“Five hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Arrayed in Lace, brocades and tissues.
Strephon, who found the room was void,
And Betty otherwise employed,
Stole in, and took a strict survey,
Of all the litter as it lay;
Whereof, to make the matter clear,
And inventory follows here.”
And so begins Jonathan Swift`s notoriously filthy poem regarding the bodily functions and grand theatre of a lady`s attempts at making herself decent for company in her dressing room. Swift pulls no punches as he gleefully pulls any pretense of romantic intent regarding a society lady`s inner sanctum, by inverting the archetypal image of the “female goddess” of the boudoir with a meticulous effacement of this image.
“At first a dirty smock appeared,
Beneath the armpits well besmeared.
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide,
And turned it round on every side.
On such a point few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest,
But sears how damnably the men lie,
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.”
This is not a misogynistic tirade against women, but merely a casual acceptance of the realities of womanhood in Celia`s time through the “inventory” promised us at the beginning: Celia “shits”, “sweats”, “spews”, and “spits”, while producing copious amounts of “ear wax” and “snot” which is expelled from the nose at a rate of knots in a most indecorous fashion. The goddess like state given her by the ridiculous, and self deluded expectations of men, is brought down to earth with a bump.
“Now listen while he next produces
The various combs for various uses,
Filled up with dirt so closely fixt,
No brush could force a way betwixt.
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair;
A forehead cloth with oil upon`t
To smooth the wrinkles on her front;
Here alum flower to stop the steams,
Exhaled from sour unsavoury streams……..”
Strephon is dumbfounded to learn that the goddess he has put upon a pedestal of physical perfection is actually capable of urination and defecation, and “has hairs that sink the forehead low/ or on her chin like bristles grow.” The removal of unwanted body hair is yet another blow to Strephon`s idealistic vision of the ideal woman. The telling blow against male perceptions is delivered late on in the contest………..
“As from within Pandora`s box,
When Epimetheus op`d the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of human evils upwards flew;
He still was comforted to find
That hope at last remained behind.”
The blame for Pandora unleashing evil into the world and causing man`s downfall by transferring him from a state of pleasure to eternal pain, suffering and toil is placed firmly in the lap of the husband: the long history of western civilisation subjugating women through suspicion and fear at their perceived potential, and actual ability to cause havoc to manly virtues, has been altered by Swift into implicating men in their own downfall from a perfect state. Women are shown by Swift to have the same humanity as man by his dismantling of the classical male image of the perfect, but dangerous goddess, while the man of the house is a deluded and flawed individual not worthy of his self assertion of dominance. The Lady`s Dressing Room superficially, can be construed as a misogynistic work, but perhaps the true Swiftian image of the sexes is that “all are created equal,” but perhaps, women are more equal than men.