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Jeannine Stanko




Sexual Objectification and Commodification of Solo Female Dancers

In a skit about the nightclub scene, comedian Dane Cook describes how girls go to

dance. You get ready with your friends, Lets go dance tonight! Lets just fuck guys tonight.

Lets just stand in a circle around our shoes and our pocketbooks and lets just dance. And if

guys come near us well tazer them. No guys (Dane). Cook, in relating the different reasons

why men and women go to clubs, articulates a point that has historically been misconstrued.

Throughout literary history, the idea of women dancing to benefit themselves emotionally and

mentally as well as to bond with other women has been denounced.

In the late Middle Ages, the Catholic church decreed that dancing was only permissible

during church worship services as a way to increase church attendance and to control dancing

manias. During the Reformation period, the priesthood sedulously spread the opinion, that the

Evil One was the patron of dancing (Wilson 347). When the waltz was introduced to Victorian

era ballrooms, many people viewed it as shocking, distasteful, and too risqu for public use when

compared to line style court dances. Manuals issuing strict guidelines for ballroom dancing were

published in order to regulate the highly sexual atmosphere of the ballroom (Malone 432).

These manuals coincided with the Victorian need to repress sexuality. Some of these guidelines

included the need for dancers to guard their body language closely: prolonged eye contact was

to be avoided, and partners were not to touch unnecessarily (Malone 432). As couples danced

around the ballroom floor, spectators monitored these interactions between genders and to fail
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to regulate oneself, to express even the slightest sexual attraction to ones partner, would

undoubtedly raise the eyebrows of onlookers (Malone 432). For the female who dances solo,

everyone but her is a spectator. Wilson states that unlike their ballroom counterparts who would

not have made eye contact with spectators [the solo female dancers] actively manipulate the

spectators gaze (351). In courtly dancing, the male gaze serves to further sexually objectify

women, resulting in the perpetuation of oppression. Utilizing this gaze contributes to the

liberation of a solo female dancer. According to Laura Mulvey, pleasure in looking has been

split between active/male and passive/female (589). Mulveys concepts regarding the

active/male and passive/female stem from the biology of intercourse. In these regards, the

simplistic analyses of biological copulation imply that women are reluctant and passive

receivers while men are eager and active contributors (Eden 15). Therefore, the argument

involving the active nature of males supports males engaging in an active activity such as gazing

whereas females are expected to passively accept this gaze. The solo female dancers

manipulation of the male gaze thwarts the power of the patriarchy by the female revoking the

active gesture from males and redirecting it towards her audience. In other words, the gazed at,

passive woman transforms into a gazer as an active dancer. Males are permitted to actively

engage in their sexuality whereas females are supposed to remain passive and under patriarchal

dominance. The Catholic Church and Victorian dance manuals regulated and oppressed female

sexuality as a way of perpetuating female passivity.

Solo female dancers are sexually objectified within the mindset that man must be

pleased; but him to please / Is womans pleasure (Gilbert and Gubar 816). Female activists in

the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fought against the role of woman as one of

servitude to ones father, husband, and children. A womans happiness and fulfillment is to be
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derived from waiting on those three entities. This idea, regarding female pleasure, starkly

contradicts the empowerment that female dancers often derive from performance. Female

dancers often [want] to be allowed their natural sensuality without the social role or related

demands of becoming the female seductress, to [feel] empowered, and to possess ownership

of their body (Sellers-Young 288, 290). Threatening the established order of the patriarchy, solo

female dancers reasserted control and self-ownership, and because critics feared this would lead

to the destruction of the traditional family, depictions of solo female dancers often end in

tragedy. Oscar Wildes title character in Salome is crushed to death. Leila from Lord Byrons

The Giaour drowns, forever silenced. The events initiated by the dancers in Arthur Millers

The Crucible destroy an entire village and one of the solo female dancers becomes a prostitute.

Anna Morgan of Jean Rhys Voyage in the Dark must suffer from a botched abortion. Jean

Toomers Cane depicts Dorris as possessing irrational desires, placing all blame on a woman

rather than a man. In each of these literatures, the solo female dancer serves as a warning to

women that thwarting the patriarchal norm will produce ill results. Spanning multiple literary, as

well as historical eras, the diverse locations and times within which these literatures are set

indicate the patriarchal desire to maintain the oppressions of female sexuality. Solo female

dancers symbolize threats to the subjugations implemented by the patriarchy, and therefore,

within the aforementioned texts, these dancers must be reduced to mere sexual objects to take

away their power.

The character of Salome, with Biblical and Babylonian roots, provides a historical reason

for patriarchal control of female sexuality through dance. Oscar Wildes inspiration for Salome

can be traced back to the Bible as well as a myth about Ishtar, the fertility goddess of Babylonia.

The Gospels of Matthew (14:3-11) and Mark (6:17-28) relate a story about Herod, Herodias, and
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John the Baptist. The name of Herodiass daughter is never given. Additionally, the Bible neither

names nor describes the type of dance performed by Herodiass daughter. The text simply states

Then Herodias daughter came in and danced before them and greatly pleased them all (The

Living Bible, Mark 6:22). Origins regarding Wildes Dance of the Seven Veils derives from

myths surrounding Ishtar. Ishtar descends into the underworld to retrieve her lover. Wendy

Buonaventura relates that In order to enter the most secret chambers of the underworld, she has

to pass through seven-times-seven gates; after every set of seven gates, as the price of

admission. Throughout this descent, she diverts herself a jewel and a veil stripping off the last

of each at the final gate (qtd. in Kultermann 187). In the myth, the dance that Ishtar performs is

labeled the Welcome Dance. The name Salome also means welcome in Hebrew (187). Wilde

uses the Bibles plot and Ishtars divestment of jewels and clothing within his play. Components

of both these stories can be found in Wildes Salome to construct his commentary about women

as sexual objects and commodities.

Wildes Salome also shows influence from previous literatures written about Herod and

Herodias. During the height of British imperialism, Europeans developed an interest in tales of

the Orient due to their sensationalism of cultural differences. In Herodias, Gustave Flaubert

writes that during Salomes dance, Her feet slipped back and forth, to the rhythm of the flute

and a pair of castanets.With eyes half closed, she twisted her waist, made her belly ripple like

the swell of the sea, made her breasts quiver. Flaubert also writes, She bent over in every

direction.The jewels in her ears leaped about.Opening wide her legs, without bending her

knees, she bowed so low that her chin brushed the floor (qtd. in Kultermann 190-191).

