The role and place of women in society have long been addressed in literature, visual arts, and performance art. The theme of gender-based power distribution has been brought to the discussion by many writers and play authors. Some renowned examples of a successful portrayal of the flawed stereotypical perception of gender-assigned roles in society are The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Blood Relations by Sharon Pollock, and Essay by Hannah Moscovitch. The authors of these plays use literary devices, plot, and compositional decisions to ridicule the assertions of power and gender roles assigned to men and women. This essay aims to analyze the plays to argue for the absurdity of predetermined gender roles in society since they diminish the worth of women and wrongly put men in superior positions of power.
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The Implications of Power and Gender in the Three Plays
In opposition to the reality of social life and the male-centered world order of the nineteenth century, Oscar Wilde creates an alternative distribution of gender-based power in his play The Importance of Being Earnest. The author shows his characters in unlikely positions, where men are reluctant and weak in making responsible decisions and women obtain the power of influence. Oscar Wilde changes men’s and women’s places as they are stereotypically perceived in a sexist society. For example, Lady Bracknell demonstrates a powerful position by acting and speaking in a way that shows her independence and even superiority over her husband. In the play, she says, “health is a primary duty of life. I am always telling that to your poor uncle but he never seems to take much notice” (Wilde 18). This quote demonstrates that Lady Bracknell takes a leading position in her relationships with a man she educates on basic things, but he fails to understand, which implies a switch of gender roles.
Similarly, Gwendolen exhibits a set of beliefs that emphasizes the opposition of gender roles in the play to those seen in society. In particular, she states that “the home seems to me the proper sphere for the man” (Wilde 58). Thus, the author allocates his female characters with powerful social roles where they are the decision-makers for men. In such a manner, the writer vividly demonstrates that the assertion that gender plays any role in the assigning of social roles is unreliable and might be made superficially with no relevant basis. On the opposite, when the roles are switched in such a satirical way, the stereotypes become more evident.
The main character of Blood Relations by Sharon Pollock is also attributed with qualities that do not meet society’s expectations, led by the idea that women should only be obedient mothers and wives. Any attempt to disobey this unspoken rule becomes a reason for disapproval and criticism. Lizzie, the main character, lives in a family where her father considers women as tamed creatures and not personalities. She states that “a woman is just like a horse,” implying that they should obey a strict master, a man (Pollock 17). However, Lizzie has the power to understand her identity while struggling to execute the power of influence in the society in which she lives. Being a female individual living in a male-centered society at the end of the nineteenth century, the main character of the play feels marginalized and weak only because she is a woman.
Like in the play by Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, Sharon Pollock opposes women and men to unveil the stereotypical and biased attitudes toward people based on their gender. For example, the author refers to the issue of double standards for men and women in such important institutions and decisions as marriage. Like in The Importance of Being Earnest, the characters’ decision-making power unfolds in the background of their attitudes toward marriage. In particular, Lizzie’s lack of desire to get married and have children is perceived with criticism from her father’s side. At the same time, Lizzie’s brother is praised for avoiding marriage and having children. In such a manner, Pollock emphasizes the absurdity of allocating particular social roles and life choices to people based on their gender.
The same theme of unveiling the absurdity and bias of assigned gender roles is presented in the play by Moscovitch, Essay. The main character, Pixie, is forced to defend her essay because she is a female who claims to unveil the underrepresentation of women in history. Her discussion of this topic with a male professor also has stereotypes in male-female communication. At some point, Pixie states that when studying history, she feels like “it is not about me and not for me” (Upper Canada College 00:31:05-00:31:12). Thus, the author uses the main character’s words to emphasize the diminished historical roles of women, which persist today as the audience might observe in the manner the professor communicates with Pixie.
To summarize the discussion of the plays, one might state that all three plays exhibit a powerful message on the absurdity of gender stereotypes and their implications for power in society. The authors of the analyzed plays put gender roles at the front of their works to display that power are artificially centered in men’s hands. However, gender and power are not connected phenomena, so humanity should develop a new model of social roles free from gender bias and stereotypes.
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“Essay by Hannah Moscovitch: A UCC/BSS Production LIVE!” YouTube, uploaded by Upper Canada College, 2020, Web.
Pollock, Sharon. Blood Relations. NeWest Press, 2002.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Samuel French, Web.