Female Sexual Objectivity in The Flame Throwers

Throughout The Flame Throwersdiscussions of women tend to position them as little more than the objects of sexual desire.  The objectivity of women in the book is largely established through conversation by male characters.   The effect of this objectification is to both devalue women and limit their agency.  The woman-as-object is two dimensional and more or less replaceable.  Lonzi’s prediction about the future of women as “pocket cunts” (78),  or the repeated use of Reno’s female body as a tool to correct the flesh tones in film, or Ronnie’s girl “on layaway” (147) all are blatant examples of the objectification of women this book makes apparent.  However, what I find more interesting than the work to situate women as objects of sexual desire (and particularly heterosexual male desire) is the way this work is occasionally challenged by Reno.

In this regard, I took particular interest in the scene beginning on page 149 where Ronnie shares a Time magazine cover showing a woman that has been hit by a meteorite with Sandro and Reno.  Both Ronnie and Sandro immediately begin talking about the incident the cover depicted without mentioning the centrality of the woman to the story:  “Sandro said something about matter mattering.  And Ronnie countered with a comment about single-story homes, the incident being really about that” (149).  The two men continue to react to the story of perhaps the only person in the history of ever to have been hit with a meteorite without talking about the person, the woman.  Perhaps to these men, the bruised woman depicted is no longer of value to their conception of women as sexual objects for as Eric says to Reno earlier in the chapter, “‘The problem with bruises is that they make you not anonymous,'” (140).  Reno, however, goes on to imagine the life of the woman on the end of the meteor’s path, before and after the event.  Reno imagines the woman taking advantage of what little power she is afforded in the patriarchal society/marriage she exists in, wasting the time that she is expected to use to improve the home or complete chores.  Reno imagines that

The woman senses that time is more purely hers if she squanders it and keeps it empty, holds it, feels it pass by, and resists filling it with anything that might put some too useful dent in its open, airy emptiness… she is free to sit and gaze at a ringing phone, remaining perfectly still.  Free to nap on the couch… she puts onions in a hot pan, to fool her husband.  (150)

In Reno’s imagination, the strike from the meteor is a force strong enough to shake the monotony of the woman’s housewife routine.  When the imaginary woman is about to be photographed by Time, she turns away her friend from the photo shoot and directly contradicts Ronnie and Sandro’s earlier comments about the cover photo saying “‘Sorry… this is about me,'” (151).

By imagining the woman on the cover of Time magazine in this way, Reno gives her power that her male companions chose to deny her.  Rather than accepting the woman in the photo as a two-dimensional figurehead for a story that was really about, Reno works to turn her into a whole person who uses whatever means available to break the constraints of patriarchy and sexual objectivity.

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