Flaubert, during his several trips to the Orient, always spent copious amounts of time with belly

dancers and possessed a penchant for prostitutes. According to Stavros Stavrou Karayanni, these
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travels led Flaubert to describe dancers who embody what the Empire finds reprehensible and

whose promise includes a raw and intense sexual fulfillment (124). The French poets,

Baudelaire and Mallarme, also wrote about the biblical tale of Herod and Herodias. As members

of the fin de sicle (turn of the century), Baudelaire and Mallarme were also well versed in what

many relate as the British Old Woman/New Woman dichotomy of the late nineteenth century.

For many British women, who Sarah Grand referred to as New Women, the turning of the

century coincided with hopes for lawful equal rights whereas the Old Woman maintained that a

womans sole duty was to take care of her husband and children. This dichotomy also influenced

Salome in the realm of displays of sexuality.

By writing about a biblical figure, Wilde hoped to thwart possible public outcry while

contributing to the ongoing commentary regarding female sexuality. Since biblical times, women

have been blamed for causing the downfall of mankind; Iokanaan references this blame by

shouting By woman came evil into the world (Wilde 22). Blame is placed upon Eve for

seducing Adam in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, the sexuality of the female body must be

controlled. Karayanni explains the Western subject attempts to either appease the intransigent

dancing body of the Orient by explicating it in terms of familiar markers of reference, such as

Classical tradition and the Bible [sic], or subdue it by conquering it sexually both approaches

forming attempts to exorcise the fears and anxieties generated by the unorthodox kinesthetics

that characterize the dance of the ghawazi (115-116). The exotic eroticism of belly dance

movements threatens patriarchal control over female sexuality despite its allusions and

borrowings from biblical tales and Babylonian myths. In order to ban its production in London,

authorities [applied] an old law which prohibited biblical themes in the literature (Kultermann

195). The play opened in Paris a few years later, and Salomania soon followed, which sometimes
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interpreted Dance of the Seven Veils as a striptease. Salomania even impacted the American

political arena: in 1908 Salome as a topic entered the discussions of the presidential elections,

whether it should be forbidden or allowed (Kultermann 205). These instances of censorship and

social control upon female movements indicate the extent to which the patriarchy continued its

attempts to oppress women. Wilde was able to seduce society by reinterpreting biblical and

Babylonian mythological figures in similar fashions as Eve and Salome.

Wilde altered the biblical tale and the Babylonian myth to incorporate elements that

would appeal to his audiences interest in orientalism, such as the Dance of the Seven Veils.

Unlike Flauberts Herodias, Wildes Salome simply states as a stage direction that Salome

dances the dance of the seven veils (Wilde 54). Prior to this stage direction, Salome says I am

waiting until my slaves bring perfumes to me and the seven veils, and take from off my feet my

sandals (52). Aubrey Beardsley illustrated the first English publication of the play in which the

drawing that accompanies this scene is called The Stomach Dance. Beardsleys illustration is

a sensual depiction of the body movements of an oriental dancer (Kultermann 195). By

assimilating all of Wildes literary and historical influences with the New Womans strides

towards feminine equality, an analysis of the Dance of the Seven Veils reveals deeper meaning

within Salomes surmised unveiling. Published in 1894, Salomes unveiling was

corresponding with a complete new awareness of independence and articulation of female

identity (Kultermann 195). Sarah Grand, in her article The New Aspect of the Woman

Question, chastises women that We have listened much edified to mans sermons on the

subject of virtue, and have acquiesced uncomplainingly in the convenient arrangement by which

this quality has come to be altogether practiced for him by us vicariously (272). This virtue is

what is at stake as Salome discards her veils. For the men of this time period, a womans virtue
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was closely tied to chastity and sexual repression. The veils in Dance of the Seven Veils

represent chaos. As long as the veils stay firmly wrapped around Salomes gyrating body, the

refined patriarchal order of things stays intact. The veil is a threat to this patriarchal order. As

Salome dances, the dropping of the veil signifies entry into liminal space, in which chaotic

forces upturn hierarchies of structure and power (Deagon 245). In the nineteenth century, the

meaning of a veiled woman, such as a bride, meant that she was chaste and pure. Once possessed

by the man through marriage, the brides veil was lifted for the man to view his property and to

signify his right to conjugal relations which begin with a kiss. By Salome discarding her own

veils, she takes possession of her own sexuality. This aspect of Dance of the Seven Veils uses

the audiences orientalism interests to subjugate the patriarchy.

This subversion of the interests of the patriarchy is corrected through Salomes

punishment. Chaos, or the antithesis of the natural order of nature, ensues after Salomes dance.

Herodias applauds her daughters request for the head of Ioknaan. She exclaims, Ah! That is

well said, my daughter (Wilde 55). Herodias believes that Salomes request is virtuous in that

[Iokanaan] has covered me with insults. He has said unspeakable things against me. One can

see that she loves her mother well. Do not yield, my daughter. He has sworn an oath, he has

sworn an oath (Wilde 57). After the beheading of Ioknaan, Herod declares Salome as

monstrous and that she has committed crime against some unknown God (66). Now fearful

that some terrible thing will befall, Herod orders his slaves to extinguish the torches; it is in the

dark that Salome declares she has kissed Iokanaan and that they say that love hath a bitter taste

(66-67). Under Herods orders, the stage direction states the soldiers rush forward and crush

beneath their shields Salome as she is illuminated in a ray of moonlight (67). Prior to the

Dance of the Seven Veils, Salomes mother pleads with her to decline her stepfathers request
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in order to preserve Salomes chastity. However, that chastity has already been lost to Iokanaan,

who Salome desires to kiss. Performing Dance of the Seven Veils, Salome becomes

synonymous with fertility. This fertility is renounced by the beheading of her desired male

partner, which suggests that Salome wants to be a man. Salomes punishment is finite in order to

permanently end the chaos set forth by her sexually seductive dance.

Throughout Wildes play, Salome is a sexual object to men. In the beginning of the play,

The Young Syrian is bewitched by Salomes beauty. The Page of Herodias questions and advises

Why do you look at her? You must not look at her.Something terrible may happen (Wilde

8). His advice is repeated numerous times before The Young Syrian kills himself after Salomes

declaration I will kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan (24). Herod also continuously looks at Salome:

Why does the Tetrarch look at me all the while with his moles eyes under his shaking eyelids?

