Females in Brothers Grimm
Everything we read constructs us, makes us who we are, by presenting our image of ourselves as girls and women, as boys and men. Besides being part of an important source for developing children’s language skills, books are an integral component in communicating society’s values and traditions. How women are portrayed in fairytales are good, unintelligent, content, attractive and sensitive, or they are jealous, aggressive and wicked. The Brothers Grimm oversimplification of the female character in fairytales communicates to young reader an inaccurate biased opinion of the gender while their minds are still developing.
Cinderella is the epitome of pious and evil. While her stepsisters and stepmother are characterized as deceitful and evil, Cinderella is apparently good only because she is religious and passive. She never does anything wrong nor does she release any anger towards her family, she is content. Cinderella does not do anything aside from looking beautiful to warrant the praise from the prince. In fact, nearly all heroines in Grimmis fairytales are beautiful, from Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel to Little Snow White and therefore good. Specifically, Cinderella is good because she is beautiful, passive, innocent and beguiled.
Cinderella is victimized by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, who are beautiful and fail in the face, but treacherous and wicked at heart. They force her to wear rags and act as a servant in order to break the spirit and undermine her beauty status. In making Cinderella submissive, these women are another tool of the Grimmis to serve as a medium of patriarchy. Whenever a woman in a fairytale possesses or acts with power, they act in favor of patriarchy.
Additionally, in Cinderella, the stepmother knows the only way to gain social status and succeed on the systemis terms is to marry her daughters into wealth. She believes a woman’s power directly correlates with a woman’s beauty. Due to the fact that woman can’t earn money due to society, the stepmother exploits her daughters. The stepmother even makes her daughters cut off parts of their fee for a chance to be with the prince. Consequently, he stepdaughter is a threat that must be removed. The stepmother wants the wealth and praise and the feeling of superiority but only through her own bloodline. In the Grimmis version, Cinderella is changed to demonstrate her goodness through housework and submission, no doubt a way to reinforce that a good woman is always rewarded with a wealthy marriage and unending happiness. This theme, which in turn exemplifies one of the options, the Grimm
In the Brothers Grimm’s Little Snow White, Snow White is a princess, who is taught that in order to be a good girl she must obey what she is told. This includes the traditional values of cooking and cleaning the dwarves ask of her. The other component of being a perfect woman is looking presentable at al times and ultimately looking better than everyone. The Queen has become so obsessed by the image in the mirror and being the best she becomes essentially evil. The story is giving women mixed messages, saying not to obsess about looks but to be beautiful, but it also portrays a woman as a heroine, but still saying disobedience of the woman’s roles will lead to punishment.
Within the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, the common narrative consists of an evil elder woman pitted against an innocent, younger female. It is no different in Rapunzel, she is stolen from her mother, in a deal set by her father, and is eventually locked in a tower high above the ground by an evil enchantress. This imprisonment keeps Rapunzel away from world, until the handsome Prince is lured by her locks of gold and climbs her hair to reach Rapunzel. However, this fairytale lends itself to the notion that the female is incapable of managing herself; that to be saved, she must flaunt her assets. The minor act of Rapunzel letting down her hair to the prince suggests that the female is nothing more than a mere sexual object.
When it comes to the Grimm Brothers fairy tales, one theme in these stories is not unfamiliar. This is the theme of antagonistic females who cause trouble for the heroes. In The Juniper Treell, the stepmother kills her stepson out of jealousy and cooks him into a stew to be unwittingly eaten by the father. A second story that emphasizes this theme is The Juniper Tree, also written by the Brothers Grimm. A beautiful son is born to a man and his pious wife, who dies in childbirth. The man takes a second wife, who bears a daughter. This second wife loathes her stepson, and frequently abuses him.
One day, the stepmother decapitates the boy with a pantry lid, ties the head back on with the scarf, and sits him back on the porch. She later tells her daughter to slap her stepbrother across the face, and when she does, the head rolls off; the stepmother causes her daughter to believe that she was the murderer. The two of them cook the boy into a stew, tell the father that his son is away, and feed him the stew. The boy, after his sister buries his bones under a juniper tree, is reincarnated into a bird, who drops a millstone on the stepmother, who dies instantly.
This story, like “Hansel and Gretell, emphasizes the wickedness of women who take matters into their own hands. The father, who has no idea that his son has been killed and that he has eaten him, is given no blame because of his ignorance. The wife and the daughter, however, receive all responsibility for the crime, though only the wife is punished. The father in The Juniper Treell is more blameless than the father of Hansel and Gretel, who had full knowledge of his actions, yet was redeemed in the end. The Juniper Treell puts all the blame on the wife, but the daughter is also implicated because she believes that in slapping her brother, she killed him. Although slapping her brother was not meant to kill him, the daughter still knew that such an action would hurt her brother. The stepmother is the main antagonist, though, because it was she who actually committed the crime, and ultimately receives the punishment for it.
