Gender Inequality in Life and Literature

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Updated: Feb 20, 2021
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“The world of literature is full of works that make gender inequality stand out. The authors often depict women as non-significant characters or make female characters reflect the commonly spread stereotypes. The book Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is an appropriate example of gender inequality, which penetrates the story and makes it difficult to read in the era of fighting for equality of rights. Regardless of the fact that the author tried to develop stories that contain characteristics of the current social development, the book contains an excessive amount of examples when women face unfair treatment and attitude. Inequality and stigma penetrate the book and prove that the author intentionally created the book that meets commonly spread principles of the male dominated society. Objectification of women, the lack of female names emphasizing gender inequality, gender related stereotypes and marginalization of women prove that the book contradicts to the objectives that feminists are fighting for.

Objectification of women penetrates the storyline of the book in various situations that emphasize female sexuality rather than perceive women as a whole person. At the beginning, the book introduces the dream of the narrator who imagines a naked black woman sold to another man. The reference emphasizes that men can use women like a property. In another aspect of discussing sexuality of women and its influence on men, the book reflects the effect the woman at battle royal makes at men preparing to fight. This part of the novel shows that women are powerful when they are sexually appealing and attractive. Hence, the author makes the reader wonder whether sexuality is the only determinant of female power (Lavender 147). In the same way, the author described women as sexual human beings who could achieve anything they wanted by seducing men. In this way, the book reflects the commonly spread stereotype that women cannot achieve anything without using men (Kidd 50). Moreover, the narrator becomes the victim of female sexuality when the woman almost hypnotizes the narrator and makes him join the Brotherhood. The novel shows that sexuality of women makes men willing to do anything under the influence of charms.

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Another element of stereotypes associated with female sexuality is the attitude that men develop to women as objects of sexual desire. The novel shows that men are powerful enough to pay women for revealing their naked bodies for money. In addition, men consider sexually attractive women a taboo because they do not fit for marriage and cannot build a happy family (Lavender 148). However, men feel powerless and cannot help but squirm in anguish when women take off their clothes. An inaccessible and unaffordable American dream is the major way the author depicts sexual women who are ready to take off their clothes for money that men pay them. In this way, the author emphasized male superiority and domination in the society where welfare of women depends on their sexuality and willingness of men to pay for it.

Irrelevant of the numerous attempts of the author to deconstruct racial inequality in the novel, he fails to pay attention to gender inequality that continues evolving from the first pages of the novel. Elimination of female characters is one of the patterns that the author followed from the beginning of the book by making women as invisible as the main character (Elkins 67). The author intentionally avoided mentioning names of women to emphasize their non-significance to the storyline reflecting experience of the narrator. The lack of identity is the main problem of the novel that does not consider the roles of women in the narrator’s journey important (Armengol 36). Nevertheless, women play significant role in shaping experience of the main character. The author reflected the realistic attitude to women men develop in the real world. One of the major issues that feminists are trying to fight is the problem of denial of women’s contribution to success of men. The same minimization of women’s contribution to the man’s progress occurs in the novel.

Dehumanization of females is obvious in the book regardless of the contributions that women make to the development of the main character. In the novel, women are wise enough to emphasize threats and risks that the main character might face. Manipulation of others, increased responsibility for personal actions, and limitless freedom are the main aspects of the narrator’s invisibility that female characters try to help the main character to understand. Women are trying to ensure that the main character avoids the unfortunate events and problems (Elkins 69). Nevertheless, the novel does not make assumptions of women significant. The narrator would rather pay attention to female body than recognize important assumptions proving that he should be careful in personal behavior.

Double invisibility is the phenomenon that Ellison uses to characterize black female characters. The plot of the novel includes various secondary characters that the author considered non-significant to the storyline and assigned them stereotypical roles from mother to whore and seductress (Elkins 71). In the majority of cases, female characters play either maternal roles or become objects of sexual desire. However, Ellison decided to combine both racial and gender stereotypes in the same book. The storyline marks white women as highly sexual characters while black women are not sexually attractive who fit only maternal image. Mary Rombo is the most vivid example of stereotypes and gender related stigma that the author mentioned in the novel to reveal attitude of men to black women. When the narrator meets Mary, he sees her as a large woman with a motherly disposition. The novel depicts Mary as a caring woman willing to help the narrator in a difficult situation when he tries to find his own self. In this way, a black female woman can perform only a motherly role according to the narrator’s opinion.
In contrast to perception of black women, the storyline reflects the meeting of the narrator with Sybil, a white woman. Ellison intentionally made white and black women different in nature to emphasize racial stereotypes (Jing and Ya-nan 133). The woman has outstanding needs in sexual desire as long as she perceives herself as a nymphomaniac. Sybil asks the narrator to spend a night with her and fulfill her fantasy. In this way, the novel mentions Sybil as a seductress and a whore who does not have any intention to make a family and cannot be appealing for men looking for a wife. In addition, Sybil does not want anything else from the narrator but fulfillment of her fantasies. The contrasting depictions of black and white women reveal intentions of the author to stigmatize appearance of women and the roles they play in their daily routine.

Marginalization of women is another issue in the novel, which becomes clear from the role that Mary Rombo plays in the narrator’s life. Underestimation of Mary’s contributions to well-being and safety of the main character is colossal. The author reflected Mary as a caring woman fitting the commonly spread motherly stereotypes. The woman claims that she would take care of the narrator the way she had taken care of others before (Ellison 195). Regardless of the woman’s role in the novel, the author made her contributions non-significant. Mary became the only person who helped the narrator to become a responsible man by sharing her wisdom, knowledge, and life experience. Unfortunately, the narrator does not pay much attention to the role that Mary plays in his life. Nevertheless, it is obvious that agency and power of the black female are outstanding in the novel.

Marginalization of women in the novel also takes the form of inconsistency of roles that women could play. The author tried to reflect social stigma associated with roles that women play in the society according to perceptions of men (Yu-kuo 34). In this way, men are expected to treat women as objects of care and objects of sexual desire. In addition the author emphasizes that white women consider men as objects who can satisfy their sexual fantasies. The dialogue between the narrator and Sybil proves that she is an expert in seducing men. According to Ellison,
Lie back and let me look at you against that white sheet. You’re beautiful, I’ve always thought so. Like warm ebony against pure snow — see what you do, you make me talk poetry (403).
The book holds the message that white women do not need anything else but satisfaction of their sexual needs. In contrast, black women are made to take care of families. The author successfully reflects the idea that women cannot perform different roles at the same time.

In summation, evaluation of the book from the feminist standpoint helped to collect evidence that women are underestimated and treated as property. The book includes various examples of objectification, lack of identity of female characters, stereotypes associated with the roles that women play, and serious marginalization issues. The author made the narrator invisible by avoiding to unveil his name and identity. In the same manner, the author made women trivial in the storyline that reflects interaction of the main character with women who influenced his destiny. Sexuality of women is one of the main criteria that the author used to characterize women and define their self-worth. While black women are perfect wives who can take care of families, white women are only objects of sexual desire. The book reflects the reality of gender inequality and racial issues that the society still cannot address properly.”

Gender Inequality in Life and Literature essay

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Gender Inequality in Life and Literature. (2021, Feb 20). Retrieved from