It is strange that the husband of my mother looks at me like that. I know not what it means. Of a

truth I know it too well (10). Herodias also notices her husbands insistent gaze and references

it numerous times throughout the play. The final time she says, You are looking again at my

daughter. You must not look at her. I have already said so (45). Although the veil Salome wears

is meant to protect her from these gazes, it fails. Men still longingly gaze at her too long even

when advised not to perform the action. The Young Syrian comments that Through the clouds

of muslin she is smiling like a little princess while she lusts after Iokanaan (17). As she breaks

The Young Syrians heart while he pleads her to stop, this little smile references the evil that

lurks behind the veil of a woman. Elaine Showalter observes, The veiled woman who is

dangerous to look upon also signifies the quest for the mystery of origins, the truths of birth and

death. Showalter continues the male gaze is thus both self-empowering and self-endangering,

for what lies behind the veil is the specter of female sexuality, a silent but terrible mouth (qtd. in
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Deagon 246). The one man who is able to avoid gazing at her is Iokanaan. As she holds his

severed head, Salome laments wherefore dost thou not look at me.Wherefore are they shut?

Open thine eyes! (Wilde 64). As the fictional representation of John the Baptist, a prophet,

Iokanaan is the only man who both recognizes and acknowledges Salomes evil nature. As such,

he advises her to cover thy face with a veil, and scatter ashes upon thine head, and get thee to

the desert, and seek out the Son of Man (Wilde 21). Only prayer can save Salome from being

sexually objectified by men.

Leila, a harem belly dancer in Lord Byrons The Giaour, meets a similar fate as

Salome: Leila must be conquered and possessed in order to control the sexual corruptions of her

dance. According to Daniel P. Watkins, The Giaour takes place after the Russian invasion of

Greece, and precisely at the moment of Hassan Ghazis campaign to re-establish order in the

Morea (875). This sets up a conflict, like the ones surrounding Wildes Salome, with sexual

objectification and commodification of a dancer as the center of the conflict. Watkins analysis

of Byrons Advertisement at the poems beginning indicates two focal points: the action takes

place amid sweeping and momentous change and it emphasizesthe specific historical

moment of the story, rife with territorial dispute and plunder (875). The reference to change

criticizes behaviors exhibited by women who attempt to govern their own bodies. Because Leila

casts aside Hassans patriarchal rule, her punishment is to be thrown overboard. Hassan simply

binds Leila and tosses her into the sea, a virtually silent act (Watkins 884). The only mention of

this act is a quick sad note that swelled the gale / Was womans wildest funeral wail followed

by silence, all is still (Byron 322-323, 324). Under patriarchal rule, mans role is to govern

females. Since Leila betrays Hassan, his actions of making Leila [sleep] beneath the wave are

justified even by the Giaour (675). The Giaour admits Yet did he but what I had done / Had she
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been false to more than one (Byron 1062-1063). Even though he claims to love Leila, the rules

of patriarchal oppression dictate that females must be punished for infidelity or loss of modesty.

As a solo dancer, this sense of modesty is already questionable. Therefore, the Giaour never

questions the right of a ruler to use whatever means necessary including extermination to

secure his power (Watkins 886). As Leilas owner, Hassan, according to the Giaour who also

subscribes to patriarchal rules regarding women, can terminate Leilas life. This act serves as a

warning to the other women of the harem as well as those of the audience to abide by the

patriarchal laws governing women. Additionally, because Leila is a harem belly dancer, no

member of the crew notices her absence as a result of her insignificance. It is a fisherman who

repeats this tale, causing readers to question not only the tale itself but also the existence of

Leila. This relays the message to women that solo female dancers truly are nothing more than

sexual objects. Leila is one of many, who, as evidenced by Hassans ability to quickly acquire

another, can be replaced. After his disposal of Leila, Hassan goes to woo a bride / More true

than her who left his side (Byron 533-534). Not only is Leila replaceable, she is also viewed as

a defected material object because she was unable and unwilling to control her sexuality in

accordance with patriarchal norms regarding ownership.

Watkins elucidates that the lost past is lamented, the beauty of nature is victimized by

human touch, and all hope of regained strength is dashed (877). Although Watkins writes about

the poems eulogy, these words are applicable to the sexual objectification of solo female

dancers. The nostalgia for a lost past refers to the Garden of Eden when mankind was free from

suffering. The loss of a womans chastity correlates with the destruction of natures beauty by

the human touch, and the loss of all hope signifies the need for controlling female sexuality

through commodification. Leila is projected as an ideal image or form [that] is stressed

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throughout the entire narrative, both in the scenes before and after her death (Watkins 881). The

descriptions provided by the fisherman are perhaps truer depictions than those of the Giaour

simply because he begins to idolize her following her demise. Leilas description focuses entirely

upon physical details as one would describe an object. She possesses eyes that are large, as

languishingly dark, / But Soul beamed forth in every spark / That darted from beneath the lid

(Byron 476-478). Her youthful skin contains fair cheeks unfading hue like pomegranates

blossoms and her feet gleamed whiter than the mountain sleet (493, 494, 501). In addition to

the dark eyes and pale skin with rosy cheeks, Leila stood superior to all of the others in

Hassans harem and was enveloped by hair in hyacinthine flow, / When left to roll its folds

below (499, 496-497). According to Watkins, Leila is not perceived simply as ethically superior

to other people, but as qualitatively different from them (881). Describing her in regards to the

other harem girls creates juxtaposition between the two. She is still a part of Hassans harem;

however, she falls out of line from the others who abide by the patriarchal oppressions inflicted

by Hassan. References to a gazelle and a swan connote that Leila possesses a rare form of grace

as perfected by dancing and one that men such as Hassan and the giaour desire to possess.

Watkins concedes that she is a soul, perfect and pure (881). This quality becomes one in

which the Giaour obsesses over throughout the poem. This obsession continues with the

lingering beauty of a recently-dead woman but begins with the description of Leilas

overarching sexuality (McAllister 230). Leila is also described in reference to her sexual allure:

Oh! Who young Leilas glance could read / And keep that portion of his creed (Byron 487-

488). Leilas beauty is the cause of the dispute between Hassan and the Giaour. Both men desire

her sexually and see her as an object to appease their desires.

