Category Archives: Gender

Patricia Lockwood: Rape Joke

I’m usually more than a little mortified if a Danish newspaper manages to write about an internet phenomenon before I’ve had the chance to find it myself. I pride myself on my internet phenomenon discovery abilities.

I’m glad it happened in the case of this phenomenon, on which I just read a great piece about in today’s paper, lest I never would have discovered it myself. The phenomenon in question is Patricia Lockwood’s brilliant poem Rape Joke, published at The Awl on July 25 this year, which I highly recommend.

A few excerpts:

The rape joke is he once almost murdered a dude by throwing him through a plate-glass window. The next day he told you and he was trembling, which you took as evidence of his sensitivity.


The rape joke is that he kept a diary. I wonder if he wrote about the rape in it.

The rape joke is that you read it once, and he talked about another girl. He called her Miss Geography, and said “he didn’t have those urges when he looked at her anymore,” not since he met you. Close call, Miss Geography!


The rape joke is that you were facedown. The rape joke is you were wearing a pretty green necklace that your sister had made for you. Later you cut that necklace up. The mattress felt a specific way, and your mouth felt a specific way open against it, as if you were speaking, but you know you were not. As if your mouth were open ten years into the future, reciting a poem called Rape Joke.

The rape joke is that time is different, becomes more horrible and more habitable, and accommodates your need to go deeper into it.

Just like the body, which more than a concrete form is a capacity.

You know the body of time is elastic, can take almost anything you give it, and heals quickly.


It was a year before you told your parents, because he was like a son to them. The rape joke is that when you told your father, he made the sign of the cross over you and said, “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” which even in its total wrongheadedness, was so completely sweet.

Life. Happening.

So! I’ve been pretty absent from the blogopshere as of late. For the past four months to be more specific. I apologise for this.

All Suns Are Darkened was kind enough to hint a while ago that I have been missed, and I made a comment back apologising by saying that my life had been somewhat “dramatic” during these past few months. “Dramatic” is probably too strong a word, though. It would be more appropriate to say that, well, life happened.

And I mean that in the most literal sense of the term. Back in early April I found myself holding a positive pregnancy test in my trembling hands, and by next week it will be just four months till my due date. It seems that I’m carrying a little girl, and so far she is very well and looking absolutely adorable, judging from the ultrasound. My boyfriend and I are very happy and excited.

I realise that pregnancy may seem like a poor excuse for not blogging, but as many women have learned before me the first trimester can be pretty tough, and for many weeks most of my energy was spent trying not to look and behave like a complete zombie at work despite the fact that I was throwing up five to seven times a day, was generally grossed out by any kind of food, and feeling mysteriously depressed and extremely tired. I lost five kilos, and there was no inspiration left for blogging.

I’m well into my second trimester by now of course, and I’m feeling great now. No more nausea, no more secrecy at work, I’m not as tired as I was at first, I’m feeling the baby kick and move about every day, and two weeks ago someone let me have their seat on a train for the first time, smiling knowingly at my increasingly prominent baby bump. But I’ve still been at a bit of a loss as to how I should address the pregnancy here on the blog. I haven’t written a word about it on my Facebook profile, and I considered just leaving it off the blog completely, too. At the Lighthouse has never been a personal blog, I reasoned.

But on the other hand, At the Lighthouse has always been very much about gender, about sex, and about writing about the female experience, and actually descriptions of pregnancy in literature and art have always been an important topic to me, way before I became pregnant myself. Considering what a huge event it is for a human being, both physically and psychologically, to go through a pregnancy,  it’s a topic that’s been overlooked within artistic representation and studies of phenomenology for decades and one that’s still often treated as something slightly mushy and inferior, something belonging in pink, glossy ladies’ magazines, something not worthy of serious thought.

So I’ve decided to announce my pregnancy on this blog after all. This does not mean that I intend to turn At the Lighthouse into a personal blog or a so-called “mommy blog” (I hate that term, by the way. It’s baby speak and it’s yet another example of the mushy-fication of motherhood, I think. Which is a shame because there are many brilliant and well written blogs about motherhood out there). It does mean, however, that I may draw on my own experience of pregnancy every now and then, if it seems relevant to a cultural and/or gender-related topic I choose to deal with on this blog in the future, (I am planning, for instance, a blog entry about descriptions of pregnancy in literature at the moment). And it also may mean that I will continue to be less active on this blog than I used to be, busy as I am adjusting to this undramatic, yet huge life event. We’ll see.

