I just finished reading the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. What made my experience of this text unique was that we read it by focusing on different critical approaches. One of the approaches which is strongly tied to Hamlet is the feminist approach. There are unique, dynamic and mysterious female characters that, despite having a limited number of lines, play a critical role in Shakespeare's Hamlet. By analyzing Ophelia and Gertrude, which I continue to do even after reading the play, I've really become enticed by the feminist approach.
One specific question that feminist critics ask that really sticks out to me is: How is the work "gendered"? That is, how does it seem to define femininity and masculinity? Which, of course, got me thinking about gender roles in my own life and how they shape identity.
Society, in many ways, is so deeply embedded with norms that it can be difficult to realize how they permeate our identity. When first studying the ideas of feminist critics I thought that they were hardly applicable in my life. I thought that, for the most part, I have been in complete control of my growth and identity. If I wanted to do something "manly" I would have no problem doing so. However, taking a closer look, there is practically no way to be immune to gender stereotypes and expectations without some sort of backlash.
I think one way that the differences between genders is clear today would be in terms of relationships. When dating, guys are often expected to pay, make decisions, and take control. They are supposed to "wear the pants", a common phrase used to express whomever is more masculine in a relationship.
By the same token, females are expected to be more submissive and obedient. When the roles are switched and the male seems to be the more obedient and submissive one he is deemed "whipped".
Our society is still very gendered in the respect that a stay-at-home parent is often expected to be the mother, whereas the primary source of income is "supposed" to be the man.
Then, of course, in terms of homosexual relationships gender plays quite a different role. I can't quite speak to that though.
I wouldn't consider myself very girly or manly, I just see myself as me. I don't doubt that gender roles and expectations, however, have shaped my understanding of Self. Sometimes I enjoy dressing up and getting all dolled-up as many females are expected to do. However, I typically prefer just chilling in sweats not caring at all about my appearance. I certainly do not enjoy or partake in cooking or cleaning of any sort. Which, by many standards, is perhaps my only purpose outside of childbearing.
I think that, in some ways, it is easier to be a woman and deal with gender expectations. If I choose to be sensitive and cry, as I did yesterday in Spanish class while watching Voces Inocentes, I am free to do so. If I choose to play sports or pig out with friends I may be considered "one of the guys" but that's about it. For boys, however, when they choose to behave in a more "feminine" manner, preferring to shop rather than play video games, their sexuality often comes into question. Personally, I think that occurs more often when boys act "girly" rather than when girls act "manly".
Have you felt that common ideas of femininity or masculinity have shaped your decision making? How does the feminist criticism play out in your life or in the texts you read?
Rather than a quote for this post, here is a heuristic activity we did in my psychology class. Read it and think about it before scrolling down for the answer.
A father and his son are driving on a highway and get into a terrible accident. The father dies, and the boy is rushed to the hospital with major injuries. When he gets to the hospital, a surgeon rushes in to help the boy but stops and exclaims, “I can’t operate on this boy—he’s my son!”
How can this be?
Some girls and I after our Honors Gym 60 minute run.
If people have a hard time answering, they may be making a false assumption. The surgeon is the boy’s mother.