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Leila, representing Greece, is under territorial dispute even after her death. According to

Shahidha Bari, Leilas personification of Greece casts her as a contested international terrain

over whom blood is shed and Byrons poem presents sexual conquest as the figuration of the

scramble for empire (704). Hassan owns all of the dancers in his harem that, as commodities,

must provide Hassan entertainment. As property, their duty is to please him. Leila, and the other

harem dancers, are entirely passive and [serve] as a reward for or object of devotion for men

(Watkins 880). When Leila broke her bower, Hassan must punish her to show that he has

control of his property (Byron 535). The giaour becomes infuriated when he hears of Leilas fate.

Like a piece of land, Hassan and the giaour engage in an ownership dispute. Even though the

giaour believes that he fights Hassan in Leilas honor, he is really after the ownership of her

memory. Leila is projected as an ideal image or form [that] is stressed throughout the entire

narrative, both in the scenes before and after her death (Watkins 881). The descriptions

provided by the fisherman are perhaps truer depictions than those of the Giaour simply because

he begins to idolize her following her demise. This idolization eventually leads to his self-

imposed condemnation to a monastery. Similar to a territorial dispute, the giaour never wanted

Leila in order to liberate her; he simply wanted to take ownership for her from Hassan.

As a dancer, Leilas worth lies upon her beauty and her value as an entertainer. Watkins

points out that the poem is a desperate struggle between two violently cruel men who wish to

dominate her absolutely: Hassan possesses her physical self; the Giaour possesses her affections

(880-881). This craving for domination is due to both men viewing Leila as an object of value.

Hassan views Leilas value as a part of his harem. Her worth is derived from her ability to

provide him with entertainment. Like any other commodity, Leila is disposable. Hassan

possesses a sense of systematic social apparatus which takes up females as raw materials and
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fashions domesticated women as products (Rubin 534). The Giaours commodification of Leila

primarily occurs after her death. For the Giaour, Leila represents for him ideal rather than

human worth (Watkins 822-823). This ideal worth relates directly to the meaning he places

upon his life. Should Leila fail to achieve his standards, then his life will be meaningless. This

idolized commodification is only achievable due to her morph into a fantasy. As a fantasy, Leila

represents the highest possible meaning in life and her value depends exactly on his ability to

take her from Hassan for himself and to possess her entirely (Watkins 883). Because he was

unable to possess this idolized creature, the Giaour laid him low in a manner that left blood

upon that dinted sword, / A stain its steel can never lose (Byron 1065, 1031-1032). The

Giaours desire to fully possess Leila in the physical form is obliterated by Hassan: All that

remains is the Giaours ability to commodify Leila as an unattainable, idolized object prized for

her beauty and ability to entertain.

Whereas Leila is the silenced victim in The Giaour, the young girls who dance solo in

The Crucible are vocal contributors to the destruction of the towns Puritan government to show

the evils of female sexuality. When Reverend Parriss daughter, Betty, is affected by an

unknown illness, he believes that dancing is to blame. Prior to Betty falling ill, Reverend Parris

had leaped out of the bush at the sight of his daughter and niece, Abigail, dancing like

heathen in the forest (Miller 10). Reverend Parris, as he hides in the bushes, engages in a form

of voyeurism connected to Mulveys theory about the male gaze. As the Puritan girls dance in

the forest, they abandon the constraints of the Puritan lifestyle. Tehse constraints have bound the

girls to a life of sexual repression so that the patriarchy can better control them. As Reverend

Parris silently observes their wild abandonment of Puritan societal norms, his view sexually

objectifies the girls. The audience can assume that Reverend Parris hid in the bushes for a
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lengthy amount of time: he was able to see Tituba waving her arms over the firescreeching

and gibberish coming from her mouth as well as someone naked running through the trees

(Miller 11). Therefore, due to the amount of time spent watching these very sexualized

behaviors, the audience can assume that Reverend Parris possesses voyeuristic notions derived

from the application of the male gaze upon the girls. Reverend Parris leaves his cover only after

his pleasure from viewing from a hidden spot is complete. From this even begins his persecution

of the girls. It is their fault that he engaged in this behavior. As a religious leader in the

community, his brief lapse into temptation must be blamed upon the girls because of their

gender. As a religious man, Reverend Parris is well-versed in the Bibles creation story which

culminates with Eve being labeled as the temptress who seduced Adam. Eve caused Adam to

succumb to the evils of female sexuality, resulting in the suffering of all mankind.

Women who dont fit within the patriarchal modes of oppression are persecuted as

witches. The first woman to hang is Goody Osburn who is old and sleeps in ditches. The second

woman who is convicted, Sarah Good, is imprisoned rather than hung because she is pregnant.

The basis of the accusations and her subsequent conviction lie in her smoking a pipe and being

pregnant as a sixty year old woman without a husband. Her accusers as well as others in the

village believe that this pregnancy shows that she has sinned. This sin detracts from the girls

dancing solo in the forest. Martha Corey is also arrested and convicted because she reads books.

It is her husband who initially raises questions about whether his wifes reading is an acceptable

practice: the rest of the patriarchy renders that it is not. The witchhunt that plagues the village

after the initial accusations made by Tituba, Abigail, and Betty are a direct result of the girls

dancing in the forest. Because these females engaged in solo dancing, the patriarchal government

henceforth purges the town in order to regain control. Women, fearing for their lives, will more
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adamantly abide by the rules governing their sexuality. And in order to save themselves, they

confess to witchcraft. This desire for self-preservation coupled with accusations from other

women reestablishes the patriarchal control of the village women. These women really dont

have any choice: regardless of whether they confess to witchcraft, they will be punished. When

Reverend Hale relates that the accused women have confessed to dealing with the Devil,

Proctor argues, And why not, if they must hang for denyin it? There are them that will swear to

anything before theyll hang (Miller 68-69).

