Science Sexuality and the Erasure of Gender
One of the most overlooked questions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the gender of the creature – due to the fact that many readers assume that the monster is a male – because it is never explicitly expressed through Victor Frankenstein’s intentions. Many feminist and scientific critics argue that Shelley reveals the unstable, conflicted aspects of Frankenstein’s sexuality which expose[s] his homophobia and state that Frankenstein reject[s] women (Daffron 417).
However, similar to President Trump’s attempts to erase transgender people from existence, Victor Frankenstein strives to not simply reject, but erase the female sex and gender from his world. Due to his obsessive passion for science, his exploitation of nature, and his fear of female sexuality, Doctor Frankenstein creates a creature embodying his ideas of male sexuality and in the process inadvertently expresses his homo-erotic fantasies; while unconsciously taking on the reproductive role of women in order to erase their need in the world, or perhaps become one himself. America’s current administration is considering [the] adoption of a new definition of gender that would effectively deny federal recognition and civil rights protections to transgender Americans (Crary).
This means that the Trump administration would dictate whether or not certain sexes or genders exist. The government is essentially using oppression and discrimination to erase transgender people through the denial of their fundamental rights as citizens of America. We can only hypothesize a reason for this erasure of gender. Victor Frankenstein, on the other hand, creates an undead being in order to begin a new human’ race of only males, either advertently or unintentionally attempting to erase the female gender. In the 18th century, gender and sex were strict ideas based on biological factors and appearance, and female inferiority to men was seen as an undisputed fact. It is horrific that now, in 2018, this idea persists, as certain genders and sexes are treated lesser than others.
Mary Shelley, through the character of Victor Frankenstein, explains some of the reasons behind deciding to erase people, as well as expressing her dissatisfaction with a male’s place of dominance in the world. We all have something to learn from Frankenstein, even our president. It is predominantly evident that the creature is male because Victor Frankenstein refers to it as he and him. He uses the pronouns he gave to it as its creator, however, this does not fully prove the male nature of the being.
When the creature becomes lonely and asks Frankenstein for a female companion, the doctor is afraid to create the female partner because the creature would want children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth (Shelley 144). If the partner he created were to be female, the only way for her to have children with the creature would for it to have functional male genitalia. This proves that the creature is of the male sex. Frankenstein’s fear of creating the female partner is linked to her reproductive power, which shows that he is not merely afraid of more creatures, but also afraid of the woman’s capability to create life. As a scientist, Frankenstein believes he can give birth to a new life without a female.
Victor expects nature to grant him power and control and believes he can penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding places (Mellor 3). Make note of the use of the word penetrate, and how nature is referred to as a ?her’. The word ?nature’ has very feminine connotations; many people refer to nature as Mother Nature or Mother Earth. Victor Frankenstein admires and looks up to men who had penetrated deeper and knew more (Shelley 46), so much so that he decides to penetrate nature himself but go a step further. Nature becomes the female he is penetrating and impregnating to create his being.
Throughout the novel, nature is this passive female force that solely exists to receive male desire, and in a way, Frankenstein takes advantage of this feminine nature. However, Frankenstein is angry that the life he created is distorted and imperfect, much unlike human children that actual women give birth to, but he is still satisfied that he created a male life and succeeded in proving that the world does not need females. After gaining this power, formerly possessed solely by women, he diminishes their societal worth and begins to imagine a world populated exclusively by males. He believes he is so superior to women that their existence is not necessary, which brings us to the conclusion that therefore, in a world of only men, his homosexual desires would be fulfilled. In creating this new species (Shelley 57) of only men, Victor Frankenstein would be satisfying his homosexual fantasies.
Doctor Frankenstein has a close relationship with his good friend Robert Walton. Michael Eberle-Sinatra believes that their relationship in the novel can be read as an instance of repressed homosexuality (Eberle-Sinatra 187) due to the fact that they consistently identify with one another’s twisted goals. Furthermore, the relationship between Frankenstein and his creature could be another instance of repressed homosexuality. Perhaps Victor does not want to be seen in a public place with his creature for fear of ostracism based on his creation of a male companion.
