christian voice that may well have been the one to words in Wealhtheow's mouth.

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