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Literature and gender inequality

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Literature is considered to be a reflection of society since ages that has voiced the voiceless. To address the society properly, all the corresponding and contemporary issues and sufferings are to be illustrated. Authors across ages artfully portrayed the burning issues of their times, among which gender inequality stood out to be one. Literature is no less prone to inequality than any of the other forms of artistic expression. Literature through time and tide, elucidates the existing gender inequality along with the pain and agony associated, across the globe through the lenses of literary magnificence.

Most of the existing societies are patriarchal where a woman is only supposed to be in multifaceted capacities like that of a mother, an ideal wife or daughter, in the family. This becomes a convention to consider a woman’s sacrifice, tolerance and submissiveness to be her necessary attributes, along with her power of adjustments in life and living. Thus in such a setup, amidst all a woman is expected to do, her self-identity and self worth have very little recognition. In spite of the significant roles within as well as outside their homes, women are still considered to be the weaker sex and inferior to their male counterparts. Literature artfully captures the prevalent patriarchal societies across ages, along with gender inequality being one of the most significant social evils.

Gender inequality is an age-old crisis that our society is into. From oppression of women to male domination, gender, class and racial hostilities always cause social instability and turmoil. Plato and Aristotle are undeniably the significant philosophers of all time. But quite interestingly, how women are meant to be treated, is what brings the major difference between their outlook towards the society. Plato is in for the potential equality of men and women. He believes that the human souls are devoid of a specific gender or sex and can change genders by the virtue of reincarnation. Plato claimed for the equal accessibility of women across all the fora of society. In his words:
“If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.”

On a very contrary note, Aristotle firmly believes that women are meant to be best-suited under male domination only. In his opinion, it is by means of nature that women are designed for some specific roles like procreation and nurturing only, and not to be equal or superior than their male counterparts:

“The relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior and ruler to ruled.”
In the victorian era, gender inequality was based on a fixed structure, dictated by societal expectations. It was a tradition to consider women placed behind men and as socially weaker. Women as a matter of fact could not inherit properties, leaving aside their inability even to possess any form of ownership. The general consensus of the time regarding marriage was that the good fortune must be acquired first before going hand in hand. Elizabeth Bennet in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ rightly informed:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Aristocrats traditionally had the grasp over the society as a whole in the 19th century England. Belonging to the upper class comes with restrictions on mannerisms and conduct. Women were also not exceptions. For a woman to behave beyond the socially recognised ‘code of conduct’ simply meant that she was ridiculed and outcast. Jane Austen, through ‘Pride and Prejudice’, skillfully portrays the roles, situations and sufferings of women in then Britain, in a way that all the contemporary women could relate to the same. Even marriages were dictated by societal terms of class and status during 18th century. Strategic marriages used to take place for further prosperity or wealth in commonplace. The women were completely dependent on the remaining male members of the family for their support.

In Indian perspective, Kamala Das is one of the many significant literary personalities, who throughout her career, fought for the rights of women. She herself confronted the oppression and henceforth made literature as a weapon to fight this menace from the society and to bring a change.

One of the major concerns of literature across the world has been to highlight the plight of oppressed women and individuals, their physical and psychological exploitation and subjugation by and within family. Male domination in a patriarchal society and subsequent suppression of women, have prompted writers, especially women, to pen down the cause of women, to break the shackles and for the betterment of the mankind as a whole and most importantly for the women to search for their identity as an individual, rather than compromising.

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