All the stories analyzed emphasize the wickedness of women who plot and think for themselves or the women who are waiting for life to come to them, content waiting for their prince. This suggests that the Brothers Grimm wish to convey the message that women should not go outside the norms of the society at the time and should constrict themselves to the matters of the home. It also causes the male gender to appear better in character, gentler, and more qualified to act for themselves than women. There is rarely a tale in which the father figure is not redeemable when the female character is the antagonist.
These stories strongly emphasize the power of men as being ultimately good, while suggesting that giving power to women is disastrous. The Brothers Grimm assume the stereotypical roles of women dictated by society instead of creating a world of pure fantasy. It presents the point of view, which women are expected to be obedient or there will be consequences. It also presents a point about beauty saying beauty is important in order to be the winner of a situation, like in Cinderella. The oppressive idea of beauty corrupt the story by means of the evil Queen whose obsessive thoughts about beauty lead her to kill her own step daughter. These messages of female roles influence women negatively and teach them negative habits in readers to how they can be their own independent person.
An Analysis of Gender Roles in the Holy Bible
In author Amy Kalmanofsky’s work “Gender-Play In The Hebrew Bible”, Kalmanofsky spends an entire chapter dissecting the story of Rebecca and Isaac as it conforms to and defies traditional biblical marital roles. Although Rebecca acts assertively and assumes numerous non-traditional patriarchal roles, Kalmanofsky claims that the story of Rebecca and Isaac enforces the gender hierarchy that privileges males. However, I believe that by examining the context in which the Bible was written and comparing Rebecca’s actions to those of Eve, Rebecca actually successfully challenges and redefines the patriarchal familial structure, as well as enforcing female dominance in a male-driven society. First, it is important to consider how Rebecca and Isaac function independently in order to observe how their married relationship is revolutionary. Isaac is frequently seen as the perfect picture of the submissive. For example, he stays in Jerusalem instead of travelling to find a wife and sends his father Abraham instead. As a result of this he is often closely associated with Jerusalem and seen by some as the embodiment of the Holy City. It is important to note that Jerusalem was treated by God as a man would treat his wife; protective and disapproving when “she” did any wrong by him. This feminizes Isaac and associates him with a role culturally traditional to females at the time. While it is virtually indisputable that Isaac plays a very passive role in the Bible, Kalmanofsky argues that this is an asset. She writes, “Isaac’s weakness is a positive characteristic that not only enables him to be in a relationship with God, but that enhances his character”. However, in the narrative of Rebecca, I argue that this weakness enables Rebecca to assume the patriarchal role, which hurts Isaac. If Isaac was not praised for being quiet and passive, he would have not favored his son Enoch instead of his divinely chosen son Jacob, and therefore would not have forced Rebecca to deceive him. While Kalmanofsky argues that this deception made Rebecca a vehicle for a male divine figure, I believe that Rebecca made the choice to trick Isaac of her own volition, but her patriarchal personality originally stemmed from Isaac’s passiveness.
This is the ultimate display of the patriarchal takeover; Rebecca literally performs a traditional man’s duties because her husband is unwilling and unable to. She flourishes in these moments and it becomes crucial to her character as “Rebecca the doer”. In addition to examining Rebecca’s patriarchal roots, it is also essential to understand Rebecca’s character and the significance of her actions through the cultural context of the time. While it would be easy to write off Rebecca’s actions as merely headstrong, it is absolutely fundamental to recognize that these were in the literal sense, revolutionary. This is my main disagreement to Kalmanofsky’s argument that Rebecca remained confined by a patriarchal society. Rebecca pushed boundaries through her decision to deceive her husband, and furthermore, was never punished for her actions. If Rebecca had not conned Isaac, their family progeny would have ended, and the family honor would have been compromised. The significance of Rebecca taking this into her own hands is not to be overlooked. Rebecca not only disobeys a man, but her husband, who traditionally was the ultimate source of authority for married woman during that time. Kalmanofsky argues that this action served to enable Isaac to give his blessing to Jacob, but it was Isaac’s will to give his blessing to Enoch. If Rebecca was meant to enable Isaac, she would have been happily accepting of his desire to bless Enoch. While the magnitude of Rebecca’s actions is not to be undermined, the aftermath of her tale is what strikes me as the most significant. Rebecca is one of a few women who have appeared in the Bible early on; the other most influential woman up to this point being Eve. Eve, similarly to Rebecca, also choose to knowingly deceive her husband Adam by giving him forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Because of this, she suffered severe consequence of painful childbirth and the lifelong dominance of her husband. Her actions literally caused all women to suffer under a male-dominated society. In contrast, there was no discussion or punishment for Rebecca’s actions. In Genesis 27:33, the only mention of anger from a patriarchal figure is when “Isaac trembled violently” once he had realized Rebecca’s ploy.
