Friday, May 23, 2014


We all know Shaw was kind of on the side of women. Very often, that "feminist in spite of himself" would show his forward ideas about the role of women in society by subverting chauvinistic clichés that had hitherto been associated to women. 

For example, it was a common notion at the time that women were too sensitive and would resort to tears and "hysterics" to have their way. Hence, the narrator of Millicent's Children (1883) (Vol. I. p. 152) describes Mrs. Duerdon's pleas as "a woman's last resource" when she starts crying. Likewise, Arthur Conan-Doyle uses the same phrase in his Uncle Bernac (1897) to illustrate Josephine's reaction. In Doyle's words, she "had taken refuge in a woman's last resource, and was crying bitterly."

Enter Shaw. When he published Press Cuttings (1909), not only did he make sure to attack one of the leading politicians of his day by naming one of his characters Mitchener, but he also reversed the two chauvinistic clichés we've just mentioned, precisely against this character. 

MITCHENER. But I cant allow anything of the sort, madam. I shall stand no such ridiculous nonsense. Im perfectly determined to put my foot down.
LADY CORINTHIA. Dont be hysterical, General.
MITCHENER. Hysterical!
MRS. BANGER. Do you think we are to be stopped by these childish exhibitions of temper. They are useless; and your tears and entreaties—a man's last resource—will avail you just as little. I sweep them away, just as I sweep your plans of campaign "made in Germany—"

Using the word "hysterical" and the phrase "tears are a man's last resource" on a character representing the summit of male chauvinism and political power must have been quite a shock at the time. It should come as no surprise that Shaw's opinions during the Great War earned him a terrible reputation among the political leaders of his age. But then again, that's why we love Shaw, isnt' it?

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