Recently, I stumbled across this article in Salon magazine, which I had to share on my best friend’s Facebook wall. The article captured perfectly the ongoing paradoxical conversation of our daily discourse- “men ain’t shit and OMG it’s time to panic because as educated, awesome, successful (*aspiring to success) black women we’re bound to end up alone blah blah blah.” This article, however, shared a little nugget of hope, “Feminism isn’t Ruining Your Love Life.” Sara Eckels writes the article as a myth-buster to us hopelessly heterosexual, independent women who can affirm the popular Irina Dunn quote, “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and yet at the same time are preoccupied with startling statistics that tell us our chances of being attacked by a terrorist are greater than our chances of getting married. #Foreveralone.
I chose this article because Dunn’s quote “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” could be a quite suitable mantra for the utopian Cloister of freedom that Lady Happy creates in Margaret Cavendish’s “The Covent of Pleasure”. Lady Happy, the main character of the play, is a young virgin woman who has inherited wealth and has resilient spirit of female independence. The thick walled wonderland she creates that only grants entrance to single ladies is a testament to her belief that, “Men are the only troublers of Women; for they only cross and oppose their sweet delights, and peaceable life; they cause their pains, but not their pleasures.” Lady Happy acknowledges that for a poor woman unable to afford her own pleasures, a man might be suitable, but in the case of “upper-class women where Fortune, Nature, and the gods are joined to make them happy” the most joy and pleasure can be found in the fantastical world of the ladies-only Convent of Pleasure.
Eckels’ article is written to 21st women who can identify with the ladies of the Convent of Pleasure. We have the modern day version of wealth and independence (education, good salary, career ambition, etc.). While Eckels could have simply directed us to the Covent of Pleasure, she instead makes a convincing case that us ambitious ladies will still get married. In fact, the article cites that women who get married later have increasingly lower divorce rates, women with college degrees are more likely to get married, and claimed “women aged thirty to forty-four earning more than one hundred thousand dollars per year are—once again—more likely to be married than their lower-earning cohorts.” *Cue wedding bells* I’m wondering if these stats can be printed in wallet size as a gift to our antsy and concerned elders…
Hooray! I can breathe—I will find a man. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. My elation at the promises of matrimony led me to question if I believed men were actually the bicycle to my fish. If we really did not need men, why was this article written to celebrate the likelihood of spending the rest of our lives with a man?
In the end of “The Convent of Pleasure”, I was left wondering if there could really exist a Utopia that rejects the need for heteronormative romance. Somehow, in the play, a prince disguised as a Princess manages to enter the Covent of Pleasure. It does not take much time before Lady Happy and this Princess are discussing joining “as one Body and Soul, or Heav’nly Spirit” and dancing around the may pole to become Queen and King. By the time the Princess (formerly known as Lady Happy) does tie the knot with her Prince, the prince is now dressed in “man’s apparel” as a princess disguised as a Prince. Thus, the play ends with the happily ever after of a Prince and his Princess.
Both Eckels’ article and “The Convent of Pleasure” leave ample space for the princess promise of heteronormative matrimony. And hey, I’m not complaining, but it is certainly ironic that Lady Happy marries a prince in her ladies-only convent that was built on the principle that men are dreadful life-suckers who can offer no more than a respectable, wealthy lady can provide for herself. Maybe I’m complaining a little. Lady Happy’s convent had so many luxuries and pleasures- decadent foods, lavish décor, free women in solidarity. Still, and despite any queerness and unstable gender identities, Lady Happy’s utopia was not complete until she had the Prince to her Princess. Not quite the same as fish is to bicycle.