While Kalmanofsky argues that this is because Rebecca was being used as a female pawn by a male God, I believe that although God did speak to Rebecca about her responsibility to uphold the familial progeny, Rebecca’s free will allowed her to choose to disobey Isaac. Rebecca says, “My son, let the curse fall on me” in Genesis 27:13, referring to potential divine consequence that the family may suffer from deceiving her husband. It is clear to the audience that Rebecca does not fully know whether or not her actions are in accordance to a divine ruling. Rebecca is undisputably a warrior of action within her narrative, and chooses to disobey her husband as well as accept the risk of wrath from God. Because of this, it is imperative to recognize that she does not play a pawn for God, but instead makes her own decision to take on an alpha patriarchal role. Kalmanofsky’s argument that Rebecca acts as a device for enabling men is flawed because of Rebecca’s acknowledgement of her uncertainty, but her difficult decision to act on her instincts despite the rigid gender expectations of the time proves her to be an independant patriarch and a revolutionary female in the Hebrew Bible. Rebecca is without a doubt one of the most controversial female figures in the entirety of the Hebrew Bible, but by examining her choices to accept the possibility of extreme social consequence by defying her husband and divine consequence by possibly defying God, one can see how Rebecca successfully challenges and redefines the meaning of a Biblical patriarch and resists a male-driven society. The significance of Rebecca facing zero consequences for her actions at all is groundbreaking because it establishes a sort of unapologetic female dominance that introduced the concept of women acting according to their free will. Although Kalmanofsky argues that Rebecca is another fresh form of the female enabler, her risk and reward prove that Rebecca solely enables her own ideas, and nobody else’s.
The Negative Effects of Gender Roles on Adolescents
Gender roles have been around in society for as long as humans have been around. Women are expected to be a typical maternal figure and perform the duties that come along with it such as cooking, cleaning, and raising children. Men are expected to do masculine duties such as working a full-time job, playing sports, and working out. Not only do these tasks harm society as a whole, but they cause the development of teenagers to be stunted. Gender roles have a negative influence on the development of adolescents because it does not allow them to be able to grow into their full potential. It can cause women to be forced into a housewife position and it may impact the body image of young men and women. Women being expected to perform certain duties is not a new concept. For many centuries, women have tried to break out of the stereotypes that society has placed them in. Mrs. Louise Mallard in “The Story of an Hour” was overjoyed when she was told of her husband’s death. She had these feelings because she was finally able to be her own person without being attached to her husband. This fictional story represents an overwhelming challenge many women faced. Women wanted to be able to support themselves, but that task was impossible due to the lack of income. This idea can also be supported in A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Throughout the text, Woolf states that she would be a better writer if she was able to support herself and have a room for herself to write.
However, this request was almost impossible in the early 19th century. Without a husband, women could not afford to live and thrive. Woolf and Mrs. Louise Mallard both wanted to be their own independent person but were unable to because of things they were not allowed to do due to their gender. Not only can gender roles be harmful to the maturity of young people, but it can also have fatal impacts. Stated in the poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy, girls are pressured by society to act and look a certain way. “She was healthy, tested intelligent, possessed strong arms and back. She went to and fro apologizing. Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs”. Piercy uses these lines to show that no matter how hard she tries, she will never be good enough in the eyes of society. Despite the archaic nature of the poem, the truths in it are still relevant to today’s teens. Young women still feel this pressure to look and act a certain way in order to be seen as desirable. These negative beliefs can cause young girls to take significant measures in order to alter themselves such as plastic surgery, diets, etc. While plastic surgery and diets seem harmless, they can be a gateway into more lethal topics like eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, depression, anxiety, and suicide. The issue of body image and societal pressures do not end with just females, though. Men can also be greatly impacted by body image issues. In “The Troubled Life of Boys; The Bully in the Mirror”, the idea of toxic masculinity is discussed and expanded upon.
