Misogyny in American Culture – Examples
Misogyny is deeply embedded in American culture, as the value seems to lie on the man, and not the woman. A marriage, housewife, and mother are instilled into women as what they should aspire to have and to be. The patriarch obtains male dominance and power over his spouse, often uncaring of her emotions or wellbeing. Any woman who deviates from her ‘duties’, immediately receives criticism.
This tale, which has been told throughout history over and over again, is asserted into “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin and “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams. “The Awakening” shares the story of Edna Pontellier, a woman who is atypical from her community because of her lack of certain feminine and motherly qualities and abundance of confidence and independence. With her controlling husband, Leonce Pontellier and her hypercritical friend, Madame Ratignolle, she feels the need to escape from her life and discover true happiness and liberation.
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“A Streetcar Named Desire” initially paints Blanche Dubois as a uppity, prosperous individual, while in reality she is a insecure and suffering. When she visits her sister and brother in law, Stella and Stanley Kowalski, she notices their dysfunctional relationship, yet still feels inadequate because she is a widow. Stanley and Stella berate Blanche for her anomalous situation, stripping her of any opportunity of a fresh start. Both novels execute the notion that fighting the agents of the patriarchy will ultimately result in destruction and insanity.
Societal pressures and established gender expectations, such as domesticity, shine a light on Edna and Blanche’s perceived unacceptable behavior. Specifically, Stanley and Stella’s seemingly ideal relationship not only causes Blanche extreme discomfort, but also is a constant reminder of her abnormal situation. Stanley, the breadwinner, takes great pride and power in his role, claiming himself as “the king” and demanding “don’t forget it!” to the sisters. As the cultural norms would predict, Stanley has total control over finances and “doesn’t give [Stella] a regular allowance”. Stanley’s rule of the house falls in line with that of a stereotypical household during the time period. Blanche, however, questions this behavior, and tells Stella that she “won’t have [her] cleaning up for him!”, displaying her unusual, yet strong opinion on the deeply patriarchal marriage her sister belongs to. Stella is indignant in her response, asking Blanche “Then who’s going to do it? Are you?”.
Stella is a strong believer and follower in society’s traditions, and continues to self oppress by not seeking change. Blanche continuously pretends to be someone she is not because of society’s pressures. She withholds this identity of naivete by using her cleanliness and white attire, both associated with purity. Blanche is quick to deny any murmur of her lack of innocence, swearing that “The Hotel Flamingo is not the sort of establishment [she] would dare to be seen in” despite Stanley hearing a firsthand account. Overall society continuously reminds Blanche of how unacceptable her true intentions are, and causes her to conceal her genuine character.
On the other hand, Leonce is consumed by social conventions and others’ perception of himself and his family, which is stifling for Edna. Her seeking independence and defying the acceptable actions for a woman and a wife, resulted in Leonce’s disappointment in her lack of “suitable” behavior. She is constantly reminded of the responsibility of fitting in that comes with being a Pontellier, and is told by Leonce that they “got to observe les convenances if [they] ever expect to get on and keep up with the procession.” Leonce ultimately cares more about others’ judgments and opinions more than Edna’s own contentment. Whenever Edna attempts to act for her best interest and happiness, she is met with incessant disapproval and that causes inner despondency and shame.
Edna is a self-described “devilishly wicked specimen” and so when conversing with other women, such as Madame Ratignolle, she does not think they are “talking the same language”. Her aspirations and values intensely stray from the typical women she associates with, as she does not understand their nurturing and devoted qualities they apply to their family. She wants more for herself than what society is offered, and is baffled with the “woman who would give her life for her children”, thinking they “could do no more than that”. This difference in opinion fosters the Edna will never be someone who can conform to her community, and that is simply not accepted by her husband and so called friends, therefore she feels like an outsider to her own life. Both women are isolated and struggling because of society which rejects their emotions and desires and regards them as outcasts.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley utilizes his primitive, animalistic nature in pair with his physical attractiveness and strength to maintain dominance over both Blanche and Stella. His “booming” and powerful voice is used to make Blanche “terrified” and disrupt the peace of the home. When he “charges after Stella”, the sisters are increasingly alarmed. This abuse is his way of asserting dominance. He keeps control of the house by instilling fear into Blanche and Stella through his violence. He reinforces his superiority by manipulating Stella’s intense sexual desire and unwavering loyalty. Trying to drive Blanche out of his home, Stanley tempts Stella reminding her how “sweet” it will be “when [they] can make the noise in the night like[they] used to.
Despite his aggression, Stella remains devoted and Stanley uses it to his advantage. Not only does Stanley attempt to isolate Blanche and separate her from Stella through sexual influences, but he also uses his strong appearance to pronounce himself commanding over Blanche. In his initial encounter with Blanche, Stanley “removes his shirt” showing the leverage he has over her. It comes full circle however, because Stanley utilizes what is deemed unacceptable about Blanche, her sexual drive, against her. Stanley rapes Blanche as one last winning moment – Stanley is victorious in defeating Blanche’s spirit and causing her to feel her physical and mental weaknesses and inferiority in bounds. Stanley turns to authoritative actions to keep his way, not caring who it harms in the process.
Likewise, in The Awakening, Leonce Pontellier expects Edna to act as an ideal wife and mother in return for his wealth and popularity. He looks at his wife like she is “a valuable piece of property”. Leonce additionally attempts to dictate Edna’s actions, stating that he “can’t permit her” to stay outside and that she “must come in the house instantly”. This perceived commanding ownership further perpetuates the patriarchal and misogynistic aspects of the relationship, causing Edna to seek freedom from the repression.
Leonce’s beliefs about conventional gender roles are deeply rooted, and he feels Edna has “failed in her duty toward their children” by not executing customary maternal behavior. He puts Edna down for failing to succumb to society’s standards by voicing his complaints with “subsequent regret” and “ample atonement”. Although these assertive experiences of his “impatience and irritation” “were not uncommon” to Edna, they continuously bring her pain and discomfort, causing her to feel as though she can never be her true self.
The restraining and oppressive environments and individuals surrounding Edna and Blanche force them to turn to unlikable coping mechanisms. Blanche finds comfort in her sexual pursuits and alcohol, while Edna turns to a romantic affair and increasing solitude. The males and oppressed women proceed to denounce their actions, and cause Blanche and Edna to feel rejected and undesirable. Ultimately, they are driven to insanity – Blanche ends up in a psychiatric ward and Edna commits suicide – despite trying to rise above the patriarchy and acting true to themselves.
These novels are emphasizing the impossibility of genuineness and female independence in a male dominated world. They convey society’s tendency to favor a uniform society, and show the mistreatment of individuals who transgress the unwritten societal laws. Conformity is favored over individual’s personal state. Society would rather remove the outcasts than recognize its issues and create productive and beneficial change.