What Do Women Desire Most?
What do women most desire? Answering this question is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world for most men. This is a puzzling question for men because they are not aware of the similarities between themselves and women. The knight in the "Wife of Baths Tale" is faced with this very question.
It seems that men have always thought of themselves as superior to women. There was no question that women were the subordinate sex. Even though times have changed so much, the idea of men being dominant over women still exists within many people today. Perhaps the reason for this is the fact of men being stronger physically and thus they feel that this superiority should also be upheld in status. Probably since the beginning of time, women have been deemed to play a subservient role to men. Perhaps this is the reason that women desire sovereignty; they want power because they have been deprived of it. Although this may sound outlandish, it is true of all human beings to want what they dont have.
In the Middle Ages, women were looked upon as possessions of men rather than their companions. Typically, a woman was to do all the things necessary to take care of a household. These duties included cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. Men on the other hand, were expected to go out and earn the money necessary for the household. He was free to do whatever else he wanted. This duty gave him the status of the dominant figure in the household. Although women today work just as hard as a man, if not harder, they are still not granted the role of dominance. The average women today goes out and works the same amount of hours as man and then comes home to cook and clean for her family, but still she is looked upon as the subordinate. Men, however, go to work and simply come home and relax, so why do they hold the power? Even though womens rights have come a long way, they are still not treated as equals. This is the very reason for women desiring sovereignty; women know that they are equal to men, then why do they not receive this equality socially?
The knight in the "Wife of Baths Tale" is faced with answering the question of what women desire most. Although he receives a variety of answers, no two answers match. When the knight meets the hag, he is instructed that the answer to this question is that women most desire sovereignty. He then recites this answer to the queen:
"My lige lady, generally," quod he,
"Wommen desire to have sovereinetee
As wel over hir husbonde as hir love,
And for to been in maistrye him above.
This is youre most desir though ye me kille.
Dooth as you list: I am here at youre wille." (Norton 139)
The very fact that the knight does not immediately know the answer to the question proves that men are ignorant to the feelings of a woman. Men do not realize the needs of a woman. The only reason that they are this ignorant is that they are not in the womans place. The knight later gives this sovereignty to his wife, the hag. This occurs when she is giving him the choice of having her be either, beautiful and unfaithful or ugly and loyal.
" To han me foul and old til that I deye
And be to you a trewe humble wif,
And nevere you displese in al my lif,
Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair, " (Norton 143)
She is very pleased by his choice of leaving the decision to her and decides to be both beautiful and faithful to him.
The sense of balance and equality are shown when King Arthur passes control over to his wife in lines 902-907 in the Norton Anthology of English Literature (136). He lets his wife decide the faith of this "lusty bacheler" (Norton 136), the knight.
In both these instances, the women, upon receiving sovereignty decide to do things that are in favor of men. So women, unlike men, do not abuse their power once they get it.
Women want the ability to make decisions for themselves instead of being ordered around like servants. They want to be respected as equal companions of men rather than their subordinates. Women do not want to dominate over men, but simply to be their equals. According to the "Wife of Baths Tale," women most desire sovereignty.
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