Paradise Lost\'s Patriarchal Legacy in Victim-Blaming Culture

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Paradise Lost's Patriarchal Legacy in Victim-Blaming Culture
The ubiquity of the story of Adam and Eve in modern day gender discourse attests to the enduring relevance of Paradise Lost. Milton participates in the sexualisation of The Fall, and his interpretation of the events in the Garden of Eden has had a major influence on how we understand sin and transgression, in particular sexual sin or transgression, today. The interpretive tradition has been to dichotomize prelapsarian Eve and postlapsarian Eve, yet this over-simplification reinforces the destructive binary of 'good' (virginal) vs. 'bad' (unchaste) women, and fails to consider how different narrative perspectives lean towards particular categorizations. Today, as in Paradise Lost, the distinction between bodies which transgress, and bodies which are transgressed or violated, is slippery. For the modern feminist reader, Satan's opportunistic, manipulative seduction of Eve can be considered an act of violence or assault. In the representation of prelapsarian Eve, as with the representation of women who have been assaulted today, the tendency to retrospectively sexualize a woman's actions supports the patriarchal logic used to justify what has happened to them. In this essay, I look to examine the construction of Eve-before-the-Fall from the perspective of the postlapsarian, retrospective narrator in Book 4, through the eyes of prelapsarian Adam in Book 9, and finally from the standpoint we take as postlapsarian readers.
The stigmatized perception of women who have been exploited has been at the top of the 21st century – so called "fourth wave" – feminist agenda (Munro 23). Once exploited, these women and their histories are no longer considered without bias. The scrutiny of their actions, behaviors and appearance aims to demonstrate the areas in which a woman failed to conduct herself appropriately, thereby justifying what has happened to her through twisted patriarchal logic. The reader encounters prelapsarian Eve in Book 4 with the bias that precognition of the fall brings. Satan perceives that "thir sex not equal seemed" and expresses this inequality via the mind/body dualism: "For contemplation hee and valour formd, / For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace, / Hee for God only, shee for God in him" (4.296-9). Eve is described in romantic, but ultimately superficial, terms. Whilst "softness" and "sweet attractive Grace" refer in part to Eve's manner, these descriptors are closely associated with the female form (298). Eve inhabits the ideal female body. "Softness" distinguishes it from the male body and alludes to the fleshiness of female breasts, which, although covered by Eve's hair, define her nonetheless (298). "Attractive" implicates Eve in a bond of attraction which Satan describes: "she for God in him" (298-9). The mirrored phrasing creates a linear equation for us to use in order to understand gender constructs in Eden. Adam's purpose (being for "contemplation" and "valour") is intellectual and heroic, hence he serves God, a similarly intellectual entity: Eve, described in physical, bodily terms, serves Adam as a correspondingly physical entity (297). This paradigm mediates our understanding of gender in Eden and encourages a body-centric interpretation of Eve.
In Book 1, "The Argument", Milton presents his political and religious motivations for writing Paradise Lost as an attempt to "justifie the wayes of God to men" – that is, to use the text as a vehicle through which he can defend patriarchy (1.25). Milton weaves his bias into the linguistic, pragmatic and syntactical fabric of the text as the narrator adopts a postlapsarian, patriarchal perspective. As the description of Adam and Eve in Book 4 progresses, the narrator focuses in on Eve's physical appearance. Despite Eve's unfallen state, she is retrospectively sexualized, suggesting that Milton's own gender politics and precognition of the Fall story have become "so thick entwin'd" with the narrator's voice (4.175). The oxymoronic description of her hair construes her as simultaneously desirable and desiring. Her "unadorned golden tresses" worn as a veil concealing her breasts could suggest modesty, were they not "dissheveld, but in wanton ringlets" – a subversive description suggesting promiscuity and sexual availability (4.305-6). These curls, "impli'd / Subjection, but requir'd with gentle sway", are regarded as "meer shews of seeming Pure" because the act of concealment incites, rather than subdues, desire (307-8, 316). It is with "coy submission modest pride" that Eve's modesty is transformed into transgressive seductiveness (310). Compacting two oxymorons into four words embodies the intense contradiction the narrator finds in Eve's appearance. Yet it is the fallen sympathies of a post-lapsarian viewpoint that explain the narrator's propensity to see Eve in sexual terms (Poole 177). The narrator can only assume that these were "meer shews of seeming Pure" because the post-lapsarian "guiltie shame" that we experience precludes us from comprehending a world of true purity (316, 313). Three descriptive qualifiers – "meer" "shews" "seeming" - reveal the fallen understanding of purity as incomplete and unreliable (316). Like the narrator, as readers, armed with the knowledge and expectation that Eve will fall, we cannot receive her history without imposing bias. This reading experience is continuous with contemporary problems surrounding the fair representation of women who have been exploited; through Paradise Lost, we can see how this culture of victim blaming is exacerbated through precognition of their stories.
