When people say something is wrong, how do they know that? To know that something is wrong, it is necessary to perceive what is right. When talking about who occupies the leading position in major world affairs – men or women – the majority would say it is men. However, that would be probably because such a majority is composed of men. It happened so that males decided they should rule the world, and any attempt of a woman to behave as if she knew something about this life, too, was taken with contempt and disbelief. Lorrie Moore’s short story “You’re Ugly, Too” is a narration of a female who does not conform to the traditional patriarchal division of roles. The main character of the story, Zoë Hendricks, stubbornly struggles against gender expectations and defends her right to do what she wants and in whatever way she wants it. Zoë’s character shows how difficult life may be for those women who decide not to give up any of their beliefs for men. At the same time, she demonstrates that such an attitude is well worth it.
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The primary function of gender roles in “You’re Ugly, Too” is to demonstrate the strict division between male and female roles as it is accepted by the majority. The story discusses such basic concepts of feminism as patriarchy, traditional gender roles, and the “cult of ‘true womanhood’” (Tyson 86-89). According to Tyson, the supporters of patriarchy consider that any violation of conventional role division is considered “unnatural” and “unhealthy” (86). Zoë Hendricks is an excellent example of such a “violation”: she does not allow men to limit her freedom of speech and is not afraid to express her opinions. When telling her sister about her place of work, Zoë admits that she feels “sarcastic” about it (Moore 653). She feels “alien to the Midwest” where all of her students share the “suburban values” of their parents (Moore 653).
However, it is not only the disparity between geographical regions that makes professor Hendricks so different from her colleagues and students. The very nature of the attitude towards women is somehow different from Zoë’s perception. Everyone is expected to be the same and correspond to the standards. Every woman is supposed “to be Heidi” and “not complain” (Moore 654). However, Zoë is not going to become “Heidi”: she discovers a new feature in herself: “a crusty edge, brittle and pointed” (Moore 654). And even though neither her male colleagues nor male acquaintances accept it, the character does not give in and continues to be what she is. Such behavior is not rare nowadays, and many females have to suffer from having views that are not welcomed by men or even some other women. Still, it is the persistence of women like Zoë that makes them worth being admired for their courage.
Another theme raised in “You’re Ugly, Too” is isolation and alienation. Although Zoë seems not to be upset with her loneliness, she also does not enjoy living all alone. She phones her sister regularly and visits her frequently. There are only two people who she tips on Christmas. One is the postman who brings joy to the woman’s life whenever he delivers mail for which “Zoë lives” (Moore 655). Another one is the cab driver who helps her to get to and from the airport. Each of the few men Zoë dates has something repulsive in his character. By the traditional patriarchal concepts, males expect females to be submissive and not assertive (Tyson 86).
The main character of “You’re Ugly, Too” contradicts such an expectation. She does not accept it when a man tells her what to do or when he wants her to keep silence when she disagrees with something. Zoë realizes that she is different from the “chic and serious” ladies who visit art museums alone (Moore 662). She is different – even in childhood, she “hated uniforms” (Moore 662). In adult life, she hates to be like everyone else. Loneliness may be a bad thing, but at least Zoë is sincere, unlike the majority of women who belong to the “cult of ‘true womanhood’” (Tyson 88-89). Moore depicts a strong-willed female character who cherishes independence even if it comes at a price of loneliness and isolation. More and more women nowadays give preference to such a lifestyle. Even if society rejects them, they do not give up on their principles and persist in defending them.
Along with inducing the audience to admire Zoë for being who she is, the author also pushes readers towards thinking of the reasons for such behavior. Not all feminists choose to be what they are. Some of them become what they are mere because they cannot become what they would like to be. In “You’re Ugly, Too,” the author gives some hints at Zoë’s incapability of being a woman in the traditional sense. The character has a rather peculiar sense of humor that neither her students (Moore 653) nor the men she communicates with (Moore 665) seem to understand. Zoë does not pay much attention to her appearance and clothes: she is “almost pretty” but with the trace of an “ambition of always having been close but not quite” (Moore 652). She prefers “gray-green” colors in her attire (Moore 656) and does not seem to follow fashion. Still, in her conversations with men, Zoë imagines the development of their relationships that never becomes true (Moore 664). Therefore, while refusing to conform to some standards symbolizes freedom and independence, in this case, it looks like Zoë’s neglect of her looks provokes her feminism and not vice versa.
The fact that men want to rule the world is not new, as well as the one that many women agree with their subordinate role. While feminism was initiated as a movement for reaching equal rights, it turned out to be something entirely different. Nowadays, it is easy to mistake a feminist for a female who lacks femininity. The confusion becomes possible because some women intentionally pronounce themselves feminists when they realize that they do not own enough appeal and tenderness to charm men. Moore’s “You’re Ugly, Too” is a story about a woman who is not accepted by men but who also does not always understand herself. Becoming a feminist out of one’s beliefs and principles may be a good thing, but becoming one out of despair is quite a different matter. The character of Zoë Hendricks represents both sides, and it is up to a reader to choose which one is reflected more persuasively.
Moore, Lorrie. You’re Ugly, Too. 1990, Web.
Tyson, Lois. “Using Concepts from Feminist Theory to Understand Literature.” Learning for a Diverse World: Using Critical Theory to Read and Write about Literature, edited by Lois Tyson, Routledge, 2001, pp. 83-116.