How Garp Fits into Feminism

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How Garp Fits Into Feminism

People often mistakenly see feminism as a radical idea that is the direct opposite of male chauvinism, labeling “feminists” as “malicious”. John Irving’s The World According to Garp is a book about feminism. Irving challenges the narrow-minded notion that feminists are man-hating females, but rather people who believe men and women should receive equal rights. Garp is a man who most definitely desires women, yet does not aimlessly follow the cycle that has seemed to follow throughout the novel as seeing women as inferior to men. In his novel, Irving, presents the struggle of seeing Garp as a feminist and the ease Jenny is accepted as one.

Being raised at an all boys’ school, Garp’s interaction with females is limited as he grew up. Nevertheless, during this time Garp has three relationships with women Jenny his mother, Cushie his childhood playmate, and Helen, the love of his life. Jenny is one of the most important people to him at Steering; he took all the classes she thought were essential to his education. Garp accepted this by thinking his mom was more knowledgeable of what classes he should take, since she had been attending classes at Steering for years. Garp’s faith in a woman’s opinion in what educational route he should take; shows that he views women as his equals, for example Garp thought he “was probably no more of a natural at intellectual pursuits than his mother, but…believed in his mother”. (51) Even through society’s negative thoughts of women, which pose double standards, Garp continues to see women as equal to men. He does not see a person’s self worth from what is on the outside or from what people say; to him everyone has their own self worth as human beings. The reader concludes from Garp’s

relationship with Cushie that he respects her and thinks she is a nice person, despite her has a reputation for being easy. Part of Garp’s appeal to Cushie is the fact that Garp takes the time to get to know Cushie as a person and does not care for people’s opinion of her. Additionally Garp’s third relationship with Helen is an indication that he values women’s opinions and sees them as equal to men and, in some instances, vastly superior. A man who does not view women at least as equal would never admit a woman’s intelligence but always claim she is ignorant. This is why Garp’s respect for Jenny’s knowledge of courses at Steering, his perception of Cushie as a person and his admiration of Helen’s opinion in writing influences his feministic leanings. Although Garp is sexually attracted to women, he is first intrigued by Helen’s solidarity and intellect. As you can tell with Irving states, “From the very beginning, Garp wrote, Helen knew how to get the words in” as Helen and Garp talked about the chance of her marrying a writer who is also a wrestler. This is not to say that he did not think of her sexually since he loved her and wanted to marry her, rather that she is both intelligent and beautiful is what made her sexually attractive to him. He believes women can be both smart and beautiful.

Usually when people see the words “a feminist male” and they seem to think he must be gay. When Garp is staying with Jenny after the accident, he meets a woman named Laurel who is staying with Jenny to get away from her abusive boyfriend. One day Garp and Roberta are sitting out front on the porch when he shows up looking for Laurel, “look, sweethearts, the man said, to both Garp and Roberta....What kind of fag joint is this”. (7) Laurel’s boyfriend is quick to assume that only “douche bags” hang out there and that Garp and Roberta are “sweethearts”. (7) This is not the case in the

novel since Garp is neither gay nor a fag. Irving brings this point that feminists are just people who come in all different personalities but share the belief that women should have equal rights.

Garp’s open-mindedness is what makes him more of a feminist. Open-mindedness is his ability to see a situation at first and despite a lack of understanding, taking the time to think about it and make sense of it. When Garp meets the prostitutes, he first thinks they are just prostitutes but with his mother’s interest in them, he starts to want to become friends with one of the prostitutes named Charlotte. Such relationships through out the novel continually tell us that he isn’t someone who looks down on women, not even a prostitute. Just like his friendship with Roberta, he accepts the fact that this is her life and she can live it the way she wants. He realizes that it is not culturally acceptable to be a prostitute or to have a sex change, but this does not matter to him because he likes being friends with Roberta and Charlotte. Garp’s open mindedness is not limited to his ability to befriend people, who often are rejected by society, but by which he unshamingly takes over in the domestic role in his marriage. He does the cooking, cleaning and looks after the children, while Helen is out being the breadwinner of the family. Garp seeing nothing wrong with women choosing their own life path and a man assuming domestic role are feministic views.

In Garp’s writing we learn a great deal of what he is thinking and how he perceives things. In all Garp’s stories, the women are very strong characters on par with any man. The World According to Bensenhaver is a very good example of this since one

of the main characters, Hope, is strong enough to out wit a man and save the lives of Nicky, Margot and herself. Garp, at the end of the novel, address how people tend to

blame the victim of rape when it’s not their fault. When he says “husbands and other people did not always take a rape in the right way”, showing Garp’s sensitivity to a

female issues and understanding of a woman’s position in such situations. (16) when Garp thinks, “rape . . . . made men feel guilt by association.”, this association Garp talks about is not the act of actually committing the rape but by simply being a male. (14) This shows the reader how Garp viewed man negatively when they took advantage of women believing that it their own right as man, Garp thought he “ didn’t want a daughter because of men. Because of bad men”. (151) He sees women as victims even when society wants to point the blame at them, which shows us Garp’s feminist outlook.

As the novel clearly points out that feminist are people who believe in woman’s equal rights although there are radicals in every group. Garp is a leading example of a man who believes that women are as equal to any man and sometimes are capable of exceeding men. He is often a misunderstood character. At times it is hard to see past the lust of the situations and see the seriousness of the topic. Garp likes women and sex but sees them as individuals and is appalled by those who take advantage of them. Irving gets his point across about man and feminism quite clearly with Garp. Feminism doesn’t equal man-hating females.

Work Cited

Irving, John. The World According to Garp. Ballantine Books. New York. 000

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1 Response to "How Garp Fits into Feminism"

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Nothing in contemporary fiction matches it. . . . Irving's blend of gravity and play is unique, audacious, almost blasphemous. . . . Brilliant, funny, and consistently wise; a work of vast talent. To get more info please visit Essien.

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