Stephen S. Hall uses teenagers’ first hand accounts of the problems they have dealt with because of this male body ideal. “Boys have body-image problems, too. Traditionally, they have felt pressure to look not thin, but rather strong and virile, which increasingly seems to mean looking bulked up and muscular”. Much like their female counterparts, males take drastic measures in order to achieve the ideal. Some of these include steroids, excessive exercise, and starvation. The pressure society places on young men to look a certain way harms them because it can lead to problems later in life. Society’s pressure to place males and females into certain stereotypes are dangerous for the adolescents that are raised under them. It can hinder their growth when it comes to their development into adulthood. For example, women and men both feel pressure to look a certain way in order to be desireable to others. This causes them to develop deadly habits that may impact them in the long run. The gender roles that are in place in society have an overall negative influence on developing teenagers.
Gender Roles and Relationships in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover”
The diversity in the portrayal of women across literature varies as much as women themselves do in real life. However, society’s beliefs often influence how authors define what it means to be a man or a woman in relationships. Robert Browning criticizes the expectations tied to gender during the 1800s using his two dramatic monologues: “My Last Duchess” and “”. Both of the male narrators in his work view the powerful women in their life as a threat to their masculinity and use force to reclaim a sense of control in a patriarchal society. These poems offer a unique perspective on the connection between femininity and masculinity because Browning presents the women in each relationship as the initial dominant force. Given the Victorian time period, depicting women in leadership roles, even in the domestic sphere, directly contradicted the gender expectations; this makes the female protagonists in both poems quite unique.
In “My Last Duchess” the Duke describes his former wife as “Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er / She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.” (Browning 24-25) The Duchess’ curiosity and friendliness exhibited a confident demeanor, and the society would consider it problematic for her to act flirtatiously with other men. In a way, she refuses to acknowledge her class position that, with clear reference to the Victorian bourgeoisie, is validated by sexual and emotional constraint. (Efird 4) The mentioned “gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” (Browning 34) did not impress the Duchess and she behaved independently rather than viewing herself as an object at the mercy of her husband’s wishes. This places the Duchess in a power role within their marriage and left the Duke scrambling to control his wife because she did not exemplify the ideal women he desired. Similarly, Porphyria’s character plays an active role in Browning’s poem by entering the cottage, calling her lover’s name and placing his arm around her waist while the man adopts the passive role.
In comparison, customs for courtship usually demanded that men take the dominant role in the 1800. Any deviation from that would appear improper as the bourgeois masculinity emphasized self-discipline and the need to control in patriarchal roles. (Efird 2) Even the poem’s title itself portrays Porphyria as the main subject and shows the lover as her possession as opposed to old fashion thinking of women as men’s property. Both the Duke and then the unnamed narrator from “Porphyria’s Lover” found themselves in similar predicaments in which their relationships deviated from society’s norms and left them feeling incompetent. As a consequence of their uncommon relationship roles, both men in Browning’s poems encountered feelings that threatened their masculinity. In light of his wife’s actions, the Duke of Ferrara worried how others would view him and his ability to remain regal and in power.
He loathed the idea of other men making his wife feel happy, “Sir, ’twas not/ Her husband’s presence only, called that spot / Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek.” (13-15). His jealously eventually turned to anger against his wife that led him to take drastic action against her in order to protect his ego. Porphyria’s lover turned to delusion rather than jealousy and he believed that she worshipped him enough to die for him. Considering Porphyria’s previous dependent actions, the narrator may have felt inclined to take control as the man and take the burden away from Porphyria. In the dramatic monologue, he states that she was “Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor” (line 22) which prompted him to believe she needed saving.
As Knoepflmacher says, “Imprisoned as they are within a male’s rhetoric of justification, they have also become bereft of a voice of their own” (143). The two women not only lose their ability to voice their opinions and in a sense are reduced to static images incapable of change. For the Duchess, this is in a very literal sense as a painting that the Duke controls all aspects of. Porphyria’s memory only exists in the mind of her lover, who depersonalized her by ending her life. (Knopflmacher 142-43) Finally, the masculine figures take it upon themselves to silence the feminine figures in severe ways to regain masculine control. They achieve this by robbing the women of the traits that make them unique individuals. As a result of the reversed relationship roles, the men’s emotions overpower their judgement of right and wrong and cause them to act assertively.
This theme in itself critiques society in which men glorified detachment from emotions and women were rendered weak due to their emotional reactions. The Duke’s rage and insecurities in “My Last Duchess” distressed him to the point where he takes lethal action against his wife: “Then all the smiles stopped together. There she stands / As if alive.” (Browning 47-48) Calling for her execution felt like the only plausible way for him to regain control of his unruly wife. Rather than having her alive, he prefers to see a silent and idealized version who can no longer disobey him.