In 2014, a social media campaign "#YesAllWomen" was launched in response to the Isla Vista tragedy, when Santa Barbara City College student Elliot Rodger went on a rampage killing six people including two women before uploading a video to Youtube, titled "Retribution", in which he says: "I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it" (Garvey). Women responded to the event by sharing their stories of misogyny and sexual harassment. One of the most re-shared tweets stated: ""I have a boyfriend" is the easiest way to get a man to leave you alone. Because he respects another man more than you. #yesallwomen" (Filion). The rhetorical echoes between Garvey's "Retribution" video and Satan's motivations – "Stir'd up with Envy and Revenge, [he] deceiv'd / The Mother of Mankind" (1.34-35) – and between Filion's tweet and the warning Adam issues in Book 9 - "If such affront I labour to avert / From thee alone, which on us both at once / The Enemie, though bold, will hardly dare" (9.302-304) – suggest synchronicity across four centuries. However, the ideology is reproduced in Paradise Lost through multiple lenses: spoken by prelapsarian Adam, retold by the postlapsarian narrator, and interpreted by a postlapsarian reader. This complex process of dilution accounts for some of the challenges in reconciling the contradictions Milton lays before us.
Addressing Eve as both "Daughter of God and Man" presents a dual meaning since Eve is not the daughter to God and Man in the same sense – God is the one by whom she was created, and Adam, the one from whom she was created (9.291). If Eve is simultaneously the daughter of God and Man, this suggests that God and Man are as one. The address no longer serves to flatter Eve, but to enhance Adam's image. On the one hand, "from sin and blame entire" attests to Eve's unfallen state, even through a negative sentence construction; however, when this is repeated – "not diffident of thee" – it becomes antagonistic (292-3). Speaking in negatives uses the rhetoric of riddle and manipulation that we would expect from Satan, not Adam. The invocation of Satan brings with it ideas of deception, conditioning the reader to be more observant of the misogyny within Adam's speech. The use of heroic diction conveys a highly romanticized vision of patriarchy in which Adam, like a knight in shining armor, will valiantly ward off "The Enemie" attempting to steal his beloved so that they may live happily forever after (304). Three successive comparatives – "more wise, more watchful, stronger" – establish male superiority (311): by default, Eve is assumed to be more naïve, blind-sighted and vulnerable. Echoes of Satan's interpretation of gender difference in Book 4 disarm the reader; inevitably, our postlapsarian knowledge that Adam will eventually fall fortifies these intratextual connections. The subversive quality of Filion's tweet is absent in Paradise Lost because Adam points to Satan's misogyny whilst participating in the same supremacist logic. However, this dissimilitude does not indicate an anachronism - quite the opposite. The idea that women are safer in male company is consistent across the historical and cultural gulf between Paradise Lost and the #YesAllWomen campaign – rather, the distinguishing factor is who is reproducing this ideology.
The fact that Paradise Lost is itself a re-interpretation of the book of Genesis, immediately informs the reader that the ideologies at play are being reproduced across multiple levels of retelling and reiteration. This process is, of course, a postlapsarian phenomenon and explains some of the difficulties in comprehending a world before sin. As critics, we precipitate re-interpretation and in doing so, further abstract the story of Adam and Eve from its original prelapsarian context. Nonetheless, patriarchal discourses continue to include Adam and Eve in discussions on gender equality today. Whilst we would expect the modern-day application of Paradise Lost to be anachronistic, it continues to be cited as a literary-cultural authorization of patriarchy. Henceforth, by recognizing how Milton's Paradise Lost contributed to the construction of women as culpable pertaining to the Fall, we can improve our understanding of the origins of contemporary misogyny and victim-blaming culture. Identifying how the narrator alters our perception of Eve-before-the-Fall sheds light on the journalistic practices today that serve to justify or explain the exploitation of women. For the feminist critic, Paradise Lost exposes the destructive potential of patriarchal logic and demonstrates its enduring nature.

Works Cited
Filion, Ariel (ArielFilion). ""I have a boyfriend" is the easiest way to get a man to leave you alone. Because he respects another man more than you. #yesallwomen. " 26 May 2014, 9:27 p.m. Tweet.
Garvey, Megan. "Transcript of the disturbing video 'Elliot Rodger's Retribution'.". LA Times. 24 May 2014. Web. 24 Sept 2015.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. Print.
Munro, Ealasaid. "Feminism: A Fourth Wave?". Political Insight 4.2 (2013): 22-25. Print.
Poole, Kirsten. "Adamites, naked Quakers, linguistic perfection and "Paradise Lost"." Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.

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