JSU Student Symposium 2022

Using Satire to Highlight Gender and Sexuality in Aphra Behn’s Poetry


Using Satire to Highlight Gender and Sexuality in Aphra Behn’s Poetry



Faculty Mentor

Teresa Reed, English


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9:45-9:55am | Houston Cole Library, 11th Floor


Behn is considered a satirist during the Restoration and the eighteenth century, a field traditionally dominated by men. However, Aphra Behn, through her controversial poetry, commented in depth on the role of women and how, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality, they are treated differently than men. This treatment can be seen through the topics of role reversal and consequences, the loving of multiple people, and the loving without regards to gender which are found within Behn’s poetry. Her satirical approach discusses different relationships concerning masculine power and authority, challenging the gendered language of her contemporaries as well as the very role of women within satire which is normally excluded. By participating in satire and applying it to her political content, Behn was able to call behaviors and morals into question. In the three poems discussed, Behn presents ideas such as female desire, polyamory, and gender-nonconforming people. By showcasing the reversal of gender roles in “The Disappointment,” examining the biased judgement of being a woman with multiple lovers in “On Her Loving Two Equally,” and the refusal to conform to feminine and/or masculine traits as seen in “To the Fair Clarinda,” Behn adequately portrays her thoughts regarding women’s role within society, specifically when it comes to the all-too-human traits of love and desire.

My presentation will begin with a brief overview of Aphra Behn and her writing, focusing on three of her poems: “The Disappointment,” “On Her Loving Two Equally,” “To the Fair Clarinda.” In discussing these different and seemingly backwards relationships concerning masculine power and authority, Behn challenges the gendered prose of her fellow scholars and the very role of women in both the literary world (satire, in particular) and her contemporary society. In discussing these issues, I hope to aid in the understanding of these subjects and their breadth through time, as well as their relevance to today’s dialogue surrounding gender and sexuality within literature.


student research, literature


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English Language and Literature

Using Satire to Highlight Gender and Sexuality in Aphra Behn’s Poetry