The narrator of “Porphyria’s Lover” focused less on stopping his lover’s wandering eyes, and instead focused on capturing her in a pure and uninterrupted moment. The lover viewed Porphyria’s demise as a favor, so that she no longer had to face reality and could remain immortalized in a moment he deemed perfect. His interpretation romanticizes the violent acts and downplays the severity of his actions by claiming that God has not yet punished him for actions. However, the man’s view reflects a classic male narrative by saying: “That moment she was mine, mine, fair, / Perfectly pure and good” (36-37). Women were deemed respectable only when they represented purity and innocence. Therefore, the narrator decides that by killing Porphyria she would reflect the notions of femininity that she previously disregarded even in her death. Efird describes the women’s death as being caused by the men’s own lack of control: “The speaker’s narcissistic desire to control the world around him, a desire that makes the woman and the external world into images of himself rather than realities” (152).
Their apathy towards living beings originated from the patriarchal parameters instilled in them from a young age. The narrators felt the need to react as the dissonance between their lovers’ actions and their attitudes as men grew. Ultimately, both the women’s deaths symbolized that a divergence from society’s gender roles justified grave actions to achieve the optimal and traditional masculine and feminine relationship. Browning uses satire to address the overwhelming concepts of femininity and masculinity that governed the lives of the people around him. His monologues “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover” portrayed women in dominant roles despite the contrast of societal expectations. Their male lovers felt emasculated when they no longer felt they had authority in their relations. The duke and unnamed narrator acted on their insecurities and felt that silencing the women in their life saved their ego and masculinity. Browning’s depiction of women in these two dramatic monologues provided a social commentary on the toxicity of dominating gender roles.
Gender Socialization and Consumer Culture
An article “A ‘Real Man’s Ring’: Gender and the Invention Tradition” by Vicki Howard (2003) published in the Journal of Social History defined the role of gender stereotypes, their development and changes in forming consumer culture through describing the invention and adoption of double ring ceremony in twentieth century America.
Howard tells the history of grooms’ wedding bands and double ring ceremony, explaining the bonds between economical, cultural and social aspects of the first sixty years of the twentieth century.
The author explained that the double ring ceremony emerged because of the cultural tendency in family life Howard called “masculine domesticity”, when, in the middle of twentieth century, spending time with wife and kids, performing household chores became “synonymous with prosperity, capitalism, and national stability”. In fiftieth the new type of family became widespread, a so called “companionate marriage”, where both spouses shared responsibility for psychological and emotional well-being of their family, and a double ring ceremony reflected these new type of relationship.
Howard adds that World War Two made double rings wedding custom even more popular, as than it had to do with “wartime sentiments”. Wedding ring symbolized ties a soldier had with his wife, with his family and kids; it was a sign for him that someone was waiting for him at home, a symbol of everything he defended. And, according to Howard’s writing, while in 1940 two rings wedding hadn’t been a custom, in yet in late fortieth-early fiftieth it appeared in the wedding ceremonies held by Catholic, Unitarian, Baptist, and Methodist churches, the most influential ones.
Getting man used to the thought that grooms wedding ring was a good idea took lots of time and efforts from the sellers. Howard described some of the techniques that were used by U.S jewelry stores, like establishing a separate “groom room” for men not to feel embarrassed when shopping for wedding rings; the other idea was to hide grooms rings in slide drawers beneath the feminine rings, and showing them only after bride’s rings had been already purchased. Meantime, years passed, and social apprehension of man wedding rings changed due to numerous advertising campaigns, Hollywood productions, marriages of public persons etc.
Of course there were other factors that played their role in popularization of double ring ceremony. One of the crucial ones was the “teenage marriage boom”, which began in fortieth, when the average age of marrying has lowered dramatically.
Howard supposed that having a double ring ceremony was important for young couples to differentiate them from their parents. Wearing a ring helped young girl to feel herself protected, not being afraid to become an old maid, while for man wedding ring was the proof of maturity, masculinity, ability to support his wife, and, what was also important, heterosexuality.
Howard noted that one more factor to conduce the popularity of double ring ceremony was emergence of middle class in the U.S. People moved to suburbs, where they could allow purchasing a house. As economy grew more, more people earned enough money to provide their families with all the middle-class attributes.
This period was characterized by “physical and psychological separation of public and private”, of work and family, and double ring ceremony became a symbol of the new family, built in that environment. The situation was different for working class. Men often were dissatisfied with the idea to wear a ring, as it symbolized the obligations they took, while for women grooms ring was a sign of claim bride has for her husband.
It has been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus because the two genders are so different. In reality, everyone is from Earth, but men and women do have different ways of communicating. Through much research, many differences have been found including how girls and boys are socialized, nonverbal cues, and […]