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“Feminism is the most revolutionary idea there has ever been. Equality for women demands a change in the human psyche more profound than anything Marx dreamed of. [sic] It means valuing parenthood as much as we value banking,” Polly Toynbee. The impact of feminism on today’s society is amazing, because more women are working outside the home than ever before. Women have more opportunities to go to college, and to better jobs than any other time in history. Yet, the most disturbing fact is that women are still stereotyped. This is a fact that women have been trying to shake for centuries. They have been known as shrews, seductresses, and have been seen as very vain. The most amazing fact is that these stereotypes are not new, in fact, they have been held for centuries. The very origins of these thoughts and feelings about women have come out of Renascence England during the pamphlet wars. Drawing on figures from the Bible, Greek, and Roman texts authors would make their arguments either for or against women.
The harmful effects of these stereotypes have been felt all over the world. Women in mass media usually fall into one of these categories, because it is easy to place women in a roll that people are used to thinking about. These women are also shown in jobs that are very traditional, and if they are not in these traditional jobs then they are seen as cold or lonely. Yet the average-working women does not fit into this mold.
The first aspect of comparison between the Renaissance stereotype and the modern one is the shrew. In England during the late fourteenth and early fifthteenth centuries women who had fiery tempers were considered the type of women that an upstanding man could not marry. The most famous example of this would be Katherine in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. In this play Katherine, the main character, had a mean temper and could not find a man to marry. Then a man named Petruchio came to her father’s kingdom and asked for her hand in marriage. In the end of the play, Petruchio’s behavior molds her into a kind wife thus changing her reputation. (web page)
Although Katherine was seen as a shrew and was able to change her ways, acting the way that she did in that time period was a dangerous practice. Women were taught to hold their tongues and not express any anger. (Half Humankind) If women went against this ideal, then they were difficult to marry. Being difficult to marry in this time was one of the biggest social sins that a woman could possibly make; her father or brother saw her as property. Women’s dowries were a source of income that could not be matched under any standard (web page). If a woman could not be married then she was seen as useless.
The modern translation of a shrew is the easiest to see in mass media. Shrews in today’s society are just as dangerous as they were in the Renascence. Women who have tempers are seen in a horrible light. They are talked about at water coolers and gossiped about on cigarette breaks. These women are seen as cold and uncaring for anyone. The best modern example would be Amanda from the television show “Melrose Place”. She is an executive that speaks her mind to whom ever crosses her. Most see her as a bitch, which can not control her temper. She has had a string of marriages that have not
lasted for more than a season. Yet, this is a woman that American’s love to hate. She has the ability to get her point across and be direct. Often she is compared to powerful men from other television shows. She is one of the most recognizable characters in the mass media today. Her character is paving a path that no other has paved before. Young girls now want to become businesswomen just like her.
Another example of a shrew in literary contexts would be Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. Some criticisms of her character is that she is cold and uncaring, yet she has the ability to fall in love with John Gault. This behavior makes her look head strong, but she has the ability to turn her father’s business around. She goes by her own feelings and not the opinions of others. When other women see her as a threat she is doing what her heart tells her to do. She is not the typical literary women who does cooking and cleaning. Dagny runs her own business and tells other people what to do. In one scene of the book she is at a dinner party that one of her business associates is having. One women asks her if she will ever marry and Dagny just laughs. She is married to her job, and is truly happy with what she does. Dagny is the type of women that most modern businesswomen model themselves after. She is ruthless and always gets what she wants, yet she is out side her norm because some feel that she is doing a man’s job. (Rand)
The next and most widely seen example of how women have been viewed through out history is the vision of the seductress. This is a stigma that women have had to battle even in Biblical times. Sex, to some, equals power and in this instance women hold all the cards. In the Renascence women who used their sexuality outside of the confines of a marriage were looked down upon. Men were expected to marry virgins. If a
women was not a virgin she was in great danger of being killed or kicked out of her family. In this era virtue was the only possession of value that a women had. It was
bought and sold like any other commodity.
The issue of children was of the most importance. Women were expected to produce a male heir. If she did not have the ability to do this then her dowry could be returned and she could be legally divorced. Bloodlines were the most cherished in this period. If a woman had had sexual relations with more than one partner then the bloodline could be compromised because of lack of availability of contraception. (web page)
A good example of a seductress during this period would be Alison in The Miller’s Tale. She an improper relationship with a student staying at her home. In many discussions of this tale Alison is seen as a women of low morals. She has the ability to turn situations to her benefit. Even though she has a sexual relationship outside of her marriage she has the ability to come out on top. She uses her sexuality in a way that no other woman in her time has used it before. This is a frightening situation for many people that have not seen this before. She has the power of manipulation that can often frighten and offend men. This is why so many people look down upon a woman who has so many sexual partners. They are frightened of what they outcome may be, and who may have the most power in a relationship.