As Eberle-Sinatra says, when Frankenstein refuses to go through with creating the female partner for his creature, he is eliminating any potential heterosexual competition for the Creatures attention (Eberle-Sinatra 188). Additionally, when the creature is initially created, Victor is woken from a dream in which he saw Elizabeth and as he imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death and he suddenly think he is holding the corpse of [his] dead mother which results in a cold dew cover[ing] [his] forehead, [his] teeth chatter[ing], and every limb [becoming] convulsed (Shelley 60). Elizabeth is the woman that Victor Frankenstein is supposed to marry, yet in his dream, she becomes his dead mother.
This strange incestual dream reflects Victors fetishization of death, which could mean that the image of the dead mother is actually a repressed version of the undead monster. The reaction this dream invokes is similar to one of sexual gratification. It is apparent that Victor is much more excited physically by the thought of the Creature and its physical presence than he is by Elizabeth (Eberle-Sinatra 189), the woman he is supposed to love and marry. Victor Frankenstein’s life’s work is centered on creating a world free of females where he will no longer have to shroud his true identity in homophobia and repression.
He attempted to create the perfect male partner by creating the creature but ultimately failed, therefore running from his mistakes and from his homosexual desires. Sadly, Frankenstein’s misogyny and chauvinism suppress his homosexuality and stop him from ever being free. Victor Frankenstein’s hatred and spite towards women, as well as towards his creature, stem from his repression of his homosexuality. Sigmund Freud popularized the controversial theory of the Oedipal Complex, which states that as a young child we desire our parent of the same sex because of envy, fear, or disgust we have of or for our other parent. In order to combat this illicit attraction, Freud proposes that the infant boy feels an attraction to his mother and look[s] at the father as a rival for the mother and thus as feeling an unconscious desire to kill the father, so as to have the mother to himself ( Parker 119).
Freud consistently uses the word unconscious’ because he believes that everyone has unconscious drives, and that the repression of these urges is necessary for anyone to function properly and sanely in society. These ideas are expressed in his essay The Uncanny, where he says that the uncanny is something that is not known and familiar and uses the term uncanny when discussing things that appear to slip outside of normal perceptions or normal assumptions (Freud 418). If we psychoanalyze Victor Frankenstein, we can immediately see that he is has not fully repressed nor is unconscious of his illicit desires. He is simultaneously excited and ashamed that he created his grotesque monster, because he is masking his homosexual attraction to the creature with his pride of succeeding in his creation of life goal. However, if we refer to the Oedipal Complex and the uncanny, his emotional appreciation for the creature is somewhat incestuous.
Exploiting Mother Nature to give birth’ to the being is like having a child, therefore making the creature Frankenstein’s son. For Frankenstein to be attracted to the creature is him being unconsciously, or uncannily, attracted to his child-like creation in a slightly backwards Oedipal Complex situation. While Victor Frankenstein is sexually attracted to essentially his son, his son wishes to kill him and have his mother – Mother Nature – all to himself. In essence, Frankenstein’s war on women is a war on his own homosexual feelings, as well as his son. The creature wants to intrinsically stop his father from erasing women because this action would also erase nature, the very force that kept him alive and acted as a parental figure to him throughout the novel.
Frankenstein wants to erase women because he unconsciously wants to erase his son, the creature, in order to completely eradicate his deeply repressed homosexual cravings. To ensure that nobody notices his homosexuality, Doctor Frankenstein uses his scientific prowess as public justification. A male chauvinist is a man who believes he is superior to women in all or many aspects of life. Unsurprisingly, Victor Frankenstein is a male chauvinist due to his pursuit of science that degrades the feminine force of nature, his attempts to erase womankind, and the way he acts towards and around the women in his life.
Anne Mellor, a distinguished literary scholar, believes that chemical physiology, the field in which Frankenstein pursues the creation of life, is the kind of science that instead of slowly endeavouring to lift up the veil concealing the wonderful phenomena of living nature; full of ardent imaginations vainly and presumptuously attempt[s] to tear it asunder, while Frankenstein himself believes that his studies will result in a more harmonious, cooperative, and healthy society (Mellor 3). We already know that Frankenstein manipulated and abased nature in order to prove that the female gender is unnecessary, however it is unclear why he would use his scientific standing to do this, as it goes against the very morality and truth of science.