On the “Real Women Have Curves” Meme nails it once again. Writer “Lingerie Lesbian” wrote a blog post about, well, lingerie, and touches  (among other things) upon a subject that’s been on my mind a lot:

The “Real Women Have Curves” meme is problematic not only in its suggestion that certain types of bodies are better than others in their size and shape, but also in their suggestion that “real women” should want curves. It goes without saying that curves do not make a woman, but it does need saying that these curves that are so associated with “real” womanhood (and in this situation, an explicitly feminine version of womanhood) can bring an unwanted femininity especially because they are associated with this idea of the classically beautiful (read: classically feminine) woman. I hate when we act like beauty and femininity and curvy bodies are somehow synonymous.

THIS. The writer posts a meme:


I’ve seen this before multiple times, reposted by various Facebook friends, I’ve seen several more pictures like it, and it annoys me every time.

Of course I don’t have anything against women being curvy. I’ll level with you,  I’m not a curvy woman myself. It’s not that I don’t have any curves at all, I do, but I don’t think anyone would describe me as curvy. When I’m not wearing a shirt, or if I’m wearing a tight-fitting top, you can count all my ribs. In the seventh grade I found a document authored by the boys of my class listing the girls of our class according to boob size, and I came in last, and I don’t think my position would have improved much if those same boys were to track down all us girls again today and do a qualified estimate (actually I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t, as I happen to know that the one contender for my final place is currently breastfeeding. So.). My scrawny stature is not brought on because of dieting or because I’m obsessively trying to look like a supermodel (which I don’t, by the way, not at all.). I just happen to have the genes for a small, non-curvy stature. Sometimes that’s annoying, sometimes it’s ok, but at no time does it mean that I’m not womanly, and I resent that idea.

Look, I was as thrilled as anybody when the Christina Hendricks thing started happening a few years back, and curviness came back in style. I grew up with the whole “skinny is pretty” thing and disliked it as much as the next person. What I don’t see, however, is how it suddenly became ok to just go ahead and say the exact opposite, namely that curvy is the only way to go, and that skinny women are not hot or, even, not real women. It offends me that when it comes to the issue of women’s appearance we’re obviously so reluctant to learn from the mistakes of the past. That it is obviously so difficult for us to just accept women for what they are. That there always have to be a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or ‘real’ and ‘false’ when it comes to our looks.

I also don’t think ads like these are as funny as people make them out to be:


I mean, I see how they’re thoughtprovoking in the sense that women are always trying to lose weight these days. But mostly I just think they’re kind of a depressing reminder that things have been this way for a really friggin’ long time, that for as long as anyone can remember, the world has had an attitude towards what kind of body type women should have in order to qualify as attractive. As Lingerie Lesbian puts it, it’s “woman vs. woman imagery”, and it’s ridiculous. And I do not even see what it’s supposed to mean. Skinny women and curvy women and in-between women have co-existed at all times, and, at least among my friends and acquaintances, I see no proof that curvy women have a harder time finding romantic partners than skinny ones, or vice versa. We’re ok. And we’re all women.

I’m not saying that people are not allowed to have preferences. If you’re a woman and your curves/skinniness makes you feel sexy, well, good for you. Also, if you’re a man and you happen to be into curvy ladies, that’s nice. But please, please let’s abandon the whole “real women” rhetorics. As well as the idea of a certain body style being “in”. Thanks.

Minus Days

Yesterday’s Dodal Stewart posted the brilliant article “Fuck You, Menstruation” as part of their brand new annual “Fuck You Week”. I cannot recommend this article strongly enough. Not only is it hilarious in the funny-because-it’s-true way, it is also long overdue. Because I so agree with this message:

We need to be allowed to talk about periods. Menstruation, like sneezing or sweating or erections, is a natural bodily function. But honestly? Sometimes women suffer in silence. Because for some ladies, to complain about your period is to participate in demeaning sexist clichés about being on the rag. She’s annoyed? Must be that time of the month. She’s crying? Probably surfing the crimson wave. As though menstruation, like an emotional tsunami, washes over the body and wipes out the real you. Maybe it does! For a couple of days! Or maybe it doesn’t! But we want to seem strong and capable, so we grit our teeth and pretend it doesn’t feel like a tiny rabid chihuahua is gnawing on the inside of our uterus. Fine. But fuck that. Fuck having your period.

And this one:

Women spend a shitload of time and energy trying to plug a hole in a dam that’s designed to burst. An unstoppable stream of vivid red, and we’re supposed to do gymnastics and party in a bikini like a tampon commercial? OMFG. Fucking bullshit.

