In my view, the feminist belief that society is sexist and homophobic in fact masks a subversive elite campaign against heterosexuals. One of the most celebrated plays in American Literature, “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947) depicts men as “subhuman”, and heterosexual family and society as frauds. The play, produced by Irene Selznick, contributes to the “modern” sense that human life has no inherent dignity, value or purpose.
There is also a startling similarity between Tennessee Williams’ homosexual perspective and the modern feminist one. As we shall see, guilt and self-loathing motivate both.
Feminists have made common cause with homosexuals by promoting a gender less society. In “The New Victorians” (1996), Rene Denfeld writes that feminists regard heterosexuality as the source of all oppression and homosexuality as the remedy. “For many of today’s feminists, lesbianism is far more than a sexual orientation, or even a preference. It is, as students in many colleges learn, an ideological, political and philosophical means of liberation of all women from heterosexual tyranny…” (45)
Long before feminists portrayed all men as rapists, Tennessee Williams depicted the male icon Stanley Kowalski in these terms. Stanley drives his sister-in-law Blanche Du Bois insane by raping her while his wife Stella is in the hospital bearing his son. Blanche is portrayed as a tragic heroine; Stanley as the symbol of a brutal male-dominated society; and the traditional family as a fraud.
Blanche Du Bois has been driven out of her hometown for her immoral ways. Sick and broke, she takes refuge with her sister’s archetypal traditional family.
Stanley, carrying the “red stained package from the butcher’s” is the male protector and provider (Signet, p. 13). The pregnant Stella, nurturing and malleable, is the epitome of the feminine. She /believes/ in her husband: “it’s a drive that he has” (50). The couple is madly sensually in love.
Nevertheless Blanche/Williams is determined to make heterosexuality appear pathological. Immediately on arrival, Blanche refers to Stella’s home as “this horrible place.” (19) She reproaches Stella for not saving the plantation: “Where were you? In bed with your Pollack!” as if this were wrong (27). When Stanley and Stella exchange blows, like a counselor at a womyn’s shelter, Blanche urges Stella to leave her husband, open a shop, and become independent (67).
Stanley is genuinely repentant for hitting Stella although today this would be discounted as part of “the cycle of violence.” In fact, Blanche has made the pregnant Stella criticize and defy her husband for the first time. Now like her feminist sisters, the envious Blanche hopes the resulting violence will shatter the family altogether.
Stella ignores Blanche’s appeals, and while cleaning says: “I’m not in anything that I want to get out of,” she says (65). Blanche persists: “Stop! Let go of that broom. I won’t have you cleaning up for him!” (66)
The feminist tone is again heard in Blanche’s dehumanizing of Stanley. “There’s something downright bestial about him! … He acts like an animal, has animal’s habits! … There’s even something subhuman something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something ape-like about him, like one of those pictures I’ve seen in anthropological studies.”(71) Can you imagine a modern play in which a man says this of a Jew, a woman, an African American or a homosexual?
Stanley overhears this conversation, yet this supposedly ape-like creature does not react violently. He patiently tolerates Blanche although she has been living with them in a two-room apartment for six months.
Blanche, a demented pitiable woman, appeals in the name of progress and civilization. “God! Maybe we are a long way from being made in God’s image, but Stella my sister; there has been some progress since then! … In this dark march toward whatever it is we’re approaching . . .Don’t hang back with the brutes!” (72)
At the end of the play, Williams has achieved his unconscious goal: destroying the heterosexual male and family. Stella must ignore her sister’s claims of rape in order to preserve her family. “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley,” she says (133). Nevertheless, her family is bereft of moral legitimacy. In the movie version, Stella becomes a single mother. She leaves Stanley vowing never to return.
There is more to this picture than meets the eye.
First, Tennessee Williams often said that /he /was Blanche Du Bois. The similarities are clear. Like Blanche Du Bois, Tennessee Williams was neurasthenic, lusted for Stanley, and was very promiscuous. In the play, Blanche warns herself not to seduce the newspaper boy, “I’ve got to be good and keep my hands off children.”(84)
Second, Tennessee Williams hated himself. Gore Vidal who knew the playwright said: “He is still too much the puritan not to believe in sin. At some deep level, Tennessee believes that the homosexual is wrong and the heterosexual is right. Given this all pervading sense of guilt, he is drawn in life and work to the idea of expiation, of death.”(Ronald Hayman, “Tennessee Williams: Everyone Else is an Audience,” 1993. p.xviii)
The guilt-ridden Williams/Blanche wants to be destroyed by Stanley to expiate his sins. (Blanche calls Stanley “my executioner” before she even knows him.) But, in this psychodrama, Williams doesn’t have the integrity to confess his guilt feelings and admit his death wish. He postures as a hero by identifying Blanche’s defeat with the cause of goodness and culture. Thus he transfers to Stanley and society the hatred he feels for himself.
Robert J. Stoller, an eminent psychiatrist and UCLA Professor, described these processes in his book, “Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred” (1975).
“Homosexuals, taught self-hatred in childhood, persist in attracting punishment because in part they agree with the cruel straight society; they provoke attack in order to be humiliated . . .Revenge energizes aspects of many homosexuals’ behavior, erotic and otherwise. In order to salvage a sense of value from the foci of despair, they must strike back at all who have qualities like old enemies of their childhood (201-202).”
Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire” is an example of how the elite used a homosexual playwright to negate the family and twist the way heterosexuals think about themselves and society. Since heterosexuals have derived their meaning from family roles for millennia, Williams contributed to the malaise that characterizes the modern era.
Williams’ example indicates that this destructive impulse, which feminists seem to share, may spring from a deep sense of envy, failure, and self-loathing. Having missed the Streetcar of Life, they now want to blow up the tracks.