Suzanne Fields

If the new president of Harvard ever plays a character in a campus production of an allegory, she won't have to change her name. She's already Dr. Faust, literally. The original Dr. Faust, as depicted in literature, drama and opera, had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and in most variations of the tale, he sells his soul to the devil and goes straight to hell to pay for overzealous ambition.

Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, however, is a timid Faust compared to Lawrence Summers, her predecessor, whose ambition to change Harvard sealed his doom. We'll have to see whether Harvard's Dr. Faust has a similar Mephistopheles moment, but the auguries are not good. She has to contend with an excess of devilish colleagues on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences who can make her life hellish. She's as unlikely as the original Faust to escape "all ambiguities."

But with Valentine's Day now behind us, we can catalog the many women assuming the stereotypes of aggressiveness that we've always associated with masculinity. We've got a speaker of the House, a serious candidate for president, even an astronaut who plots to kidnap a rival for affections, ladies all.

In fact, if you listen to Hillary Clinton as she raises her fist and shouts how she'll end the war if she moves back in to the White House, she sounds more typically male than Barack Obama, who appeals to forces of moderation to forge a winning consensus. Isn't that just like a woman? We're talking rhetoric, of course, which may not turn out to resemble reality.

Who sounds more overstuffed with machismo than Lisa Nowak, the astronaut who donned a trench coat and a diaper, and took a cache of weapons to drive in a fit of rage to deal with her competitor in love? Hers was not exactly the jealous rage of Othello, but she now has a man's rap sheet, detailing earthbound endeavors quite at odds with her training to soar into space.

So you don't have to be a fan of chick-lit to discover that a woman today is often troubled by conflicts of feminism and femininity, trying to figure out when to tap that inner man in the way that men were once urged to tap the inner woman. Women of yore used femininity to seduce and tease through passivity, concealing their power by emphasizing allure. The power of weakness always had its disadvantages; the scales were not reliably balanced when women carried the babies and men carried the money.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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