Also, this:

The point is this: Yeah, it happens, yeah, it sucks, no, it doesn’t mean women can’t run shit, but FOR FUCK’S SAKE, CAN’T WE EXPRESS OUR DISPLEASURE WITHOUT BEING BELITTLED OR PATRONIZED OR THE OBJECTS OF BIAS?

And this is just beautiful:

And can we talk about how we jokingly call it Aunt Flo? As if it’s normal for a relative to wake you up in the middle of the night so you can find yourself lying in a pool of your own blood. As though permanently staining your underwear, sheets and mattress is something only your mother’s sister would do. FUCK THAT.

Where I come from, “minus days” is a recognized euphemism for menstruation. For that reason alone you ought to go read that article. Menstruation is not minus, it’s not nothing, it just sucks. But this article actually made me laugh about it, and that’s no small feat.

My 16-year-old self: Here to tell you all about the gender roles in Rosemary’s Baby


I was going through some stuff in my flat the other day, and I found a folder of assignments from my high school English class. One of them was an essay that we had been assigned to do on the novel Rosemary’s Baby which we had read in class. We were free to pick our own angle on the novel, and I had decided to go with the subject of the gender roles displayed in the novel. 

Pop culture, gender roles and all, it reads sort of like a blog entry from a time when I had no idea what a blog was and had only just discovered the internet (which I mainly used to surf fan sites about David Duchovny. They were almost exclusively set in Times New Roman or Comic Sans and they had lots of clip art and pixelled animation and glitter. Oh, the nineties!).  So I thought it would be fun to publish it here on the blog for you guys to see.

I should warn you, however, that it is in no way a groundbreaking, let alone good, piece of writing. It’s a perfectly average high school essay. English is not my first language and was even less so at the time, and I use the word “very” about 1.003 times, being the eloquent, versatile, sexy 16-year-old that I was.

 I actually got an A, though, if anyone’s interested. I also remember that my teacher also told me to read it aloud to the rest of the class, which I willingly, proudly did. Unrelated: I had very few dates in high school. This was a cause of much distress to me at the time, although it did leave me with much more time to go through David Duchovny fan sites online.

My English teacher was really awesome though, and in addition to my essay I will include a note she wrote in comment to some very naïve statements I made in the essay about the equalization of the sexes, setting me straight.

Here we go:

Rosemary’s Baby

by Marie [Mylastname], grade 2.c

As I read Rosemary’s Baby, I found that apart from being a horror story about Satanism and witchcraft, Rosemary’s Baby deals with gender roles and the liberation of women. This aspect of the story is very important, I think. It creates an image of the time in which it was written and takes place. It is of course up to the individual reader how much he [or she, gender-aware Marie of 1999! OR SHE!] wants to focuse [SIC] on this, but I do think that the gender roles play a crucial part in the story.

The gender roles in Rosemary’s Baby are terribly traditional. Rosemary is the sweet and sensitive hausfrau while Guy is the strong, rational man who goes to work in order to provide for his wife and family. Rosemary is also a very emotional person in comparison to the more cynical Guy. This is made clear by the fact that Rosemary – in her heart – is a Catholic and that Guy is an agnostic. But the traditional gender roles also have their effect on Guy and Rosemary’s every-day life. An example of this is the scene in which Rosemary and Guy are introduced to the Bramford:

‘It’s a marvelous apartment!’ Rosemary said back in the living-room. She spun about with opened arms as if to embrace it. ‘I love it!’
‘What’s she’s trying to do,’ Guy said ‘is to get you to lower the rent’.

Apart from acting in this little girl like manner, Rosemary also lives up to the old-fashioned ideal of a woman by being remarkably dependent on Guy, both financially, because she needs Guy’s income,  and emotionally. She does get angry with Guy, but she never really stands up to him and tells him what she wants. During Guy’s preoccupied phases, Rosemary has to wait for Guy to apologize. Even when Guy claims to have taken advantage of Rosemary’s unconscious body, she does not manage to tell him how she feels about it.

Rosemary tends to use her vulnerability and femininity when wanting to get her way. This is very obvious as Guy declines the Castevets’ dinner invitation:

‘You don’t have to sulk about it, he said.
‘I’m not sulking’, Rosemary said. ‘I see exactly what you mean. (…).’
‘Oh hell.’ Guy said. ‘We’ll go.’
‘No, no, what for? We don’t have to. I shopped for dinner before she came so *that*’s no problem.’
‘We’ll go.’ Guy said.

