Women’s Roles in Society
In the 21st century, women’s roles in society have grown. Women are now in leadership positions that has shown that as a society it has come a long way. From the beginning of time, women were always working in the house while the men would work to provide for the family. Most societies viewed women as “inferior” to men and some still believe that is true. The suffrage movement in the United States did not begin till the Civil War. Along with the suffrage movement, others began to form like religious, anti-slavery, and temperance movements. In these movements’ women played important roles. In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention was held to talk about women’s rights. Prior to the Civil War, the movement began to move along, but once the Civil War started it fell apart.
Once the war ended, the government added the 14th and 15th Amendment which made the society question the suffrage movement. After these amendments were added, a group was formed called the NWSA (The National Woman Suffrage Association). Their goal was to fight for suffrage all over the United States. At first, women wanted to have equal rights and have the same responsibilities, but they realized it was going nowhere. So, the women decided to argue that they should have the right to vote because they were different from men. In the year 1910, suffrage was given to women in states in the West. Many southern and eastern states did not give women suffrage. The suffrage movement for women had slowed down again in 1914 due to the First World War.
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Although this weakened the movement, the war had helped women get into leadership positions while men were being drafted. This showed the society that a woman would be able to do a man’s job. Two years after the war had ended, the 19th Amendment was approved to be a part of the Constitution. These women paved the way for the other generations of women, but the fight was not over. Women still needed to prove their power. Women stepped into territories they were never able to before. Amelia Earhart for example was the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman in the Supreme Court. Sally Ride became the first American female to go to space. These were just a few of many that paved the way for women in America and in the world.
Not only did women gain power in society, but in relationships as well. Females were often pushed around by men before women gained their power in society. Women were sometimes used as “arm candy” like Janie was by Jody Starks in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Women now had the power to use their female charms to manipulate men. The female charms could be used for harm or good. This theme began apparent in many novels starting from the late 1800’s before women had rights.
Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, characterized Wilhelmina “Mina” Harker as feminine, but also having a “man’s brain”. In the novel, Mina said to Lucy after they ate a lot at tea time that “they would have shocked the ‘New Woman’ with appetites”. The “New Women” was about having feminist awareness. This term was used to describe the women who were pushing the limits of the social norms being forced on women. In the end of Dracula, Mina was the one who made catching Dracula possible. Without her, the men would have never been able to end his life. Stoker made Mina a crucial part in the storyline. He displayed how important women are in his novel.
In Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, he displayed a female who inadvertently manipulated a man’s decision. Her name was Alejandra Rocha. In the novel, John Grady was in love with Alejandra and her beauty captivated him. He lusted over her but could not have her. This gave her power over him and his decisions. Although she had this power, she was unaware of it. She would unintentionally influence his decision. McCarthy has shown how a woman could manipulate a man’s decision intentionally or unintentionally.
Along with these novels, many others were written illustrating the woman’s power over a man’s emotions and using it against him. The books being spoken about take place between the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s before or during the growth of the women’s movement. They represent the unpopular opinion that women have power over men.
The theme of women’s power over men is prevalent in many romantic novels. In some novels, the author displays the power of a female’s captivating appearance and how it is used for their advantage. They can also negatively influence a man or partner’s decision by clouding their judgment on reality. Through an analysis on Dracula, Ethan Frome, The Great Gatsby, and Rebecca, the novels demonstrate the negative side of a woman’s power by slowly integrating themselves in a man’s thoughts and taking over them.
In Dracula by Bram Stoker, Count Dracula lusted women and would suck their blood to satisfy his desire. The victims would want him to continue sucking their blood which showed his power over his victim. Although this was not the case for “sisters”, they lusted over all the men that visited Dracula’s castle.
Once Jonathan Harker arrives at the castle, he is warned by Dracula to never sleep in another room other than his own. One evening Harker explores the castle and enters the only room unlocked. He falls into a light slumber but sees three women standing in the in front of the window he is seated next to. The women proceed to inch closer to him and begin to seduce Jonathan. A strong desire comes over Harker wanting to kiss their lips. One of the “sisters” begins to hiss his neck and feels her teeth lightly scraping against his skin. As she is doing this, Count Dracula grabs her neck and pulls her away.
