Advice to Women as a Feminist Poem
Eunice de Souza is widely known as a famous Indian English woman poet who raises her voice for the woman in contemporary world scenario. She chooses poetry as a medium to show her protest and to show the position of woman to transform it. Sometimes she has shared her personal experiences and connects herself with the all women. Her collection of poems are Fix (1979), Women in Dutch Painting(1988), Way of Belonging(1990), Selected and New Poems(1994) and many more.
Actually women always place as secondary position in this society although they are the other half of the whole human existence and race. Gender discrimination is always prevails here as Women in India always suffer in school, college, before marriage, after marriage as because of their biological exclusivity, dislocated imperfect society. In this context Eunice de Souza’s poetry shows the ambivalence in women along with physical and psychological position of women in our society. She shows not a particular woman but the whole women race as they are troubled, unfixed, tormented, and confused.
In her poems we find that she shows her concern for woman. She shows the dislocation of mother, daughter, wife in a same way as the different roles of woman suffered different problems. “Advice to Women” is one such poem. As a feminist poet, in her poems, she deals with the lives of women in Indian context. In some of her poems she advices women about their roles in the society, and in some other, she criticizes the follies in women for which they have remained subordinate to and dependent on men. In the poem, Advice to Women, she tries to make the women aware of their pains and the reasons behind those pains.
The poem by its length and structure, is very short and straightforward. The poetess advices women to rear cats at their homes to get accustomed with the strange behaviour of their lovers. The practice, according to De Souza, will also help them to handle the situation effectively. She comments that the strange behaviour of those lovers are not in their neglect only, otherness means something deeper, because cats also return to their litter trays when they feel the urgency to do so. The poem advices or rather forbid women to bother about the enemies of those cats and to cuss out at them. She advises women to notice the perpetual surprise in those great green eyes of cats, because those eyes and expression will help them to die alone.
A feminist poet usually encourages her reader, the women, to stand firm on their ground and to speak and act with fear and hesitation. In Indian context, feminist attitude is still relevant. Women in India, still have to fight for their right both in social and domestic arena. Eunice De Souza by her life and work has set an example of self-dependent woman. Many of her poems speak of the deplorable and dependent condition of women. But her poems also give advice to those ill-fated women.
In this poem, Eunice De Souza talks about the necessity of independent and self-confident mind in a woman. She feels that the social and domestic life of women cannot be changed until women themselves free themselves from any kind of dependence on male partners. She advices them to practice to be indifferent to male atrocities. This indifference would surprise men because they always feel themselves superior to women for their physical power and so they use this weapon to dominate women. De Souza criticizes this inferiority complex in women and advises them to be brave and bold. She advises women to ignore men and in order to do that they should practice how to bear with the otherness of their lovers.
In this context, she gives example of rearing cats at home. Eunice de Souza begins her ‘advice’ in a decisive and confident tone
if you want to learn to cope with
the otherness of lovers.”
The readers at once get surprised at the suggestion. It is clear that the subject of the poem is the otherness of the lovers towards their beloved ladies. It is expected from a feminist poet to speak about the deprived condition of women in both domestic and social fields. Women are jilted in love; they are suppressed, robbed of their right to speak and to act according to their wish. It has been an elemental duty of a feminist author to speak for the equal right of women and protest against all injustices against women. But Eunice de Souza, in this poem does not tell women to protest against these injustices. She advises to rear cats as pets.
To cope with means to manage or to handle something effectively. That means, the poetess suggests that women can handle this situation through rearing cats. But why? Why does not she suggest a verbal protest? Why does she suggest such apparently irrelevant means? Does she think that women have no other choice but to make a truce with her situation and her lover? Does she accept that women are inferior to men and it is their destiny to adjust with all the adversities? The interest in the reader about the poem grows further with this dilemma. The poetess further explains that –
“Otherness is not always neglect – “
That means, she does not include the act of neglecting in the behavioural otherness as only criteria, so the lover can behave otherly even without neglecting his beloved lady. Then, the poet again mentions the case of cats –
“Cats return to their litter trays
when they need to.”
Now this ‘litter-trays are a kind of trays containing some absorbent granules to absorb the excretes of cats when they are indoors.
The indispensible questions that arise in the mind of the reader after reading the first six lines of the poem are – What is the relation between a cat and the deplorable situation of a woman? How can the practice of rearing cats enable women to cope with the otherness of their lovers?
To find answers to these questions, first, we have to find answers to another set of questions – Why does the poet suggest to keep cats instead of dogs? What is special about keeping cats or how do cats behave as pets? Cats behave very uniquely as pets. There is a strange type of majesty and haughtiness in their
movement and they never become obedient completely to their keepers. They are slaves of their own whim. To train those cats the keeper has to possess enormous depth of patience and perseverance. To speak more elaborately, cats are not as faithful as dogs. Cats demand pampering, they enjoy the coziness of the household and the lap of their keeper, but they never endure complete obedience to their keeper. So cats, in this poem, are a symbol of a kind of unique psychology. Cats do show otherness in their behaviour time and again.
So if women practice rearing of cats in their houses, they would definitely grow the habit of keeping patience and perseverance. They will have the habit of facing behavioural otherness of dear ones as cats will become dear to them as pets. They will have to consider that cats will not always behave according to their wishes. Gradually, a habit of mutual sustenance of parallel existence will evolve. According to Eunice de Souza, this psychological transformation is the primary requirement for a woman to answer back the otherness of her lover. With this resolution of being indifferent to the indifference of lovers, the poet asserts that – “Otherness is not always neglect” (1.4) – as the woman has already seen that her pet cats return “to their litter trays/ when they need to” (II. 5-6). If we dive deep into the metaphor of returning to litter-trays, we find that the men are compared to the pet cats in this stanza and the women are compared to fond but resolute keepers of those cats. As cats cannot stay away from the litter-trays at their most urgent need, men are also compelled to return to their ladies to refresh themselves in body and mind. A woman should have confidence in herself about this moment and, perhaps, Eunice de Souza suggests women to utilize that urgent moment to answer those men back, in their own manner. That will teach those men a proper lesson.
The poetess becomes serious from her sarcastic tone of the first stanza (IL. 1-6). She analyzes the problem more psychologically in the last six lines. Behind the metaphor of cats, she continues her discussion about how to deal with the fickle attitude of men. She advises women not to be hostile to external provocations to those men their enemies). Metaphorically, the enemies are the stray cats which envy the domestic coziness and comfort of the pet cats, and they try to provoke those pets to leave behind the security and comfort of household and become wild like them. The keepers cannot resist their pet cats unless they themselves want to stay back. It is because the cats are slaves of their own whims. The poetess, tries to make women clear about the fact that they should not get aggrieved at the otherness of their lovers and blame the Vices and provocations from outdoors. Instead, they should once again put in use their experience with their pet cats. They should see into ‘those great eyes’ of those pet cats.
Whatever, the meaning of that stare of perpetual surprise’ may be, but the realization it will arouse in a woman is to accept a life where she is alone among many, she is lonely even in presence of her lover, as he wears a false ‘stare of perpetual surprise’ in front of her hopeful ‘stare of perpetual surprise’, making their relationship, with a ‘stare of perpetual surprise’, an orphan.
Women should come out of the false faith on patriarchal shelter. They should feel individual and establish themselves independent of any emotional pampering. In this light of interpretation of the poem, we can conclude that the poem, “Advice to Women” is a fine example of feminist poem.