Jonathan Swift was accused from before he wrote Gulliver’s Travels of being anti-feminist and Gulliver’s Travels has itself been classified as a misogynist work by many feminist. The many references to the female sex and body in his book are negative which tend to degrade and disfigure the vision of womanhood in objectionable ways to female readers. The view he gives of the Yahoo women and of other female characters in his book seems to portray them as indiscriminately and blatantly sexual in nature along with his view of nursing mothers as being animal-like in their behavior. The separation of motherhood and the sexuality of womanhood in the mind of man during Swift’s time was beginning to blur somewhat and seemed to repulse Swift, much like it is beginning to blur in this time and in our culture.
Swift’s own autobiography, “The Family of Swift” tells of the early loss of his mother and the indulgent care of his nurse, which could be the original source of his misogynistic tendencies. First Swift’s anger at the loss of his mother and then the control of the overly doting nurse, followed by his disappointment in not receiving a position in the Church by Queen Anne probably all contributed to his feelings of betrayal by and malice toward women. The denial of his calling toward occupation in the church was probably the catapult that pushed the plagued heads over the wall. His repulsive attitude toward women became an obsession in his writings, overtly so in Gulliver’s Travels.
Swift’s own victimization of his person in the character of Gulliver in his novel ultimately identifies him with the female gender that repulses him, but not so much to womanhood, as to his own vulnerability of his sexuality and humanity. He seems to be as much repulsed by the idea of being identified with the Yahoos, whether male or female, as being subjected to any kind of female authority. He saw himself as untouchable by the failures of mankind in his ascension to church occupation, only to be brought down to his own humanity in the end. When confronted by his own sexuality and humanity, he could not seem to rationalize his inclusion in the human race. He somehow felt outside and beyond it.
Swift’s denial of the Yahoo in himself was confronted by the powerful sexual advances made by the Yahoo female in the course of Gulliver’s Travels. This confrontation of the reality of his own Yahooness, rather than making him accept it, made him flee from the very repulsiveness of the idea, in that Swift never married and his character Gulliver was repulsed by the seeing and smelling of his own wife in the end of the novel.
This detached individualism is how he chose to live out his life, though he did share some intimacies with female friends. And though his satirical sarcasm against those in high power who had victimized and prostituted their own wives and daughtersaffords him some vindication from womankind, his disgust against the licentiousness of all humankind and the propagation of the Yahoo species condemns him to his utter aloneness. Gulliver’s revulsion of his wife and children in the final chapters serves to mortify his humanness once and for all. In short, it was not so much his anti-feminism but his anti-humanism that condemns him. Rather than simply avoiding those behaviors and persons that he abhorred, he seemed to abhor all of mankind, effectively writing himself out of its existence in Gulliver’s Travels.