Spotty-Handed Villainesses: an Analysis of Technique

A successful speech is one that is not only deftly constructed, but also appealing and effective in the delivery of the overall message intended by the composer. Margaret Atwood’s Spotty Handed Villainesses is a prime example of an engaging, skilful and persuasive text that is masterfully enhanced by an array of techniques that combine to express her views on the representations and perceptions of females, feminists and feminism as a whole. That being said, Atwood’s playful humour and sharp wit skilfully counterbalance the underlying academic and authoritative tone in a manner that not only retains lasting appeal, but also maximises audience engagement.

  The use of an anecdote in the first few lines serves as a ‘hook’ in which the personal reflections of Atwood establish a sense of familiarity between composer and responder. Through this initial engagement, the cohesion of academic and literary references such as the ‘Angel/Whore split’ and reflections from her own childhood efficiently establishes the overall message of her speech. The following rhetorical questions, and in particular her line “But is it not, today – well, somehow unfeminist – to depict a woman behaving badly?” achieve their goal of challenging the responder to actively ponder the dimensions of their own opinions, as well as pave way for the introduction of Atwood’s. Questions such as “Isn’t bad behaviour supposed to be the monopoly of men” also aid in establishing her criticisms of extreme feminists, and in particular the ‘post-2nd Wave Feminism’ era that saw questions arise over the changing roles of men and women in society.   In this, her persuasive tone is carefully masked through her uses of humour, irony and satire and she moves from questioning to criticising the excesses that all sides of the ‘feminist spectrum’ are capable of possessing.

    Atwood’s call for a disruption to ‘static order’ is skilfully illustrated through her use of the extended metaphor of the ‘eternal breakfast’...