Saturday, March 5, 2011


Recommended listening: Anthem by Superchick

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.

Today's Society
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.

My Life
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.


  1. Great post! I liked the little psychology activity at the end, but it's hard to believe people actually get confused by it.

  2. Great post Jamie! I definitely misread the last question in the thought experiment at the bottom. I definitely was thinking you were asking why couldn't the doctor operate, which is based on some medical laws/practices that say you can't treat close family, or something like that.

    I particularly enjoyed your analysis of male/female double standards on being too feminine/masculine. I agree that it seems more acceptable for girls to be masculine than it is for guys to be feminine.

    Anyway, great post!

  3. Jamie, I'm so glad you wrote this blog post. I was delighted that you chose this exercise-- my mom and I used to discuss the very same one when I was little, and I would always quiz her dates on it before approving them. I agree with you to a degree that males can sometimes suffer more by breaking outside of the gender box, as their sexuality is called into question and they are then cast as "other" and not as much of a person as other males. Completely unfair! We absolutely need to concentrate more on helping society let go of these oppressive practices. However, I think female oppression is much deeper than how you describe it. Being considered "one of the guys" isn't just it. Societies' biases toward women can force them to develop many disorders and lose their true selves. The best example I can think of is a quote from an adolescent girl in Dr. Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia: "I'm a perfectly good carrot that everyone is trying to turn into a rose. As a carrot, I have good color and a nice leafy top. When I'm carved into a rose, I turn brown and wither."

  4. Nice post, Jamie! I really liked your point about how it's much more acceptable for girls to act "manly" than it is for men to act "girly". From what I've read, this is because in our (somewhat patriarchal) society, masculinity is prized and considered "higher" or "better" than femininity. Therefore, when women act "manly", they're "bettering" themselves, while when men choose to act in a more "feminine" way, they're "worsening" themselves by giving up some of their male privilege.

    In the LGBT community, this can be be pretty clearly seen, with much of society much more accepting of lesbians than gay males (though of course all gay people don't necessarily break traditional gender roles), as well as more accepting of FTM transgender individuals than MTF transgender people.

  5. The highlight of this post for me was of course the idea of honors gym. Leaving that aside, I enjoyed your discussion of gender roles. Looking at how they influence daily interactions is informative, and I think expanding that focus to the way larger institutions like the media, or the state interact can also be informative.

  6. Hey Jamie, great job as usual : ] I definitely agree with your take on gender issues in today's society. Although we usually focus more on the oppressive nature of gender roles on women, there is equally as much pressure, if not more on men. You raise some really interesting points on that topic and made me realize that gender stereotypes play a bigger role in our lives than we are often aware of.

  7. Great post, Jamie! I'm not going to lie, that activity at the end threw me for a loop for a minute. I definitely agree with your insight that men are more chastised for acting "girly" than women are for acting "manly". And I think Kyle's analysis is pretty interesting. A question to consider with this feminist approach is how gendering affects the distribution of power. I think it's pretty clear that power in Hamlet lies with Claudius, Laertes, and Hamlet himself, among other males. Gertrude is powerless over her husband and even her own sexual desires at times, and Ophelia is so powerless over her emotions that she commits suicide. When we realize how the way we describe our own life and world is gendered, we can begin to address the power discrepancies evident in our society. Again, thanks for the thought-provoking post!