Willa Cather's Sexual Preference

Willa Cather's Sexual Preference

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Willa Cather's Sexual Preference


      A highly discussed subject about Willa Cather is whether or not she was a

      lesbian. There are arguments for every side of the topic, but given the

      amount of information we have, its clarity, and the vagueness of the

      period itself, all of it can be used for every side.


      One aspect that people questioning Cather's sexual preference concerns

      gender identity greatly. This gender labeling system that everyone is

      familiar with is very simple and logically sound, but not true to all

      points of nature. It creates stereotypes, and stereotypes by definition

      are attributes to certain things thought to encompass all that share its

      label. The common idea that is bred into everyone's minds during childhood

      is that girls act girly and boys act like boys. Girls that play with dolls

      and have tea parties are girls, and when they grow up they will like boys.

      Boys that play with trucks and army stuff are boys, and when they grow up

      they will like girls. But, if girls play with trucks, they will grow up to

      be boys and like girls, and boys that play with dolls will grow up to be

      girls and like boys. This image generates the idea that these children

      will grow up trying to be something they're not.


      This mainstream way of thinking has flowed into gender roles, including

      roles of the lesbian community. According to these unknown rule makers

      that happen to be everywhere like Big Brother, there are butches and there

      are femmes. Butches are not attracted to other butches, and vice versa.

      Hence, butches take the male role and femmes take the female role,

      reproducing a heterosexual couple. Because of his dominant ideology, women

      who identify as both or neither are ridiculed and scorned by their own

      community. Those that are both are seen as freaks of nature. The set

      structure says you must be one or the other.

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      Let's apply this system to Cather. She dressed as a boy, constantly

      sporting a male hair style of short hair, and preferred the name William

      to Willa. Using the gender rules stated earlier, Cather was a lesbian.

      This gender ideology is used by everyone, including those who try to

      defineCather's sexual orientation. It is very strict and leads to false

      stereotypes. There are butch women and feminine men that are heterosexual.


      One can try to obtain more evidence of which team Cather played for by

      looking at My Ántonia, assuming that Cather used this work to convey all

      her internal opinions and feelings. Cather writes in the first person

      perspective of the male character Jim Burden, who has a great deal in

      common with Cather. They both moved from Virginia to southern Nebraska as

      children and moved away to attend this university and eventually ended up

      in New York. Both had many immigrant friends growing up. One could argue

      that Jim Burden was Cather's male persona and she was living through him,

      considering it was an absurd idea at the time for two women to be

      romantically involved. Cather wrote through Jim, becoming Jim, in order to

      love women, especially women she was familiar with from her own life,

      because in her circumstances she could not do it in reality.


      Also in My Ántonia, there is more emotional connection to women than men.

      Jim's life is greatly affected by mostly women. We see Jim with his

      grandmother more than his grandfather. All of Jim's friends except for

      Charley Harlingare female, and even that one we don't see for very long.

      We do hear the history of Peter and Pavel, but quickly afterwards they

      disappear from the story and aren't thought of again. We find out a great

      deal about Mr. Shimerda, but through his inability to speak much English

      and his early death, we don't really get to know him. We meet other male

      characters, such as Jim's grandfather, Wick Cutter, Otto Fuchs, and

      Ambrosch, but we are kept distanced from them. We know them and their

      history, but it is all facts. We feel little emotion for them. We see more

      emotion and history of the female characters. While granted, th book is

      about one woman special to Jim Burden's life, Cather has an entire novel

      to give Jim more male friends. Jim has more female influence than male.

      Men are not displayed in a most positive light. There are more male

      villians than female villians. In fact, I can only think of one female

      villian without rereading the entire book, Mrs. Cutter. Other women show

      flaws to their character, such as Mrs. Shimerda's distrust of her

      neighbours and Jim's grandmother speaking to immigrants as if they were

      deaf, but these hardly make them evil people. On the other hand, there is

      Krajiek and Wick Cutter who constantly try to con immigrants out of

      things, Larry Donovan who played Ántonia like her father's violin, and Ole

      Benson who couldn't control himself and kept chasing after Lena Lingard.

      One could argue that Cather was an introverted stereotypical angry

      feminist, a stereotype that wasn't even born until almost thirty years

      after her death, who disliked men so much that naturally she would be

      attracted to only women. She had so much disgust for those who really were

      men that there was no way she could love one and turned to the exact

      opposite instead.


      The act of getting married is not portrayed as a happy event. We learn

      from the very beginning that Jim marries a loud and outspoken woman, his

      complete opposite, which seems like a state of being rather than a union

      of love. Some of the characters never marry, including Lena Lingard. Larry

      Donovan promised to marry Ántonia, but did everything but that. Eventually

      Ántonia marries Anton, and even though it is a fruitful marriage, it's

      uncertain whether it was a happy one. The Cutters marriage is never happy,

      and eventually leads to both their ends, an odd competition to see who

      would outlive whom. Cather herself never married, and to this day people

      of the same gender aren't allowed the priviledge of a legal marriage. One

      could argue that Cather was trying to portray the whole heterosexual

      marriage as a terrible thing, making her desires seem like a perfect



      In my humble opinion, I have no idea if Cather was a lesbian because I

      didn't know her personally. I don't share all the arguments that I've just

      stated, only producing them and evidence that supports them. I admit that

      a few of them are a bit 'out there.' I try my hardest to not assume

      anything about anyone because so many people in the world assume enough to

      make up for my lack of assuming. I prefer the company of women who also

      prefer the company of women, but I don't identify as 'lesbian' because I

      don't like labels. The only labels I am comfortable with are "Mary" and

      "writer". Labels set strict boundaries, just like the example of defined

      gender identity earlier, and have stereotypes that come with them. If

      someone is a lawyer, they must be sneaky and deceptive. If someone is from

      Texas, they must be heartless bigots that will send anyone to the electric

      chair, including anyone who isn't white. It's amazing how small little

      words carry the largest meanings, and sometimes people don't even know it

      until they become a victim of it.


      What literary critics continue to do is try to label Cather. Since they

      can't ask Cather any questions, they grasp at any information and convey

      it into any way they need it to. Until a letter from Cather is discovered

      that says, "Hi, Mom, I'm a lesbian. Love, Willa," no one can be certain.

      The debate of whether or not Cather was a lesbian becomes another

      whirlwind unending discussion, just like abortion, politics, and religion.
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