The patriarchy has created and enabled a situation in which all women are targeted,

which coincides with Genesis and the blame placed upon Eve. As a result of Eves seduction of

Adam, all mankind must suffer. Eve used her female sexuality to persuade Adam into disobeying

the rules governing the Garden of Eden. Therefore, all women, regardless of the extent, are seen

as threats to patriarchal rule. Millers characterization of Abigail shows the evil nature of women

and the subsequent need for the patriarchal oppression of their sexuality. As an adulteress and as

one who influences others first to conjure spirits and then to accuse other women of a hanging

offense, Abigail showcases the evil that women who thwart patriarchal governing can cause. The

words hysteria and womb possess similar Latin and Greek roots. Doctors believed that women

were governed by their wombs. As such, hysteria was caused when a womans womb affected

her brain. This form of hysteria is fostered by Abigail as she leads other females in their

unjustified and biased accusations aimed at women who have previously offended or bothered

them. Eves biblical sin is rooted in her seduction of Adam: Abigail attempts to do the same to

John Proctor. When the two happen to meet in Bettys room as she lies ill, Abigail attempts to

solicit a kind word from John. It is during this unarranged meeting that Abigail reveals to readers

that she and John had engaged in an affair. It is this affair that caused Elizabeth, Johns wife, to
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fire Abigail from her services. Now that Abigail has gained power through her relentless

accusations to the court, she believes that she can remove Elizabeth and take her place as Mrs.

John Proctor. When Abigail falls from her chair at the table of Reverend Parris, he finds, stuck

two inches in the flesh of her bellya needle (Miller 74). Abigail, of course, accuses Elizabeth

of witchcraft, Elizabeth is arrested. Rather than blame John Proctor for engaging in a relationship

outside of his marriage, all blame is placed upon Abigail by characterizing her as outright evil. In

court John Proctor declares, She thinks to dance with me on my wifes grave! (Miller 111). It

isnt until Elizabeth, believing that she is protecting her husband, denies knowing of their affair

that the court shifts condemnation of Abigail to John; however, John is condemned for lying

about the affair in order to save his wifes life. Abigails manipulation of the governing system

signifies the extent of evil housed within independent women to destroy the patriarchy. The evil

nature of women must be contained through methods of patriarchal control, such as prohibiting

girls from dancing solo.

As a result of Abigails seduction of John Proctor, the village must suffer. Abigails

abilities to seduce John Proctor also mirror Eves seduction of Adam in the Garden of Eden. As a

result of Adams seduction, mankind must suffer. Reverend Hale directs others to think on your

village and what may have drawn from heaven such thundering wrath upon you all (Miller 79).

The answer to this is that the villages men have been unable to control their women. Of course,

this wrath is blamed upon women, such as Abigail, who audaciously governed themselves.

Abigail represents the evil caused by women who do not abide by rules instituted by the

patriarchy. In court, John Proctor sums this up by exclaiming, You are pulling Heaven down

and raising up a whore! (Miller 121). Even John blames Abigail as a seductress and

manipulator, which are both unbecoming traits in a woman. To further Abigails characterization
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as an evil, Eve-like woman, at the end of the play, Miller reveals that Abigail turned up later as

a prostitute in Boston (146). Additionally, the other girls who were caught dancing all blame

Tituba, another woman who dances solo in the forest. As a woman of Caribbean descent, Tituba

must work hard for acceptance in the Puritan society. Tituba is a lay healer who was

knowledgeable about sexuality, the human body, as well as Afro-Caribbean spiritual practices

(Tunc 267). Titubas knowledge directly threatens the patriarchy. As a slave acquired from the

exotic island of Barbados, she possesses knowledge that infects the other girls. Titubas

knowledge and cultural differences are regarded as the work of the Devil. Reverend Hale and

Reverend Parris unquestionably believe Abigail rather than Tituba because it is culturally easier

to mark an exotic slave as a liar. Titubas exotic background coincides with that of Salome and

Leila to show that like the belly dancers, Titubas solo dance in the woods should also be

condemned as a threat to the patriarchy. As a slave, Tituba is already commodified, so all that is

left is to mark her open display of sexuality as a way to make villagers suffer.

Tituba and Anna Morgan from Jean Rhys Voyage in the Dark share a commonality: they

were both born in the Caribbean. Whereas Tituba became a slave in the United States of

America, Annas stepmother took her to England after the death of Annas father. Both

characters remain outsiders in their new locales regardless of how much they try to fit in with

their current societies. Unlike Tituba, Anna does not try very hard. Attempting to live on her

own, her financial options are very limited. Women in 1914 England possessed very few legal

rights and as such very few employment opportunities existed. During this time period, women

still could not vote. Property owned by a woman was forfeited to her husband upon marriage.

Women who sought a divorce or were divorced by their husbands received nothing, not even

custody of their children. Prior to entering World War I, an English womans rights and choices
Stanko 18

were so limited that her only true option was to marry and to be treated as chattel. If she was

lucky, her husband wouldnt punish her for disobeying him. For those, like Anna, who either

didnt believe in adhering to these sexist constraints or engaged in activities deemed as

unbecoming of a woman, options for financial support were dismal. In Voyage in the Dark, Anna

chose to dance as a girl in a chorus. As shown in the novels later chapters of the novel, another

option for unwed females was to prostitute. Unlike The Crucibles Abigail though, Anna refrains

from engaging in this form of available work. Rather, as a sexually objectified and commodified

girl, Annas punishment for thwarting the patriarchy as well as dismissively refusing to adhere to

societal constraints results in a botched abortion from which she may or may not recover.

Anna is sexually objectified, like Salome and Leila, simply due to her origins. Her dark

looks entice men. As a mistress, Anna plays into the notion held by many members of colonizing

nations that foreign women are sexually exotic. She brags to Walter that she is the fifth

generation born out there, on [her] mothers side and that she is a real West Indian in order to

entice him (Rhys 33). He likes that she is always cold and calls her things like a rum little devil

affectionately (32). By stressing her exotic background, Anna attempts to use to her advantage

what is seen as a detriment to most of British society. On the other hand, Anna also chooses to

downplay her exotic background when she believes it will better suit her needs to be like

everyone else. She tells her stepmother that Youre trying to make out my mother was

coloured.And she wasnt (40). Anna does this in an attempt to better fit into British society.

Fitting in would better her chances of marrying someone who would take care of her as well as

improve the relationship with her stepmother. Hester represents the sentiments of British society

and provides readers with insights about all the ways in which Anna is an outsider of society.

Hester criticizes Annas actions and behaviors, such as that awful sing-song voiceexactly like
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a nigger you talked and still do (40). Hester claims to have attempted to fix Annas ways so

that she would have a better future in England. Hester also criticizes Annas Uncle Bo for having

illegitimate children. Even worse, according to Hester, Uncle Bo allows his illegitimate children

to use his name. To Hester, this action is not only incomprehensible but also contributes to her

declaring that your uncle is not a gentleman (39). Hester explains My idea of a gentleman an

English gentleman doesnt have illegitimate children and if he does he doesnt flaunt them (40).

