The works of Kate Chopin, a prominent American writer, traditionally focus on women’s biased position in marriage. The examination of “The Story of an Hour” and “A Respectable Woman” showed that these short stories addressed the disturbing issue of women’s dissatisfaction in marriage. The investigation of the concepts of patriarchy and gender prejudice in detail through the scholarly article related to these themes proved this theory. In the 19th century, women experienced gender prejudice and patriarchal oppression in marriage, and these realities were observed by multiple writers of that time.
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The history of patriarchy and oppression is derived from ancient times, developed new shapes, and became highly powerful. In Latin, oppression means “related with both physical and mental distress” (Qasim et al. 383). Oppression may take the forms of economic disparity, armed struggle, caste, slavery, racism, religious intolerance, domestic pressure, and gender bias. The word patriarchy has a Greek origin – patria means “father,” and arché means “rule” (Qasim et al. 384).
Patriarchy is defined as “a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in family, the legal dependence of wife and children and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line” (Qasim et al. 384). The main reason for women’s oppression lies in the ideology of physical and social differences between women and men. In patriarchal society, men dominate from their position of power as political, economical industrial, financial, social, and religious spheres are traditionally governed by men.
Madness, as a social phenomenon, was regarded as the negation of socially accepted norms. From the 19th century, women’s madness considered to be “a double deviation from the norms” as women were already distinguished as a deviation in patriarchal society where only men are the norm (Qasim et al. 384). The following of all social rules were the only acceptable female behavior, and female madness was prescribed to be treated with male control, violence, and oppression.
Kate Chopin, similar to other writers who lived at the end of the 19th century, became the direct witness of the women’s role in marriage and society. Novelists observed women’s oppression and dissatisfaction, and, in their works, they attempted to examine how family suppression affected women’s mental health. At that time, a significant number of women committed suicide to escape from male dominance and patriarchal society.
In their work, Qasim et al. focus on the theme of women’s oppression and madness as an additional way of their liberation (383). According to the scholars, in patriarchal society, a husband deliberately humiliates his wife and destroys her mental health with male dominance and superiority (Qasim et al. 383). In the religious aspect, humans were shaped with multiple differences, though they are distinguished by the intensity of the faith. However, throughout history, people regard these differences and peculiarities as reasons to disrespect others, and women generally had lower positions and a lack of rights in comparison with men.
According to the norms of a traditional society, women are occupied with domestic labor and give birth to children while men are involved in public concerns. The authority prescribed by society and the ability to use power attract men to oppress women. This oppression is a phenomenon described in the literature by a substantial number of writers. Women are suppressed in education, family, economy, social sphere, and other aspects of life by verbal and physical violence.
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In a sexual aspect, they frequently serve as objects for men’s satisfaction while their desires are ignored. According to Qasim et al., “patriarchy continually exerts forces that undermine women’s self-confidence and assertiveness, then points to the absence of these qualities as proof that women are naturally, and therefore correctly, self-effacing and submissive” (383). The oppression of woman’s nature has the most destructive effect, and women try to resist and escape from male oppression through the divorce of the husband’s death.
In the novels and short stories of Kate Chopin and other feminist writers, heroines show two common reactions toward oppression that depend on their characters. They either suffer from isolation, though they keep patience or become demented and die or commit suicide “in order to liberate themselves” (Qasim et al. 383). In their works, the majority of writers criticize violence against women’s nature or encourage readers to raise their voices against oppression.
Feminist novelists of the 19th century declaimed a patriarchal education system that was designed exclusively for men. The inability to get education and professional skills for women forced them to get married and be economically dependent. Physical, financial, mental, and intellectual dependence of women had a negative influence on all their lives.
The main reason for oppression of women by men lies in the ideology of social and physical differences between women and men. Throughout human history, men regard these differences and peculiarities of women as reasons to control and humiliate them. Women are suppressed in education, family, economy, and social sphere by verbal and physical violence. Kate Chopin, similar to other writers of the 19th century, became the direct witness of the women’s oppression in their families. In her short stories, heroines frequently show two reactions toward oppression, and these reactions strongly depend on their characters. They either suffer from isolation and dependent position, though they keep patience or lose their minds and die or commit suicide.
Qasim, Naheed, et al. “Women’s Liberation: The Effect of Patriarchal Oppression on Women’s Mind.” International Journal of Asian Social Science, vol. 5, no. 7, 2015, pp. 382- 393.