Modern examples of this are very prevalent in today’s society. Women who use sexuality to get a head are looked down upon. The stereotype for this is as such: if women have a sexual relationship with someone then they are sluts, if they do not then
they are prudes. It is a lose, lose situation for most everyone. Yet if men have a sexual relationship with a women then they are seen in a favorable light. The sexual aspect of women goes often ignored. Women are expected to be sexually satisfied no matter what happens to them. Rape victims are often seen as having asked to have that terrible crime committed to them. They are often accused of wearing sexually appealing clothes and having tempted a man into the situation.
The media perpetuates this stereotype by showing women as being sexually hungry all the time. Women in music videos are often put into tight sexy clothes and are seen as objects, not as the people that they really are. With the advent of HIV and AIDS many people have been looking at their own lives to come up with a solution to this problem. Now it is becoming increasingly that both sexes are looked upon badly because of sexual exploits, not just women.
Finally the last major stereotype of women is that they are vain creatures (Half Humankind). Women are seen in the Renaissance era as holding beauty up to a high standard. This is talked about at length because if women are seen as vain she is considered as having committed a major sin. Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins, thus making it one of the most major offences that a woman could make. This sin consists of concentrating too much on appearances. If a woman must have all the up to date fashions and spend too much time on her makeup then she is branded as vain.
The best example in this era would be Queen Elizabeth. She was looked upon as being one of the most vain persons in her time. She often wore heavy lead based makeup and had her hair done in the latest fashions. (web page) People in Renaissance England
looked down upon this because most could not afford the lifestyle of this queen, because most were poor or working class. It was difficult to obtain what she had and most resented her for what she displayed.
Another example of this during the Renaissance period would be the upper class women. With their dress and the way the lower class was treated it was easy to tell the difference between who was part of what class. Lower class women of this period resented this because of the attitude towards them that they were not of equal value or demeanor. The lack of respect made wearing certain types of clothes what separated a lower class woman from ever achieving a higher class standing. In fact it was a crime for lower class women to wear the clothes of a higher-class women. This crime was punishable by public humiliation.
Modern examples of this are extremely easy to find. All one has to do is open a magazine or turn on a television. Women are barraged with what to wear, what make up is in fashion and how to act. Vanity now has become a very marketable industry. Women are told to pluck out hair, tan their bodies, and loose massive amounts of weight for the feeling of looking good. The industry in it of itself is corrupt because the average weight of a super-model is only a very thin one hundred and twenty-five pounds, thus rounding out at about a size six. And the average woman in America is one hundred and sixty-five and a size thirteen. (women’s health) Now with teen girls becoming more and more exposed to these messages we are seeing a higher teen suicide rate, and more mental illness. Girls are taught that thin is in and are not eating. Kate Moss has become what girls model their looks after, and it is showing in young girls self esteem.
To look at all three of these stereotypes separately is normally what one does, yet women often feel the impact of the three working together. When women walk out their doors to go to work in the morning someone immediately stereotypes her. It is the most difficult when she tries to go on a date for the first time. Overcoming these stereotypes has not been easy, yet it is happening. Women have stopped putting up with the situation of having to put on certain types of clothes or putting on makeup to be loved. Most women today are seeing themselves through different eyes. It started with the women’s movement in the 1960’s. This is when women started burning their bras and demanding equality. Now more women than ever are seeing themselves are more than just their sex, but as capable people able to do any job just as good as, if not better than a man does.
This beginning of transcendence of stereotypes has spawned such events as the Lilith Fair, an all women’s music festival. The air of this show is one where women can be themselves such as mother, daughter, and lover. These three ideals are able to live together in harmony for the duration of the concert. The women bands and the booths that are set up for women’s health are places where females are able to feel safe. As one of the top grossing concerts of the past two summers its feelings keep growing and growing.
Women’s health issues are now more and more in the spotlight. November, being women’s health month, is a time where women are able to go to a doctor and seek out advice that they normally would not. Breast cancer screenings and annual Pap smears are something that women are now able to talk openly about.
Since the fourteenth century have come a long way. They have fought many battles and come out as a different type of people. Now a mother can be proud to have a
daughter, and daughters can now be proud to be women. Yet, women have so far to go. Equal pay for equal work is the next building block in this road. Women are paid thirty-two cents on the dollar less than men are. This is a staggering figure, but people are doing something about this. In Congress there has been a bill put to order for this subject. It may soon become illegal to pay women less for the same work.
In conclusion, women throughout all of history have had to fight through stereotypes, and learning where they came from is the first step in defeating them. We must learn from our history or we will repeat it. Women must stand up for what they have gone through and say that they will not go through it again. The next generation of daughters is now going through grade school and will soon hit high school. These girls will take on a history like no other generation has ever felt. It is the jobs of all the women before them to show them just how far that they have come