If these traditional gender roles had continued all through the story, I would have been on the verge of stating that Levin was simply an old-fashioned sexist, but when reading the last chapters of the book I found that the roles changed. Rosemary appears to be strong and independent while Guy is weak and insecure. Actuallay the last chapters make you understand that Guy was never the strong one in the relationship. Guy is willing to sell his own wife for a good acting career, and after having done this, he is not even able to stand up for himself. This is particularly clear as Rosemary enters the Castevets’ apartment in search of her baby:

He stood looking down at her, his hands rubbing his sides. ‘They promised me you wouldn’t be hurt’, he said. ‘And you haven’t been, really. I mean, suppose you’d had a baby and lost it, wouldn’t it be the same? And we’re getting so much in return, Ro.’
She put her handkerchief on the table and looked at him. As hard as she could she spat at him. He flushed and turned away, wiping at the front of his jacket.”

I think that it is very important for us to consider this apparent change, because I believe that this indicates that Levin has an idea with letting the gender roles of his character appear to be as traditional as they do.

The fact that Rosemary develops during the story supports this theory  Rosemary seems from the beginning and right up to the point where she figures out that Guy is somehow involved with the Satantists’ cult to be very much in love with Guy. It is actually her love for an loyalty to her husband which leads to the disaster – the fact that she is impregnated with Satan’s child. The one time we sense that Rosemary actually wants to be come an individual person is when she is by herself in Hutch’s cabin. Here she seems to allow herself to get a little angry with Guy:

On the third day she thought about him. He was vain, self-centered, shallow, and deceitful. He had married her to have an audience, not a mate. (Little Miss Just-out-of-Omaha, what a *goop* she had been!)

Shortly after, however, she gives up all thoughts of rebellion and elides to go home to Guy. By going home to go on as if nothing has happened, she accepts Guy’s alleged abuse of her body and by this, one might argue, she resigns to Guy and gives up her independence. As a result of such a resignation something awful is bound to happen.

The fact that something awful does happen, and how awful it actually is, is another side of the story, which I will not try to define nor explain here. However, it is remarkable that Rosemary, as soon as she learns that Guy is involved in the conspiracy, leaves him. At this point in the story, one experiences for the first time, that Rosemary is a strong person. She realizes that she needs to take care of herself in order to save herself and her baby. Eventually, however, Rosemary is forced to acknowledge the fact that she is too late – she is trapped, because she cannot leave her own son in the lurch.

I think that the liberation of women is one of Levin’s points with Rosemary’s Baby. That it is a main point is arguable, but I do believe that Levin has meant to discuss the old-fashioned woman’s situation with this story. How dependent should she allow herself to become in her marriage? What might the consequences be? These questions were indeed relevant in the sixties when this story was written and takes place, because the liberation of women was just about to begin at the time (1). Is it still relevant, one might ask, today, when the equalization of the sexes is almost total (2). I think it is. The gender roles in Rosemary’s Baby are probably a little too antiquated for us to identity with, but I do think that we an still learn from this  thriller story. I think that as long as we live in a society with even the slightest possibility of discrimination, we need to be reminded of the consequences of resignation, however bizarre they may be.”

(1) The struggle of the sexes and the process had been going on for a hundred years then – but the sixties saw the birth of the feminist movement.

(2) I wish you were right [about the equalization of the sexes being almost total] – but I’m afraid there is still a long way to go – I remember a heated discussion in a Scottish youth hostel with my best friend in 1962: She said that men and women were equal now, I said they were not. She learned her lesson later!

Feminist Frequency, the 2012 Oscars, and The Bechdel Test

Just in time for the Oscars, here’s Feminist Frequency‘s excellent video putting  the 2011 Oscar “Best Picture” nominees to the Bechdel Test.

Thought-provoking stuff and a must-see for anyone with an interest in modern cinema. I think it’s a problem for all of us – feminists or non-femininsts – that 50% of the population is still so badly represented in our cinematography. And I really like the FemFreq’s added 60-second appendum to the original test.

I would also like to add that Melancholia would have passed the test. If it had been nominated for best picture. Which it isn’t. Which is a travesty. Melancholia was, hands down, the most amazing, devastating, brilliant film I saw all year.

La commedia è finita! – on the Cuckold as a Comical Figure

I recently saw my first Pagliacci ever, and I was blown away. What a powerful, tight, intense piece. Although I did not know the story in advance, I knew enough about operas to know where it was going, but I still got goosebumps at the ending with Canio’s rash act and his wonderfully meta declaration that “the comedy is over”.