When Anna and Hester break ties, Annas chances of meeting the standards of British society are

also metaphorically broken. In this either/or binary, a woman cannot be both. A woman must

also avoid being sexually objectified in order to fit into society and marry a man who will

financially support her.

One of Annas biggest threats to the patriarchal order is her chosen occupation as a

chorus girl. Although this displeases both her stepmom and her uncle, neither of them wants to

financially support or help her. Uncle Bo writes, You know as well as I do that there is not the

remotest chance of her ever being able to earn any money for herself out here (Rhys 37). Hester

counters that she has already done far more than [she] can afford to help Anna (41). In 1914

England, unmarried women had to rely upon family members for support or find work as a

domestic servant, seamstress, or as a factory worker. Unskilled enough for any of these

occupations, Annas only other choices for income include using her body as a chorus girl,

mistress, or prostitute. Cunningham explains that the women in Annas class position were

socialized to make a living by way of commodifying their sexuality (388). Many women who

chose to work as domestics, seamstresses, or in factories found that the wages were not enough

on which to survive or to raise a family. This resulted in many women turning towards

prostitution for income. People believe that Anna lies when she says that she is a chorus girl in
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order to avoid revealing that she is really a prostitute. The landlord who rents to Anna and fellow

dancer Maudie becomes disgruntled by their behaviors. The landlord regards their behavior of

lounging around in their underclothes during the day as disdainful and unbecoming of women.

Additionally, the landlords belief that the girls are prostitutes is solidified when Anna and

Maudie bring two gentlemen, whom they had just met, into their room. Because unmarried

women in 1914 England had few financial options, societal stigmas often forced women into

marriages. According to Cunningham, For Hester, giving Anna a real chance in England is

providing an opportunity to marry, and this is contingent on learning and abiding by the codes of

white feminine respectability (379). The roots of these societal stigmas stretch deeper than

engaging in activities that are unbecoming of a woman. The real problem that 1914 English

society had with Annas work as a chorus girl lies in the idea that a woman has chosen to

financially support herself rather than seek marriage. Therefore, Annas occupation as a chorus

girl threatens the established patriarchal order of the time period.

Due to the societal stigmas associated with working as a chorus girl, Hester further limits

Annas finances by cutting off her allowance; this results in Annas decision to succumb to the

life of a kept woman. When Anna receives money from Walter, the very first thing that she does

is head to an expensive clothing store. Anna, as a sexually objectified chorus girl, knows that

men and women are continuously judged by their appearances. Additionally, in order to attempt

to fit into her new lifestyle as a kept woman, Anna must dress and act the part. As she dresses to

follow Walters directions to buysome stockings, Anna reveals that All the time I was

dressing I was thinking what clothes I would buy. I didnt think of anything else at all.A dress

and a hat and shoes and underclothes (Rhys 15-16). Annas commodification as a kept woman

changes her mindset. As her lifestyle changes to further coincide with patriarchal codes, Annas
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self-perception also changes. She begins to worry about what others think of her. On her way to

meet Walter on a holiday, Anna suddenly begins to worry about the male gaze: I was

wondering if I looked all rightI was so nervous about how I looked that three-quarters of me

was in a prison (Rhys 47). When they do meet, Walters gaze fails to assuage Annas newfound

insecurities as a kept woman off the dance stage. Rhys writes, If he had said that I looked all

right or that I was pretty, it would have set me free. But he just looked me up and down and

smiled (Rhys 47). As a kept woman, Anna has relinquished control of her self-worth by

sacrificing her financial independence. According to Cunningham, Voyage in the Dark provides

a prescient look at the conditions that allow for the male gaze to operate and garner power, and

simultaneously addresses the detriment incurred to women who internalize the male gaze (387).

As a chorus girl, Anna is free to live how she wishes to live. Her fellow chorus girl, Maudie,

encourages Anna to swank a bit (Rhys 27). Using men is one way in which financially

struggling, single women can maintain their independence. Maudie advises Anna that The

thing with men is to get everything you can out of them and not care a damn (27). Maudie

believes that in order to avoid commodification, women must reverse roles and use men. As a

kept woman, however, Anna must abide by the patriarchal societal rules which include

commodification and result in self-esteem annihilation.

Annas inability to completely conform to the constraints of a patriarchal society results

in the loss of Walters sexual objectification and commodification of her. Anna, once again

financially unstable, attempts to reenter the workforce. Since her dance troupe has already

moved on, she is unable to resume her role as a chorus dancer. She accepts a room in Ethels

house as a manicurist. This occupation, unlike her employment as a dancer, is a front for

prostitution. Anna confides Ive had four or fiveto manicureOne of them asked me to take
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him upstairs, but when I said No he went off like a shot (Rhys 86). Annas refusal to prostitute

and her inability to maintain status as a kept woman indicate a dichotomy of unreasonable

choices. Annas role as a chorus dancer offered control of the male gaze and its subsequent

sexual objectification and commodification. However, the patriarchal response to female control

and thwarting the patriarchy is for Voyage in the Dark to leave readers with visions of Anna

suffering from a botched abortion as a doctor comments that she will be Ready to start all over

again in not time, Ive no doubt (Rhys 115). This ending serves as a reminder and warning to

all women that to thwart patriarchal control over a womans body by choosing a life of dancing

outside of marriage will result in unwanted consequences. In conjunction with this novel, women

who dance solo also do not stay within societal norms and will be punished. Their lives will be

marked with and will end in tragedy in much the same manner as the biblical Eve who has been

blamed for the fall of mankind for centuries.

Dorris is another chorus girl who is sexually objectified and commodified as a solo

female dancer. Like Anna, Dorris is seen as a societal outsider, not as a result of exotic island

origins, but because of racial segregation. Jean Toomers Cane explores African-American

culture in the South and the loss of that culture in the North during the 1920s. In this time period,

African-American women were sexually objectified and commodified by men of all races

regardless of location. Arranged in short vignettes, Cane explores the relations between

narrators and the female characters.women are often the sites onto which men project their

judgements and desires, and many of the chapters explorethe effect this has on the women

involved (Abbott 455). Unlike Salome, The Giaour, The Crucible, and Voyage in the Dark,

the chapter in Cane titled Theater focuses primarily on Dorris dancing on stage. Unlike Leila

in The Giaour, Dorris struggles to break free from patriarchal control. Dorris attempts to break
Stanko 23

the silence imposed upon her. Dorris exposes her inner thoughts about John, the stage managers

brother, and judges him as much as he judges her. Despite this, her dance movements continue to

be controlled by the stage manager as the patriarchy continues to keep Dorris subjugated as one

who exists to please men. The end result is that Dorris is ignored because, like Leila, she can

easily be replaced. The stage director even announces If you two girls cant [sic] listen to what

Im telling you, I know where I can get some who can (Toomer 95). The other chorus girls, who

remain silent, are objectified and commodified in the same manner as Dorris.

