In her story, “Contagion”, Katherine McLean attempts to criticize a woman’s tendency to be “an object of male desire” in a male dominated society by deconstructing the patriarchal notion of female beauty. McLean attempts to propound that women themselves desire to be…
According to MacLean, like the spaceship, “Explorer”, patriarchy appears to be a psychological intrusion in postmodern society (Davin 23-7). Obviously at the heart of this desire lies the prerequisite of being beautiful in body according to some stereotypes predetermined by the male dominated society. McLean asserts that women themselves are psychologically encoded to think of themselves i.e. their self-esteem, identity, body, existence in the society, in a male way.
In essence, McLean’s portrayal of gender echoes Judith Butler’s concept of “Gender Performativity”. For her, gender identity is not something biological or natural. Rather it involves the development of a woman’s identity through the society-defined codes of sex-oriented performance. Again she acknowledges that human “body” or “sex” is not a “mute facticity” that exclusively depends on the organic features of a man. Rather Butler assumes that the gender identity and the differentiation between sexes are made through repeated socio-cultural discourses and actions. According to her, these discourses and actions persistently stylize the body in a certain gender cast, as in the first chapter of “Gender Trouble” Butler says, “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (43).
In the fantasy world of science fiction, MacLean masterfully manipulates an unusual phenomenon of contagion to delve deep into human psychology. Yet her story reveals much of the heart of patriarchy. Though MacLean does not hold patriarchy responsible directly, the female characters of her story are nourished psychologically by patriarchy. Most of the female characters are accustomed to think in a male way (Davin 19-20). While patriarchy considers female body as an object of male desire, the women in the ...
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