And then I also really feel that Pagliacci marks a pivotal point in the history of male characters in theatre, namely the point of intersection between the cuckold as a comical and a tragic figure.

Certainly the comical cuckold is the more prominent one of the two. In the history of theatre, the figure can be traced back as far as to mimes and pantomimes in the 1st century B.C. The few surviving descriptions of the aliterary mime shows make it clear that infidelity was a recurring theme within the genre, and representations of the mime in various reliefs show tableaux of beautiful ladies, their charming lovers, and their stupid, cuckold husbands. As Marianne Grandjean notes in her article on the mime of late antiquity, the cuckold is often depicted as a bald man, perhaps to indicate that he is older than the woman and her lover, and it seems clear that these cuckolds are comical figures: The charming young lovers point at them with ridiculing attitudes, and the audience are supposed to laugh at these men. It is of course difficult to say exactly how these men became the butt of the joke, but as oscenity and sex jokes played an important part in the mime shows, it seems pretty safe to me to say that it was the cuckold’s unsatisfied sexual appetite that made him as a character: He wanted some, and he wasn’t gettin’ any.

No link has ever been identified between late-antiquity mime and the commedia dell’arte tradition of the 16th century, but the cuckold of the commedia dell’arte, Pantalone, has a lot in common with the cuckold of late-antiquity mime shows. Often known as Pantalone il Bisognosi (Pantalone the Needy), his trademark was, to put it bluntly, that he wanted to have a lot of sex, especially with his beautiful young wife, the female lead, who didn’t care for his advances and who would cheat on him with a younger, more handsome lover, while the audience laughed at the silly, cockblocked old man.

Pantalone. Even in the 16th century, footsie pajamas apparently did not do it for the ladies.

The Pagliacci characters are a typical travelling commedia dell’arte troupe. There’s no Pantalone in Pagliacci, but the character of Pagliaccio seems to be based partially on Pantalone, partially on the more recent commedia dell’arte character of clownish Pierrot. However, Pagliacci came about in the time of the Italian verismo in the 19th century rather than in the heyday of Pantalone and his fellow commedia dell’arte characters, and I think this shows when it comes to the motif of the cuckold. As late as in the 18th century the ridiculous cuckold could still be found on stage in plays by the likes of Molière or Beaumarchais, but by the end of the 19th century, the tragic cuckolds started appearing: Most prominently, I suppose, in plays by Strindberg and Ibsen. In Ibsen’s The Wild Duck the revelation that Hedvig may not be Hjalmar Ekdal’s daughter marks the crux of the tragedy, and of course in Strindberg’s The Father the entire plot revolves around the notion that Laura has made a cuckold out of The Captain. And there is certainly no humour in the Swedish realist’s take on the theme. Not only does The Captain genuinely grieve for the loss of the love that once was between himself and his wife:

CAPTAIN. (…) I feel your shawl against my mouth; it is as warm and soft as your arm, and it smells of vanilla, like your hair when you were young! Laura, when you were young, and we walked in the birch woods, with the primroses and the thrushes–glorious, glorious! Think how beautiful life was, and what it is now. You didn’t want to have it like this, nor did I, and yet it happened. Who then rules over life?

The idea of his wife’s possible unfaithfulness (and, thus, the fact that Bertha may not actually be The Captain’s child) also disrupts his entire perception of his own existence:

CAPTAIN. (…) I do not believe in a hereafter; the child was my future life. That was my conception of immortality, and perhaps the only one that has any analogy in reality. If you take that away from me, you cut off my life.

I haven’t done enough research to determine whether or not it is plausible that Pagliacci composer and librettist Leoncavallo had read or attended the cuckold tragedies of Ibsen and Strindberg, but the verismo opera composer clearly shares their interest in exploring the psychology of the cuckold. What is so exceptionally fascinating in Pagliacci is, however, that Leoncavallo examines the tragic aspects of the cuckold man all the while acknowledging the comic potential of the motif. The central aria of the opera revolves around the idea of laughing at the cuckold buffoon (“Ridi, Pagliaccio!”), and in the frantic play-within-the-play ending the opera, the ambiguity of the cuckold as a comical/tragic figure is constantly at play. The audience-within-the-play wants nothing more than to laugh at the buffoon, but cuckold Canio’s very real despair is constantly creeping into the caricatured pantomime grief of the cuckold Pagliaccio.