As the stage managers brother, John is able to sexually objectify all of the chorus

dancers without being easily seen. His position in the center of the theaters audience section

permits one half his face is orange.One half his face is in shadow (Toomer 91). As he

watches, John thinks many sexual thoughts about the girls such as Lift your skirts, Baby, and

talk t papa! (Toomer 92). John also judges the girls based upon their appearances as Too thick.

Too easy. Too monotonous. Her whom Id love Id leave before she knew that I was with her

(Toomer 93). John treats these girls as little more than objects whose sole purpose is to please

him. Toomer writes that Girls dance and sing. Men clap to indicate the roles taken by each

gender in this chapter of Cane. The idea that the role of women is to please men still holds true

according to Toomers depictions of the chorus girls. When John sees Dorris, he judges her the

same as he has all of the other girls. First he admires her hair, crisp-curled, is bobbed. Bushy,

black hair bobbing about her lemon-colored face. Her lips are curiously full, and very red. Her

limbs in silk purple stockings are lovely (Toomer 94). Following this very brief moment of

adoration, Johns thoughts quickly jump to a fantasy of feeling her legs in her stockings and his

desire for her. What stops him from engaging with Dorris, from making her a real person, is his

judgment that she, as a showgirl, is below his station in life. According to Megon Abbott,
Stanko 24

Dorriss tempting, low-class sexuality brings out a physical response in him (466). These

judgements made by John about all of the chorus girls, including Dorris are unfair, biased, and

possibly erroneous characterizations because he reads and interprets her without any input from

her at all (Abbott 466). John never speaks to any of the women at the theater. If he were to

speak to them, he would have to leave the shadows of the theater and enter into the light in which

women are more than sexual objects.

In addition to Johns fantasies, Dorris and the other chorus girls are further controlled by

the director of the show. Even though they are solo female dancers, the patriarchy attempts to

dictate and control their movements. Johns thoughts reveal soon the director will herd you, my

full-lipped, distant beauties, and tame you, and blunt your sharp thrusts in loosely suggestive

movements, appropriate to Broadway (Toomer 92-93). In other words, the solo female dancers

will not be permitted to dance freely: their movements and subsequent sexuality will be

controlled and tamed. The director shouts out stage directions for the chorus girls

choreographies. They try to listen and follow his guidelines but, as the rehearsal drags on, the

director eventually steps to one side to allow Dorris to dance as though she were a leading

lady (Toomer 97). When Dorris is allowed full control of her bodys movements, she is able to

control men: Odd ends of stage-men emerge from the wings, and stare and clap. A crap game in

the alley suddenly ends. Black faces crowd the rear stage doors (97). The other chorus girls see

this and then they too join in and find their own steps (97). Dorris feels empowered and

emboldened. In her own fantasy, she imagines John loving her despite their different stations in

life. It isnt until the song ends that she looks back at John and finds that his whole face is in

shadow. She seeks for her dance in it. She finds it a dead thing in the shadow (Toomer 99). For
Stanko 25

John as well as the director, Dorris can never be anything more than a chorus girl who must be

controlled in order to perpetuate the patriarchal control of female sexuality.

Despite these patriarchal controls, Dorris does attempt to dance for empowerment: she

seeks out and tries to manipulate the male gaze. Channeling her inner Salome, Dorris is focused

entirely on performing for the male gaze (Abbot 467). When she first notices John watching

her, she tosses her head and dances for him until she feels she has him (Toomer 95). Dorris,

knowing that John is watching her, then flirts with the director (95). This action isnt only

serving as an attempt to make John desire her more but it is also an effort enacted to try to

advance her career. From this, the director eventually permits Dorris the autonomy of her body,

albeit briefly. Despite this short interlude of autonomy and empowerment, Dorris is reminded of

her station and in the end, collapses into the old safe arms, and cries bitterly into Mames arms

(100). Just as John does with all of the chorus girls, Dorris places judgement upon John and

believes that he could never love a woman like her. However, briefly, like Anna in Voyage in the

Dark, Dorris believes that perhaps if she dances well enough maybe hed love. Ive heard em

say that men who look like himwill marry if they love.And give me kids, and a home and

everything (98). And like Salome, Dorris beckons for John to just watch me (98).

Unfortunately for Dorris, her attempts at controlling the male gaze through the use of her body

are insufficient and the chapter ends with her feeling disempowered.

The stripping of Dorriss assumed power is further evidenced by the way in which the

male narrator abruptly shifts from the dancing Dorris to Johns fantasies. When the director tells

Dorris to shimmy, Johns inner thoughts interrupt the actions on stage to a fantasy that starts with

and then you shimmy. Ill bet she can (Toomer 96). It is one of these fantasies that John is

focused upon when Dorris stops dancing to seek his approval. Unbeknownst to her, Johns
Stanko 26

sexual fantasy has shifted to one filled with romance in which her face is tinted like the autumn

alley. Of old flowers, or of a southern canefield, her perfume (Toomer 99). As in The Giaour,

the silence of the solo female dancer is the result of the efforts by men to interpret and control

women without understanding them or, at times, even allowing them to speak (Abbott 464).

John, like the giaour, creates an imaginary female, one that is idolized and unrealistic. Dorris

could never fulfill the role in which John has placed her within his fantasy, and Mames words at

the end of the chapter indicate that Dorris should have followed her friends advice. In Johns

fantasy, he consults a manuscript. This manuscript contains his depiction of Dorris; However,

once the fantasy shifts back to Dorris dancing on stage, it is clear that Dorris has been dancing

all along, her own dance, not the dance inscribed for her in Johns manuscript (Abbott 470).

Johns fantasies and his manuscript indicate that despite Dorriss momentary achievement of

self-control of her sexuality, she is still objectified and commodified simply as a result of being a

solo female dancer.

