Doris Lessing

The underlying theme in Doris Lessing’s short story “A Woman on the Roof” surrounds female sexuality and male aggression. The story takes place when three men working to replace gutters on a roof spot a beautiful woman sunbathing in a bikini bottom and a scarf tied around her breasts. They all look and Tom and Stanley keep going over to catch a glimpse periodically. The next day when they return she is out again, this time without a top on. She catches them looking at her and she simply puts her head back down.

At this gesture of indifference, they all three, Stanley, Tom and old Harry, let out whistles and yells. Harry was doing it in parody of the younger men, making fun of them, but he was also angry. They were all angry because of her utter indifference to the three men watching her. “Bitch,” says Stanley (Lessing, 1963).

The woman has done nothing wrong yet she has become the target of an attack because she is beautiful and because these men are attracted to her, yet she shows no interest. Somewhere in the male evolution Lessing seems to posit that a beautiful woman - or any woman for that matter - who is being her feminine and sexual self, should return men’s advances. And if not, she will earn the name “Bitch”. The story is a feminist look and has a feminist theme occurring throughout the story—The more this woman is independent, the more these men grow to hate her. The story is disturbing on so many levels because it shows how intimidated by a woman’s sexuality and independence men are. At the end of the story, the woman says “go away” – exerting her independence and proving that the men’s advances are completely unprovoked and unwanted.