Significantly, Canio’s unfaithful wife Nedda is not dealt the demonic tendencies of Strindberg’s Laura. Rather, she becomes a painful inbodiment of the conflict between the comical and the tragic cuckold: We can’t help rooting for the poor woman who loves her Silvio so dearly, and it’s for her sake that we want to regard Canio as the fool. As several researchers have noted, the theme of the cuckold in late-antiquity mime shows as well as in the commedia dell’arte did not come out of nowhere. The motif became popular in the male dominated patriarchies of late antiquity and 16th century Italy in which women would often be at the mercy of their controlling husbands and have very limited means of personal or sexual emancipation. Tellingly, both the mime shows and the commedia dell’arte marked themselves by allowing women to rise to fame and fortune on stage at a time when women were generally not allowed to star in theatre productions. In late anitquity there are even instances of women becoming managers of mime troupes and it is easy to imagine that these women would have been a driving force in the furthering of the ridiculous male authoritative figure in the mime shows. Pagliacci was written at a time when women’s liberation was slowly building and the need for ridicule of partriarchy was less acute, but the beauty of it, to me, is that the cuckold story of Pagliacci doesn’t claim to hold any simple solutions to the infidelity issue. Canio may declare that the comedy is over, but the tragedy that lingers instead pertains to both sexes. And the commedia dell’arte tradition with its clownish cuckold lives on within the verismo tragedy whenever Pagliacci is staged.

What then of the cuckold character today? More than a decade has passed since Pagliacci, along with a sexual revolution, so surely we must have reached some new level of awareness when it comes to the issue of infidelity?

Well, I guess maybe we haven’t. When it comes to the tragic cuckold at least, many of the perceptions of biological paternity found in Strindberg are very much alive today. I have noticed it, for example, in Per Olov Enquist’s excellent novel The Visit of the Royal Physician (2000) about King Christian VII of Denmark and Doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee. In Enquist’s take on the highly dramatic story of the German royal physician’s rise to power as de facto king of Denmark, enlightenment-inspired Struensee is portrayed as the hero in a horribly backwards, medieval Denmark, and his wrongful execution is depicted as a terrible loss. However, Enquist allows Struensee some vindication in the epilogue in which he notes that the child that Struensee fathered during his affair with Christian VII’s queen, Caroline Mathilde, lived on and granted him a kind of immortality. “The little daughter Louise Augusta grew up in Denmark (…)” writes Enquist, and goes on to describe the beauty and fertility of the princess:

“She is described as very beautiful, with a ‘disturbing’ vitality. (…) She married the Duke Frederik Christian of Augustenborg who was hardly her equal in any way. She did, however, have three children with him (…) today there is not one European monarchy that cannot trace its heritage back to Johann Friedriech Struensse, his English princess, and their little girl.”

The juxtaposition of sexual potency and immortality is striking to me in this paragraph in which the Danish monarchy seems to play the part of the cuckold husband whose DNA is not carried on or at least only carried on to a limited degree, opposite Struensee as the handsome lover who fathered a beautiful, vivacious daughter.

"I'm bringin' sexy back/Them Danish boys don't know how to act/I think it's special what's behind thy back/So turn around and I'll pick up the slack."

I also find it telling that the theme of the cuckold as a figure is still something that is predominantly associated with a male character. The betrayed woman has always been, and continues to be, a tragic figure, doesn’t she? Even today we love to revel in the not-at-all-funny pain of historical betrayed woman characters struggling to make it in a partriarchal society, such as Betty Draper or Saul Dibb’s Duchess of Devonshire. It’s still hard to imagine a hilarious comedy about a younger, handsome man cheating on an older woman who is laughed at for her inability to maintain her young husband’s sexual interest. I can’t even imagine a movie like Forgetting Sarah Marshall with the tables turned so that it’s the betrayed woman we’re laughing at, rather than Jason Segel’s naked, unattractive, blue-balled, cuckold boyfriend character. The idea that a woman might be a ridiculous sex-crazed authority rather than a vulnerable victim with hurt feelings still seems alien in our contemporary narratives. The only character vaguely of this sort that I am able to think would be Jennifer Aniston’s sexually harassing boss in Horrible Bosses.

I guess you could say that the development of the cuckold motif in the history of drama and comedy is a good indicator that we still have a long way to go towards equality. Still, I think I prefer to see it as a testiment to the genius of Leoncavallo, rather than to the backwards nature of today’s cultural perception of gender, that his tragic comedy Pagliacci still feels so intensely relevant today.