This instance describes a women’s power of seducing a male. Just the sight of these three women brings a burning desire out of Jonathan to kiss them. The influence of a women’s appearance could be the one thing to bring a man to his demise. Their seductive activity blured Jonathan’s perception of the matter at hand. If Dracula had not shown up Jonathan Harker would have perished.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton follows a forbidden love which almost drove Ethan to his death. Ethan Frome is married to Zenobia, Zeena, who is sick, unattractive, and ill-tempered woman. Zeena takes in her cousin Mattie, who was left by her relatives, to be her servant in change for shelter and food. During the time that Mattie began living with the Fromes, Ethan begins to fall in love with her. Mattie’s personality is the opposite of Zeena’s as she is a young, beautiful, happy, and healthy woman. This draws in Ethan and his lust for her begins to grow the more time they spend time with each other.
Mattie begins to reciprocate Ethan’s feelings towards her. Although Ethan is deeply in love with her, he does not have the strength to leave his wife for Mattie. The object of Ethan’s affection shifts from Zeena to Mattie. Mattie’s manipulative power over Ethan Frome escalates throughout the development of their forbidden love. Her insecurities begin to appear when she feels as Zeena’s animosity towards her. In the end, her senses are right and Zeena wants her out of the Frome residence. Mattie faces a difficult position because she is unskilled and has no way of getting a job or money.
As Ethan is leaving Mattie at the train station, she expresses her love for him and claims she could not live without him. This declaration from Mattie completely blurs his judgment and distracts him from reality. She convinces Ethan to kill himself with her by crashing into a tree going down the hill on the sled. The suicide caused them to critically injure themselves. The dangerous attempt left Mattie paralyzed and Ethan was left crippled with an arm swaying by his side.
Mattie’s ability to convince Ethan to kill himself is truly frightening. He attempted to end his life and leave everything behind because Mattie had convinced him to. She had power over his emotions and his life and she was the one responsible for his fate. His feelings towards her guided his decisions not his mind. The decision of suicide in his mind was a way of justifying his love and relationship with her.
The Great Gatsby:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald follows Jay Gatsby trying to win Daisy Buchanan back. Daisy is a beautiful woman from Kentucky whose heart was won by Jay Gatsby. Once Gatsby left for war, Daisy married a man named Tom Buchanan although she promised Jay she would wait. After the war, Gatsby made her the object of his affection and did anything to get her back.
Jay Gatsby begins to follow a gangster, Meyer Wolfsheim, to be able to support Daisy. He begins to partake in bootlegging and in other various criminal operations that could lead him to his demise, but nothing will stop him from being with her. The faint and unreal memories that Daisy remembers of Gatsby does not compare to those that Gatsby remembers. In the book it says, “We haven’t met for many years,” said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be. “Five years next November.” (5.69-70). Jay is so captivated by Daisy that he remembers the month they went their separate ways.
Daisy and Jay lusted each other not loved each other as they claimed. They wanted each other, but for physical needs. She did not love Jay or her husband, Tom Buchanan. The love in the Great Gatsby was ingenuine. The love was filled with deceit, lying, and affairs. Jay Gatsby created a fantasy in his head of Daisy. The power of manipulation she had over Jay was extensive. Daisy took notice of this and decided to use it to her advantage. Her seductiveness and beauty influenced Jay’s decisions. Jay would always put Daisy first before anything else. His decisions were dominated by Daisy which led him to his downfall in the end of the story. Undeterred by the rejection from Daisy, Gatsby did not want to believe that it was absolute and thought he could still get her back because he had invested so much into this quest. His obsession escalated to taking blame for the death of Myrtle Wilson and did not hesitate.
