The women in Spies are mainly presented through the eyes of the younger Stephan, whose growing maturity means that his views often change throughout the novel. It is important to note that his views may be mixed due to the nature of the main women in the text; Mrs Hayward and Barbara Berrill; they do not portray the typical attitudes of women in the 1940 era.Stephen’s particular attention to Mrs Hayward when comparing their families greatness to his own is important, because it shows early on that he notices things about women that he finds particularly remarkable; this is apparent when the older Stephan ponders whether his younger self ‘would have perceived the grace and sincerity of Keith’s mother quite so clearly if his own hadn’t spent most of the day in a faded apron, sighing and anxious?’ It is clear that Stephen admires Mrs Hayward for her social appearance amongst the women of the era.
The attention to details of Mrs Hayward such as ‘her perfectly plucked eyebrows’ is a clear indication that the admiration of her by Stephan soon turns to fixation as he steps into the world of adolescence, she represents the older woman out of reach.
Although Frayn frequently portrays Stephen’s dislike of women, there are many contradictions where he is showing affection for them; particularly Mrs Hayward and Barbara. Stephen’s first introduction of Barbara is very negative and dismissive. He introduces her as one of the children in the close, she is ‘beneath our notice’, ‘sly and treacherous as most girls are’.
When she enters the den Stephen is shocked and outraged that she crossed the line into the boy’s world. As her presence in the den continues there’s a difference in Stephen as he begins to accept that mankind and womankind are related.As Stephen enters adolescence he begins to notice things about Barbara, that as of her first visit to the den changed. Frayn tries to make this clear by the in depth, positive descriptions of her, even when Stephen protested he didn’t like her. ‘There’s something girlishly self satisfying about the bobliness of the leather and the shininess of the purse that offends me almost as much as her intrusion’.Frayn’s theme of domination in the text is well expressed through his presentation of the women in the text. We have Barbara’s superiority over Stephan. An example of her intellectual superiority is when she was mocking Stephen, ‘you mean you don’t know what privet is?’ she exerts her physical superiority over Stephen when she effortlessly pushes him over and pins him down to get a look into the basket. Similarly Mrs Hayward, as Barbara did, recognises the mistake made by Keith about the spelling of the sign ‘very thoughtful of you chaps to put that label on it’, meaning that she believes that the boys merely labelled the hedge. She also expresses her control over Stephen, making it clear to him that she controls his friendship with Keith, ‘I don’t want to have to stop him seeing you’. It is made obvious that she is very persuasive. When she is in need of something from Stephen, she uses persuasive language to encourage him to trust her ‘so you see I’m trusting you, I’m putting you on your honour’, this is to the point and forceful but in a soft tone that Stephen can find calming, something that he won’t fear but admire.In contradiction the women also show weakness. Barbara shows signs of submissiveness when her mother calls her in and threatens her if she’s late. When Keith’s father comes to talk to Stephen, Barbara also shows fear as she cowers away. The biggest example of submissive behaviour from the women in the story are that of Mrs Hayward; on the surface she is an assertive, well presented woman who takes pride in her appearance physically and communally. But beneath the surface is a maze of physical abuse and male dominance. As the first signs of domestic abuse within the Hayward house become apparent, the reader is convinced that Mr Hayward is a dominant and unpleasant individual. Stephen notices that on occasions Mrs Hayward is ‘made up’ more heavily than usual and wears high cravats that cover her neck, probably to cover any visible signs of abuse.In conclusion Frayn portrays the women in the text as superior mentally and intellectually to the males. However it is also important to see them as submissive, it plays a large role within the text. In my opinion this technique used by frayn of having the aspects of the women tells the story, brings the concepts of modern and olden day living together. This creates realism for the reader to develop and create a mental picture of what may have gone on with the women during this time within the story.