Male Gaze As A Tool Of The Cult Of Womanhood

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Praise for Toomer’s depictions of black sexuality are well-deserved because they are bold and daring in a way that was uncommon prior to the modern era. Traditional literary depictions of women were limited to those that conformed to the values of the cult of womanhood. What Toomer’s women in Cane accomplish is quite the opposite. He employs the male gaze as a tool of humanization, often in critique of the violence executed against the black female body which has been justified for so long by the gaze itself. Toomer works to situate womanhood in reality as opposed to Victorian notions of purity, chastity, and domesticity. He does this by placing black and white womanhood adjacent to each other and offering sexuality and promiscuity as part…show more content…
This is indicative of Karintha’s prostitution practice. The focus on Karintha’s money rather than the actual practice of prostitution seeks to ease the burden of the stigma on sex work. Though it’s vague, the evidence of Karintha’s practice is there and it’s presented as an essential function of her existence. “Karintha is a woman, and she has a child” (4). Not only her existence, but her child necessitates an income and Karintha uses her sexuality as a mode of survival. Two poems that perfectly display the placement of white and black female bodies against each other are “Face” and “Portrait in Georgia.” The two are far away from each other in the text but the parallels are undeniable. Both poems begin with “Hair—, “and go on to describe a woman. The white woman in “Portrait in Georgia” is textually linked to lynching. The portrait, if you will, is painted in images of lynching and violence against black bodies. Here, the white woman works as a symbol of essential whiteness that is meant to be protected. During the early 20th century, it was common for black men to be lynched because they were looking at or talking to white women. Toomer is drawing on the necessity of the white woman to further the white man’s motivation to eliminate black men. On the other side of the spectrum, “Face” features a woman of color. Her features are drawn with images of nature, suggesting the possibility of new life, even in her graying old age. The language of the poem is
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