Pioneers, Virgins, and Whores: (Anti-)Feminist Tropes in the Feminist Reclamation of Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips
Deller, Sarah Elizabeth
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This thesis identifies and interrogates the two most prevalent tropes assigned to Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips as feminist scholars reclaimed and canonized the poets. I ask what perceptions of women have informed our selection of women for the canon. Chapter One, “Pioneers,” criticizes depictions of Behn and Philips as the “first” women to achieve various professional accomplishments within a patriarchy. This trope grants legitimacy to oppressive power structures. Chapter Two, “The Virgin / Whore Dichotomy,” examines the frequent comparison of the sexuality of Behn and Philips. This comparison unduly emphasizes women’s sexuality, and positions Behn –– the “whore” –– and Philips –– the “virgin” –– on either side of a misogynistic false dichotomy. An exploration of these tropes reveals the feminist reclamation and canonization of Behn and Philips rely upon narrow and restrictive ideas of gender and sexuality that, far from liberating these writers, limits discussion of their work and perpetuates patriarchal values.