Dorris, as a solo female dancer in a novel set in 1930s America, is not punished as

harshly as Salome, Leila, the Puritan girls, and Anna. Unlike the other solo female dancers,

Dorris escapes from the male gazes objectification and commodification in the sense that she

will continue to live even though her self-esteem is bruised. The solo female dancers in Salome,

The Giaour, and The Crucible experience more severe repercussions than Dorris for

attempting to own their bodies despite patriarchal constraints and oppressions. Salome is crushed

to death for unveiling her sexual desires. The Giaours Leila is tied up in a canvas sack and

thrown overboard because, as a solo female dancer in a harem, she is easily silenced and even

more easily replaceable. Solo female dancers in The Crucible cause the destruction of a village

and are either hung or become prostitutes. Anna Morgans story ends with readers contemplating
Stanko 27

the extent of her mutilation from a poorly performed abortion. These women experience various

punishments because their body movements threaten the patriarchy. These solo dancing females

are also rendered into objects as men attempt ownership while crushing the women and girls

literally, figuratively, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

The context in which these literatures were written directly forms and affects the

oppressions experienced by these solo female dancers. The Giaour, published in 1813,

represents a time in which writings about travels in the Far East were extremely popular. This

intense interest in all things deemed Oriental resulted in many writers exaggerating the

differences between Middle Eastern and European cultures. By pitting Hassan against the giaour,

Lord Byrons belly dancing Leila is rendered speechless. Her entire characterization is based

upon the descriptions given by men. After her death, she becomes, for the giaour, an idolized

object of worship. These ideas of worship are also shown to a lesser extent in Salome. Published

during the dwindling years of the Victorian era, Oscar Wilde combined biblical and Babylonian

tales in order to address Englands sexual repression. Written in France and influenced by the

sexual freedoms there and within the fin de sicle writers, Salomes title character did not

guard [her] body language closely or regulate oneself (Malone 432). She danced the Dance

of the Seven Veils and enchanted Herod who had begged her to entertain him. As a young

woman, Salome existed for his pleasure. When Salome gains control of the male gaze through

her dancing, the patriarchy, as represented by Herod, feels threatened. It is a result of this threat

that leads to her death. Both The Giaour and Salome utilize a specific style of dance in order to

not only amplify the appearance of their solo female dancers sexualities but also to highlight the

dichotomy between their sexually free females and the sexually repressed women in England.
Stanko 28

Voyage in the Dark and Cane were composed a mere nine years apart and both contain

solo dancing females who are chorus girls. Despite different settings, both novels explore the

stigmas associated with women who dance as chorus girls. Few occupational choices for women

existed in 1914 England, the setting of Voyage in the Dark. Written to mimic Joseph Conrads

Heart of Darkness, Jean Rhys captures the despair of a womans attempts to support herself in

the year directly before Englands entrance into World War I. Walter objectifies and then

commodifies Anna Morgan as a chorus dancer, woman of Caribbean descent, and then as his

mistress before discarding her on a whim. By carrying the stigmas associated with being a chorus

dancer, Anna often finds herself seen as a prostitute and as a low-class woman. These ties

between dancing as a chorus girl and of low socioeconomic wealth are also seen in Jean

Toomers Cane. Like Anna Morgan, Dorris is a woman of color. The Theater vignette in

Cane is set in the northern part of the United States during the 1920s. Dorris, like Salome,

attempts to control the male gaze of her audience by owning her sexuality. However, unlike

Salome, Dorris is unable to succeed in the reversal of power. Dorriss inability to thwart the

patriarchy spares her life but not her self-esteem: she will never be more than a sexual object to

the men who watch her as they commodify her for their momentary entertainment. Both Voyage

in the Dark and Cane depict the monetary struggles and stigmas of women who dance solo.

Finally, Arthur Millers The Crucible is mired in the McCarthy communist hunts of

1950s America. Despite the strong ties between the Salem witch trials and the persecution of

those accused of holding communist ideals, this play also shows the patriarchal oppression of

women by the Puritan government of 1692 as well as the societal ideals of 1953. The Puritan

theocracy strongly believed that Eves original sin led to the fall of mankind; therefore, a

womans sexuality must be contained and controlled in order to keep the devil at bay. The girls
Stanko 29

dancing wildly in the untamed forest not only depict images of Paganism but also conjuring.

Dancing also replaced ones focus upon God with temptations of the flesh. Abigail is depicted as

an evil Eve who not only tempts John Proctor into an adulterous affair but also manipulates the

other girls and the entire town. Abigails fate is one of prostitution whereas the Caribbean slave

Tituba is killed for her outward display of sexuality. Despite centuries between the setting and

the novels publication, stigmas of females dancing solo still existed. Popular dances such as the

swing, hand jive, and stroll all involved partnerships in which men led women. Although

connections between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy communist hunts are applicable,

The Crucible still depicts the social stigmas of solo dancing females in both eras.

According to Gilbert and Gubar, Female sexuality is consistently equated with

degeneration, disease, and death (821). The solo female dancers of Salome, The Giaour, The

Crucible, Voyage in the Dark, and Cane all experienced sexual objectification and

commodification as a result of exposing their sexuality. Those who did not die had to survive in

spite of debilitating physical ailments and severe degradation. Despite differences in time periods

and locations of both setting and publication, these works of literature show a steady

commonality in their depictions of solo female dancers as threats to patriarchal regulations for

society. Additionally, Luce Irigaray discusses the idea that commodities can only enter into

relationships under the watchful eyes of their guardians. She continues, It is out of the

question for them to go to market on their own, enjoy their own worth among themselves,

speak to each other, desire each other, free from the control of seller-buyer-consumer subjects

(576). This concept of the watchful eyes of their guardians is shown through the control of

the male gaze. As these solo dancing females attempt to render power from the gaze, those who

are the most successful meet the worst fates in order for the patriarchy to continue the
Stanko 30

subjugation of women. Dane Cooks comedic take on the club scenes of today further support

the continued objectification and commodification of women. His club scene skit also reveals

that men go to clubs because thats where they can find women: we stand over in the corner and

stare at you while youre out there [dancing] (Dane). As the men watch the solo female dancers,

they silently declare Mine! Shes mine! (Dane). Solo female dancers are still reduced to mere

sexual objects open for commodification due to their threats to the patriarchy.
Stanko 31

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