The Great Gatsby displays an extreme extent of the power of female manipulation. Just the appearance of a woman could lead a man to break the law and even to sacrifice his life for the object of his affection and his drive-in life. Daisy essentially became the reason for his existence. All of his goals and decisions were guided by his love for Daisy and Gatsby idolizes her as the only one for him. The power of manipulation Daisy had over Gatsby was used to save herself. Gatsby’s love for Daisy was one-sided and she knew this. Daisy is a prime example of a woman’s ability to take control over and use men for their benefit.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is an interesting take on a romance novel in which the narrator has no name. Maxim de Winter and the narrator fall in love and begin living in Manderley where his late wife, Rebecca, once lived in. Once the narrator began living in the house, the power of Rebecca became strong and started dominating her thoughts. Rebecca was able to manipulate the narrator beyond the grave. The narrator was always compared to Rebecca making her feel threatened.
In chapter 6, the narrator found Maxim’s book of poems that Rebecca dedicated to him. She read it again and cut out the dedication, teared it up, and burned it. In chapter 7, Maxim and the narrator were relaxing in the library. Maxim was reading the newspaper and she was in a chair with the dog around. She realized that this had happened before with Rebecca. The narrator cannot stop thinking about Rebecca.
Rebecca has control over the narrator’s mind. Rebecca makes the narrator feel inferior. Mrs. Danvers adds to this by always comparing the narrator to Rebecca. When Mrs. Danvers asked the narrator to look over the menu she mentioned that Rebecca always chose the sauces.
The narrator is intimidated by Rebecca throughout the whole novel. She wants Maxim to be hers and she doesn’t want Rebecca to be in the picture. In chapter 5, Maxim tells the narrator to call him “Maxim”. She is happy about that, but she wants something more. She remembered that the book under her pillow, that belonged to Rebecca, was a gift for Maxim or “Max” as Rebecca called him. This leads her to think of all the notes Rebecca may have written to “Max”. This makes her jealous and makes her want to replace or even be Rebecca.
In the ending chapters of the novel, divers discover Rebecca’s sailboat and find her body on the ship. This causes Maxim to finally tell the narrator the truth about what had happened to Rebecca. He admits to murdering her because of multiple affairs she had. This led to Maxim asking for a divorce, but Rebecca refused which provoked Maxim. He grabbed a gun, shot her, dragged her body onto the sailboat and then sank it in the depths of the ocean, or so he thought. This brings joy to the narrator because the power of Rebecca was no longer the object of her thoughts because she knew that Maxim did not love Rebecca anymore. This was the assurance she needed to hear to be sane.
Rebecca’s power was over the narrator and Maxim and it affected the narrator and Maxim’s relationship. The narrator made Maxim question the love she had for him and affected him mentally. Until Maxim revealed the truth to the narrator, she was not putting everything into the relationship because she was intimidated by Rebecca and feared that he still loved her.
Rebecca also had power over Maxim because the actions of adultery she committed provoked Maxim to murder her. Once her body was found on the sailboat, it exposed him and made him lose his reputation which was equal to his power. As the boat was searched, they found holes that were drilled into the bottom of the sailboat, but the officer said it was a suicide not a murder. But Rebecca’s cousin Favell knew she did not kill herself and blamed Maxim. He thought that Rebecca was pregnant, but she was dying because of the cancer found in her body. She lied to Maxim about being pregnant which was Maxim’s main reason of killing her. Maxim gets away with murder, but Rebecca took away one of the most important things in Maxim’s life, the Manderley. As they approached the Manderley, Maxim and the narrator saw it up in flames.
Rebecca had power over Maxim and the narrator from the grave and affected the relationship they had. But Rebecca’s beauty allowed her to enter into affairs and it effected Maxim’s reputation and effected his power. Her appearance and actions took over Maxim’s thoughts which pushed him to the edge and it clouded his judgment and decided to kill her.
All in all, these books clearly prove the female’s ability to cloud a man or partner’s judgment with their appearance and seduction in a negative way. In all of these examples the woman has negatively affected and has been the driving force of the man’s decisions and has cause the demise of their partner. As the society has grown and accepted the power females, women have been rising and using their power for positive or negative reasons. Women have the power to do anything their heart desires. Their appearance and seductive abilities could be a way for them to use men for their benefit. Women in the 21st century have been paving the way for generations to come and are starting to change the way the society views women.