Power and Privilege Displayed in A Woman on a Roof Essay

1176 Words 5 Pages
Power and Privilege Displayed in A Woman on a Roof

In Doris Lessing’s "A Woman on a Roof," three workmen react differently towards a woman sunbathing on a roof. The men are Harry, who is in his mid-40s, Stanley, who is newly married, and Tom, who is 17. They are engaged in a jovial banter when they spot a woman about fifty yards from where they are standing. She’s on her back, face down on a brown blanket. Stanley is first to comment, "She’s stark naked." Harry agrees, "Looks like it," while Tom cranes his neck so he can see more and replies, "She thinks no one can see." Stanley whistles, but the woman does not look up. She sits, smoking a cigarette (856).

This seems to be one of Lessing’s most critically neglected
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Because the sunbathing woman is bikini-clad, which reveals the contours of her body, her sexuality becomes highly visible. Thus, the three men fight for her attention through flamboyant gestures of whistling, yelling or stomping their feet. However, no matter what they do, she refuses to respond the way the three workmen expect her to. Her utter indifference towards them earns her the title of "bitch." When they cannot get anything out of her, she makes them very angry (Lessing 857). Stanley compares her to a middle-aged woman who comes to the roof to water her plants: "She’s not like Lady Godiva—she can give us a bit of a chat and a smile" (859). This statement from Stanley proves that, despite their wolf whistling, they still expect the woman on the roof to be pleasant.

In an article titled "On Becoming Male," James Henslin says that males behave one way when they are among themselves and another way when they are with females. He calls this behavior "artificiality." Henslin points out that, because of this artificiality, men’s exercises in manipulation are reinforced when they learn how to get what they want, whether that be an approving smile, a caress, a kiss, or more (134). However, no matter what the three workmen do, the woman on the roof remains indifferent, as if she does not even see them. Therefore, by employing nonverbal communication tactics—ignoring, reading

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