Feminism’s Wave: ‘Sir Gawain And The Green Knight’ 

The term “feminism” may be described as the advocacy of women’s rights. Throughout history, there has been four different waves of feminism. However, the most influential wave of feminism was the third wave. The third wave contradicts the conservative and modest ideologies of the former waves. “According to third wave feminists, post feminism can be understood in terms of a conservative/patriarchal discourse that seeks to criticize and undermine second wave feminism.” (Genz, S., & Brabon, B. (2009). The third wave of feminism focuses on the physical beauty or sexuality and the knowledge of women. In other words, a woman can have a pretty face and a brain as well. Although this wave of feminism is considerably recent, one may argue that it may have established itself much earlier. Perhaps as early as the fourteenth century. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a fourteenth century chivalric romance, the author describes the power of women through their sexuality/physical beauty and power over men.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight first introduces feminism by describing her beauty.

“Their merrymaking rolled on in this manner until mealtime,

when, worthily washed, they went to the table,

and were seated in order of honor, as was apt,

with Guinevere in their gathering, gloriously framed

at her place on the platform, pricelessly curtained

by silk to each side, and canopied across with tasteful tapestries of Toulouse and Tharsia,

studded with stones and stunning gems

beyond pocket or purse, beyond what pennies

could buy.

But not one stone outshone

the quartz of the queen’s eye’s;

with hand on heart, no one

could argue otherwise.” (Malory 187)

These lines describe the way Guinevere’s clothes represent her physical beauty and power as a Queen. It then describes how any stone cannot outshine the glistening of her eyes and that no one would ever disagree.

As stated earlier, the third wave of feminism can be described as the physical beauty and knowledge of women. One may argue that this also includes the ability to outsmart a man into doing as the woman pleases. In lines, 1187 through 1308 Guinevere is given many titles regarding her beauty. These titles include “the graceful lady”, “the sweet lady”, “the gracious lady”, and lastly “the beautiful woman”. The author uses these titles to allow the reader to understand and show Gawain’s admiration towards this woman. As she attempts to seduce Gawain, he continues to gently reject her. However, she then challenges his knightly hood and convinces him to do as she pleases. This is seen in lines 1296 through 1306.

“The beautiful woman blessed him, then rebuked him:

“A good man like Gawain, so greatly regarded,

the embodiment of courtliness to the bones of his being,

could never have lingered so long with a lady

without craving a kiss, as politeness requires,

or coaxing a kiss with his closing words.”

“Very well,” said Gawain, “Let it be as you wish.

I shall kiss at your command, as becomes a knight,

and further, should it please you, so press me no more.”’(Malory 213)

Later on in the story, Guinevere outsmarts Gawain into doing as she pleases, again, in lines 1472 through 1557. Then she does it for a third time in lines 1733 through 1869. However, this time she convinces him to accept more than a kiss. She gives him her girdle that is made for protection from anyone “who seeks to strike him”. Gawain, knowing that he should not take the prize, took it anyway falling into temptation.

At the end of the story, in lines 2416- 2420, the author provides examples of times that important men have fallen at fault of women.

“And mind you commend me to your fair wife,

Both to her and the other, those honorable ladies

who kidded me so cleverly with their cunning tricks.

But no wonder if a fool finds his way into folly

and be wiped of his wits by womanly guile-

it’s the way of the world. Adam fell because of a woman,

and Soloman because of several, and as for Samson,

Delilah was his downfall, and afterwards David

was bamboozled by Bathsheba and bore the grief.”(Malory 235)

In conclusion, the third wave of feminism focuses on the physical beauty or sexuality and the knowledge of women. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the author describes the power of women through their sexuality/physical beauty and power over men. This has been proven by showing the temptation of Gawain by Genevieve. She used her sexuality and cleverness to tempt Gawain. Genevieve is proven to be used as an example of the early representation of the third wave of feminism.