Mellor critiques the scientist who analyses, manipulates, and attempts to control nature, scientists like Victor Frankenstein, because by doing so these scientists are engaging in a form of oppressive sexual politics (Mellor 12). Is Frankenstein’s need to control nature due to a feeling of superiority, or due to his fear of relating to women? Victor embarks in earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, experiencing gladness akin to rapture as one of the earliest sensations [he] can remember (Shelley 43). He was first interested in alchemy and pseudo-science, but when multiple people in his life, including his father, ridiculed him for this childish obsession, he dedicated his work to multiple fields of serious science.
However, the fact that Frankenstein disrespects nature – and therefore science – by creating the monster, shows that he continued to be passionate about alchemy throughout his more professional studies. Frankenstein unconsciously attempted to control nature to not only erase women, but to create a male lover. Now, this may be because he is homosexual, but it also may be because Frankenstein himself would like to be a woman. Instead of creating a child with Mother Nature, he created and ?birthed’ the child himself, becoming a sort of woman in a way.
Frankenstein’s deep hatred of women and their reproductive capabilities is not hate, but rather jealousy. This may be the reason he is so tentative to love and marry Elizabeth; she is more like a sister to him than a wife. Victor’s relationship with his mother was cut short by her death, so Elizabeth is also somewhat of a motherly presence in his life. One of Freud’s familiar concepts is penis envy, where an infant female experiencing the Oedipal Complex identifies with her mother due to their mutual lack of male genitalia, therefore becoming jealous of her father’s penis and his ability to impregnate women, therefore dominating them.
It seems that Victor Frankenstein suffers from the opposite of this idea; he is envious of a woman’s capability to have children, resulting in something we may call womb envy. This unconscious jealousy turns into an intense obsession with women and their bodies, not because he is attracted to them, but because he wants to be a woman. When he has the aforementioned dream about kissing Elizabeth, it further represents that his ?love’ for Elizabeth is a charade for his love of men. When Elizabeth transforms into his dead mother, it is possibly a representation of motherhood or Mother Nature, which signifies his amorous relationship with nature, which connects to science, and even further to the creature.
The idea that he is connected to motherhood and womanhood invokes a very sexual reaction from Frankenstein, as if the idea of finally being a woman or being free to love a man is euphoric to him. Sexism and male superiority are the reasons transgender people and females are actively discriminated against and viewed as lesser people. The LGBTQ+ community is just like any other community, it excludes anything or anyone that is found to be too’ different. In this case, it is transgender people. In Frankenstein, it is the creature, but more than that, it is every and all females.
Although the creature is isolated from society, it is necessary to the plot and to Frankenstein’s emotional growth, or in his case, lack of growth. Every major female character in the novel is either killed or invariably irrelevant. Justine, a servant turned family, is unjustly accused of murder. Due to her position as a woman, she is forced to confess to a crime she did not commit and is ultimately killed. When we compare this to the Trump administration’s proposal, Justine’s position is scarily similar to the way transgender people could have their basic rights stolen from them. Being transgender technically means that someone feels as if their gender identity or expression does not match their assigned or birth sex.
In Frankenstein, it is very easy to assume genders, especially those of the creature and Victor. In all actuality, the creature is comprised of various body parts collected from corpses of various genders, and although Frankenstein suggests it has male genitalia, we are never explicitly told this. The original front cover of the novel depicts a representation of the creature looking down in awe at its own genitalia, which further suggests confusion surrounding its own gender and sex. Frankenstein abandoned the creature as soon as it was born’, never giving it a name or teaching it anything, so the concept of gender and sex were never introduced to the creature in the first place. The creature is its own type of gender that is misunderstood and discriminated against, very similar to transgender people. Although given the pronouns of he’ and him’, the creature does not have to commit to being a man. He is restrained by societies constructed ideas of sex and gender being these strict ideas of only male and female.
Susan Stryker, in her powerful essay dedicated to the idea of transgenderism in Frankenstein, want[s] to lay claim to the dark power of [her] monstrous identity without using it as a weapon against others or being wounded by it [herself] (Stryker 240). She is going to turn the hate and pain people give her into power and strength, which is essentially what the creature and Frankenstein do as well.
Comprehensively, Victor Frankenstein’s homophobia is actually personal oppression of his semi-unconscious homosexuality, and his rejection of women is actually a deep fear that results in hatred and erasure of gender. As a male scientist, Victor takes advantage of nature as a feminine force in order to create life, diminishing any previous power women may have had in a society that already oppresses them. Frankenstein creates the monster to satisfy his own sexual desires and in the process takes away what little status women hold and their necessity in society.
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