The Coquette

She’s the Man: Gender Role Reversal in The Coquette College

Although Hannah Webster Foster names her book The Coquette, there is ambiguity in who the true coquette of the story is. Eliza Wharton, named the coquette by Foster and the other characters of the story, does not follow the rules of coquetry. Instead it is Major Peter Sanford who falls under the social definition of a coquette which allows Eliza to demonstrate more masculine characteristics, as the main feminine identity is not her own. Foster creates a gender role reversal in an attempt to challenge the contemporary views for women in the public sphere. Foster presents Eliza as the victim to define the rules of society regulated women’s actions in the public. Eliza’s actions-the activities which her female counterparts deem coquettish- to Major Sanford’s own coquettish behaviors are not reconciled but instead offer reason as to why women are not allowed their quest for individual freedoms as defined by the patriarchy. The freedoms which Eliza lusts after include: sexual freedom, access to wealth and material gain, and a strong public appearance. The attack on Eliza’s coquetry has nothing to do with virtues or her character but rather a cover story to conceal the contemporary fears of gender roles, heterosexuality and marriage,...

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