The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer is a book that consists of tales told by twenty nine pilgrims on a journey to Saint Thomas Becket’s shrine located in Canterbury. The Wife of Bath does not show the qualities as a feminist, instead, she is an anti-feminist who only does acts to benefit herself. During medieval times, women had little to no control over what they were allowed to do with their lives. The majority of women were responsible for managing the household they were living in, while the men were responsible for bringing in income. The place of a woman was decided based on texts from the Bible; the extreme emphasis of men having absolute power over women and keeping them from voicing their opinion is based on the texts of the apostle Paul.
In contrast, feminism is meant to empower women or revolutionize them and make both the roles of men and women equal. The contributions that women make are valued and taken into consideration instead of being oppressive and shoved to the side. The Wife of Bath is a dominant willed woman who contradicts the feminist status by glorifying her acts of self interests, sexual attributes, and violence to gain dominance. At the beginning of The Wife’s prologue, she shamelessly confesses her sexual acts and the way she obtained power over the five men she married. Her reason for gaining dominance is thanks to all the sexual experiences she has had with men. The Wife declares that “[she’ll] have a husband yet who shall be both [her] debtor and [her] slave and bear his tribulation to the grave, as long as [she is his] wife,” (Chaucer 262).
She boldly states that she wants to use her “instrument” or body as a weapon and blatantly discloses that she owns her husband. Because he is married to her, she feels as if he has to look up to her and act as a slave since she is the dominant partner in the relationship. The Wife uses methods of violence of obtaining what she wants; power. In contrast to her first three husbands who were far older than she was, her fifth husband was significantly younger than her and had various expectations on how a wife should behave. When she does not institute sovereignty on her husband, it seems to exhilarate the Wife, as she appears to enjoy challenges. Her husband uses ferocity against her as a way to control her. Resorting to violence against her husband, the Wife assaults back, then “[falls] upon the floor for dead” as a way to guilt her husband, resulting in him losing power over her (Chaucer 279).
The Wife’s goal was not to educate her husband on his errors but to achieve power and supremacy by appearing defenseless. She commits acts based “poisonous [ideologies]” of women and it is clear she feels a “sense of inferiority inculcated by the dominant culture” which leads her to want to contradict that ideology and act superior (Iannone). She shows anti-feminist qualities by gaining power through brutality instead of using methods such as self sufficiency and intelligence. The Wife becomes a tool for Chaucer to disclose his misogynist views. There are plenty of inconsistencies on what the Wife avows versus how she behaves. Her fifth husband possesses a “book of wikked wyves”, containing stories of vile stereotypes involving women, which the Wife disbands constantly that they were not written by women but by men who are extremely misogynistic (Chaucer 276).
Ironically, the Wife suits this image. She is the end product of a feminine deformity and masculine interest which she inadequately and ostensibly rebels. The Wife is defined by sex and uses it to manipulate all of her previous husbands while gaining money and land. The Wife praises herself for her actions and all her past and current marriages, which given the status of misogyny during medieval times, “the apparent praise of women and of marriage by medieval writers [were] often meant ironically” (Rigby). From the author’s perspective, The Wife’s prologue is intended to provide humor to the reader at her idiocy rather than praise her. Her actions do nothing to close the fight between women’s superiority over men, instead, it is a mockery of feminism. She is shameless in her acts and illogical, which are two characteristics that were established as natural behaviors women had during that time period. The Wife argues against misogynist perspectives based on women when ironically, she is an aggressive, controlling woman, prepared to exchange sex for anything in return.
The Wife does not care for the benefit of other women in the world who are treated poorly by men; she is not a feminist who advocates for the virtue within all women. A feminist “woman is someone who defends her rights and the rights of other women to live freely and respectfully,” but not being “just any free, adventurous, and lascivious woman whose favorite hobby is using and abusing men for money or sex,” (Canterbury Tales 3-3). Her belief is offering men whatever they please and desire while using manipulation, not far from how men treat women, even today. The story of The Wife of Bath contemplates the belief that women are “promiscuous, luxury-loving, extravagant, loose tongued, proud, quarrelsome, deceitful, domineering, and guilty of every vice or annoying disposition men could think of,” (Anti Feminism in ‘The Wife of Bath’).
The Wife is a power hungry character and is deceitful in order to gain jurisdiction. Because she married five men, the Wife is sure that she has had the thorough experience with men and that she can obtain anything she wants from men thanks to the use of her sexual attributes. Her justifications come from the bible and she implies that it is not said anywhere that Jesus required a woman to marry. She proceeds by mentioning that Solomon had multiple wives, making it acceptable that she has had multiple husbands. Instead of Chaucer advocating her as a heroine, this makes her and women in medieval times appear ignorant while misinterpreting the bible and misleading their lives by dictations of religion.
The Wife is not a Christian, yet she pursues Christian crusades for her own regard in the result of her viewing herself highly and not the entirety of the women race. In conclusion, the Wife’s sexual attributes show no evidence that she is in search of equal status within all women, instead, she is in pursuit of personal interest and gain. Furthermore, her attempts to retaliate back at men prove to be futile for the rest of women, again, leading her to be the only one gaining personal profit. To execute her intent, she is sure to utilize deception and obscenity which reveals a basic stereotype within women.
The Wife resorts to violence then proceeds to use guilt in order to gain dominance over her fifth husband after being physically abused, rather than leaving her husband or not using manipulation to get her way. Although she shows rebellious behaviors, the Wife only brings affirmation of the supremacy of the male governed society. The Wife of Bath shows anti-feminist attributes by referring to barbarity, along with liability, to secure power and superiority for selfish justifications instead of undertaking actions that benefit women who are looked down upon from men.