I know the word "scorn" means "a feeling and expression of contempt or disdain for someone or something" but I cannot understand the meaning of the phrase below:

Take action in scorn of deference

So, Could you please tell me what the meaning of the phrase is?

The main text is here:

That night everyone stayed indoors. Mother was blending oils in the kitchen. Dad was in the extension, which I had begun to jokingly call the Chapel. He was lying on the crimson sofa, a Bible resting on his stomach, while Kami and Richard played hymns on the piano. I sat with my laptop on the love seat, near Dad, and listened to the music. I had just begun a message to Drew when something struck the back door. The door burst open, and Emily flew into the room.

Her thin arms were wrapped around her body and she was shaking, gasping for breath. She wore no coat, no shoes, nothing but jeans, an old pair I’d left behind, and one of my worn T-shirts. Mother helped her to the sofa, wrapping her in the nearest blanket. Emily bawled, and for several minutes not even Mother could get her to say what had happened. Was everyone all right? Where was Peter? He was fragile, half the size he should have been, and he wore oxygen tubes because his lungs had never fully developed. Had his tiny lungs collapsed, his breathing stopped?The story came out haltingly, between erratic sobs and the clattering of teeth. From what I could tell, when Emily had gone to Stokes that afternoon to buy groceries, she had returned home with the wrong crackers for Peter. Shawn had exploded. “How can he grow if you can’t buy the right food!” he had screamed, then he’d gathered her up and flung her from their trailer, into a snowbank. She’d pounded on the door, begging to be let in, then she’d run up the hillside to the house. I stared at her bare feet as she said this. They were so red, they looked as if they’d been burned.My parents sat with Emily on the sofa, one on each side of her, patting her shoulders and squeezing her hands. Richard paced a few feet behind them. He seemed frustrated, anxious, as if he wanted to explode into action and was only just being held in check.Kami was still seated at the piano. She was staring at the group huddled on the couch, confused. She had not understood Emily. She did not understand why Richard was pacing, or why he paused every few seconds to glance at Dad, waiting for a word or gesture—any signal of what should be done.

I looked at Kami and felt a tightening in my chest. I resented her for witnessing this. I imagined myself in Emily’s place, which was easy to do—I couldn’t stop myself from doing it—and in a moment I was in a parking lot, laughing my high-pitched cackle, trying to convince the world that my wrist wasn’t breaking. Before I knew what I was doing I had crossed the room. I grasped my brother’s arm and pulled him with me to the piano. Emily was still sobbing, and I used her sobs to muffle my whispers. I told Kami that what we were witnessing was private, and that Emily would be embarrassed by it tomorrow. For Emily’s sake, I said, we should all go to our rooms and leave it in Dad’s hands.

Kami stood. She had decided to trust me. Richard hesitated, giving Dad a long look, then he followed her from the room.I walked with them down the hallway then I doubled back. I sat at the kitchen table and watched the clock. Five minutes passed, then ten. Come on, Shawn, I chanted under my breath. Come now. I’d convinced myself that if Shawn appeared in the next few minutes, it would be to make sure Emily had made it to the house—that she hadn’t slipped on the ice and broken a leg, wasn’t freezing to death in a field. But he didn’t come.

Twenty minutes later, when Emily finally stopped shaking, Dad picked up the phone. “Come get your wife!” he shouted into it. Mother was cradling Emily’s head against her shoulder. Dad returned to the sofa and patted Emily’s arm. As I stared at the three of them huddling together, I had the impression that all of this had happened before, and that everyone’s part was well rehearsed. Even mine.It would be many years before I would understand what had happened that night, and what my role in it had been. How I had opened my mouth when I should have stayed silent, and shut it when I should have spoken out. What was needed was a revolution, a reversal of the ancient, brittle roles we’d been playing out since my childhood. What was needed—what Emily needed—was a woman emancipated from pretense, a woman who could show herself to be a man. Voice an opinion. Take action in scorn of deference. A father.

Educated by Tara Westover

  • It's essentially a Victorian usage. It might be okay today in certain literary contexts (opinions may differ on that), but it's unlikely it would ever be suitable for a learner to use it. Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 10:19

1 Answer 1


The whole ending of that paragraph is written in a poetic register, violating the rules of grammatical prose and even normal usage. There is no rule against trying to write in a poetic register except that others may find it obscure, pretentious, or both.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower drives my red blood is meaningless if interpreted literally, but it is great poetry. Of course, few of us can match Dylan Thomas, who wrote the only decent villanelle in the English language, so, in my view, few of us should even try.

The meaning of that purple prose is What was needed -- what Emily needed -- was a woman emancipated from the pretences of tradition, a woman as strong as any father imagined by tradition, a woman willing to scorn the dictates of traditional deference, willing to speak out and to act.

Some can write like Dylan Thomas; most of us cannot. In my opinion, those of us who cannot should learn to write prose. As written, the quoted passage is facially absurd: at what time in the history of the world were women not able to speak. What is meant is that women would be punished, socially or physically, for doing certain things and so, quite rationally, were frequently unwilling to do them. The women who emancipated women were brave women who did what other women could have done but feared to do. I wear my clothes, not men's clothes.

EDIT: The quote about clothes (actually a slight mis-quote) is from the 19th century feminist doctor, Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to have won the Cobgressional Medal of Honor, which was awarded for her work as a battlefield surgeon during the Civil War. I should have attributed it initially.

  • Ever heard of the suffragette movement when women were imprisoned for voicing their dissent? Ever heard of domestic violence, and battered wives? The narrator in the story was a victim of psychological and physical abuse. The man in that family scene, her father, did not act like a father who protects his children but as the stereotypical man who remains deaf to the sobs of his daughter and his wife as he considers women (in the story) to be the inferior sex.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 11:57
  • I don't think the OP was looking for a critical appraisal of the passage, that Dylan Thomas is a great poet and story teller is irrelevant to the question posed by the OP.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 12:00
  • @Mari-Lou Had you ever heard of Mary Edwards Walker? And the fact remains: the passage is written in a poetic register that is ineffective as demonstrated by the OP needing to ask what it meant. By the way, do you know any way to disagree that does not attribute ignorance or malice to others? Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 14:38
  • The OP is a nonnative speaker, their questions about the text has little to do with the author's prose. She writes well. I'm pretty certain that @Peace would have greater difficulty tackling Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickenson, Wilfred Owen or Shelley.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 15:12
  • In your opinion, she writes well. A woman who could show herself to be a man is pure nonsense: the speaker wants to be one of the pitiful creatures that men are? What is meant is that she wants women to be what men claim to be but are not. Simply incompetent writing. Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 16:20

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