Gender roles and sexism
Gender is the state of being male or female while sexism is the discrimination of others on the basis of sex especially women. Gender roles are the tasks expected to be carried out by either sex as understood by the society. Men are usually portrayed by the society as superior to women and are believed to be smarter and able to achieve more than women who are supposed to stay back at home cooking, washing and taking care of the kids. The modern woman has been able to overcome all these and she is sailing in deep seas same as men do.
There is a large number of men in the society today that believe that women are inferior to men and they should submit to them wholly. These men have made their women housewives and cannot have a career because they have children. Some societies are so cruel that they can’t allow women to have a way to make a living and this causes them unwanted dependence on men. According to Bram stoker’s “Dracula” the stereotype of men’s superiority over women is portrayed. During the Victorian era, men were believed to be smarter and accomplished to realizing more.
In Dracula, Van Helsing tells Jonathan parker, “A brave man’s blood is the best thing on this earth when woman is in trouble. You are a man, and no mistake.” (189) From this we can see that society views women as weak and simple minded beings who cannot defend themselves and only a man can help them when in trouble. From the way Van Helsing talks about Mina, he believes that women are dumb and men are smart, and adept of doing more. Bravery among men and weakness among women was a gender role that is well cultivated in this book as can be seen in these instances of van Helsing. When a woman is intelligent van Helsing believed that her brain is man’s brain and is merited by a man. As stated by SAGE journals, “sexism not only legitimizes the societal status quo, but also actively enhances severity of gender hierarchy.” Bravery in men and weakness in women are gender roles that are outdated since modern woman can do the same tasks that can be carried out by a man given equal chances and resources.
Chastity and purity are some of the values that are valued in women. These women are usually considered as heroic, steadfast and strong in relationship. Pure and chaste women are favored in society. However, women who were not pure and chaste are taken to be unfit and outcasts in the society and usually do not take part in societal events. They are considered evil.
In Bram stocker’s “Dracula” a Victorian woman is a pure and chaste woman. Mina, a character in the novel, is the ideal embodiment of a Victorian woman. She is a loyal and intelligent woman as seen throughout the novel. When her boyfriend Jonathan is missing for months, she remains faithful and worries for his wellbeing. In her journal Mina openly states, “No news from Jonathan. I am getting quite uneasy about him….” (72) She represents a complete Victorian woman who depicts the traditional woman and traditional values in Victorian society. Lucy, another character in Dracula, signifies both the wanted and the unwanted traits of a Victorian woman. Lucy is innocent as mina. In fact, Lucy is mina’s best friend and from what we know, mina cannot have a friend who could stain her clean and blameless being. This shows that Lucy is a Victorian woman.
As it transpires later in the novel, we see that Lucy is somewhat sexual. she is somehow beautiful than mina. Later Dracula changes Lucy into an awful erotic vampire. Lucy is defined by the quote, “The sweetness was turned to…. heartless cruelty, and purity to voluptuous wantonness.” (187). Lucy depicts qualities of both a decent Victorian woman and a bad one. By giving Lucy two personalities, Bram wanted to show the ease, potential and the ability in which the real Victorian woman can be changed into impure, unchaste, wicked and voluptuous woman of Victorian society.
Women have been given narrow gender roles in the society. Characteristic gender roles of a woman are to be kind, nurturing, caring and motherly. Women are usually intimidated and their values suppressed. Bram stoker in his book uses characters like Mina and Lucy to express gender roles of the Victorian woman. Mina talks about women as having a motherly spirit that always rises above minor issues anytime a situation of motherly need arises. All through the novel, Mina cares for both Lucy and Jonathan in a motherly way. Van Helsing talks about Mina and labels her as, “One of the God’s women, fashioned by his own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist.” (193).
Submissiveness was another role a Victorian woman was supposed to observe. Lucy, in a letter, tells Mina, “woman ought to tell her husband everything – don’t you think so, dear? “(62) Mina challenges gender roles by her “New woman” characteristics. The novel designates her as having a “man’s brain”, and a “woman’s heart” (238). “New woman” were females who would stand up for their self-worth and would do more than what the mean society expected from them. Their sexuality was not a shame to them. Vampires in the novel represented a new woman of the Victorian era. “New woman” were leaders and can hold jobs and positions like those of men and this aided in breaking down gender barriers.
When a woman starts earning more than a man, there is a shift of roles and a confusion comes to where men will fit into the family dynamic. In reference to New York times, Alexandra Killewald, a Harvard sociology professor says, “We have held on to that idea that men are supposed to provide, but have loosened up on the idea that women have to be housemakers.” This show that still there are men who believe that women should stay at home and do the household chores only.
Emergence of the new feministic culture known as “New woman” and a nontraditional role has added pressure to men and has come swiftly that no one saw it. As evidenced from the New York times, during the last five decades, taking a case study of United States for example, gender roles have developed to be much more democratic. The number of women in college has increased drastically. Many women are earning more than their counterparts, and husbands are becoming more responsible back at home.
Finally, owing to the fact that the world is dynamic and changes are inevitable, women and men should be given equal chances. In my opinion, sexism and discriminative gender roles are outdated and should not be part of current world.
Bram, Stoker. Dracula. 1897. Project Gutenberg, 2013