As a woman writer, an avid reader, and a cinephile I
sometimes get disgusted with how women are portrayed. I recently read an article, which I cited below, about how women were portrayed throughout literature. Either they were an “angel,” or a “monster.” Male, and even some female writers, had the women in their stories take up one or two roles. One role is the dimwitted, sweetheart who just wants to please her man. The other role is this horrible woman who doesn’t conform to social norms. She is usually an evil stepmother, or the jealous girl who the hero didn’t pick. These are literally the only two roles women can play.
As you can see it’s disgusting. To have a woman who defies the rules and becomes the heroine is seen as a weak plot line. There is always a reason to not believe in that story. For instance in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Lizzie is headstrong and refuses to fall in love. Of course she falls in love in the end, but she isn’t like others. Her own sister and her best friend both marry because that is what they are supposed to do. They marry to not become an old spinster. To not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Some point out that Lizzie did in the end marry a rich man, but not for the reason that everyone around her was. She could have cared less about Mr. Darcy’s wealth, she fell in love with the stubborn man because like her, they liked breaking rules. They showed each other pieces of themselves they never showed to anyone else. Pride and Prejudice can be seen as a story of soulmates, because Lizzie and Mr. Darcy were perfectly matched.
All throughout the story she was seen as a silly, naive girl because she refused to settle. She didn’t want to get married if it wasn’t for love. Her own mother didn’t understand her. Everyone thought she was crazy because she dared to defy the social stigma of being an independent woman. The same could be said about Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. She fell in love but she refused to let that define her. She wouldn’t marry if she would be below her husband. When she almost married and saw what she turned into she ran away. She went off to find herself, and in her self imposed exile she thrived. All the while Mr. Rochester dwindled. He became a ghost of himself. He couldn’t live again without his love, and when she returned he was whole again.
These novels show how women can be strong and fight against what is “normal” for women to do. They never let what society tells them effect what they want. Lizzie wanted the ability to love freely, and Jane wanted to define herself outside of her husband. Both did that even though everyone admonished them. Their strength is what we need in our female characters. Instead of the hopeless romantic who falls apart when the guy leaves her for a newer model. We need to borrow the strength from these two fictional women until we find it in ourselves to be brave.
Until we find it in ourselves to break the the dimwitted angel and the evil monster stigmas. We have to be strong and ignore the naysayers who say that we can’t because we’re women. We are just as good as any male counterpart, and that doesn’t make us narcissistic or “bitches,” it makes us truthful. Having male genitalia doesn’t make you better at anything, despite what the old greats thought.
Being different is the only reason they fear you. Be different, be better, be great.
Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.-Dr. Seuss
Gilbert, Sandra, and Gubar, Susan. “The Madwoman in the Attic.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Blackwell Publishing, 2010, 812-825.