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JWU ENG 1027 - Why Do Gender Stereotypes Exist?

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Why Do Gender Stereotypes Exist?Today, women in Western culture share the same rights, resources, and opportunities as men. However, gender stereotypes still exist. Many people still think of women as subordinate tomen, and a poll of over 3600 people demonstrated this when 75% of them rated men as more intelligent than women (Storage et al. 2020). Gender stereotypes were developed in the Victorianera, and many stories published during this time have given us insight into this including “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In this story, the narrator shares her husband’s attitude towards her, and demonstrates women’s lack of autonomy in the Victorian era. This is further exemplified by the narrator’s restriction of self-expression, her subordinacy to John, and her naivety towards John’s treatment. The author uses an epistolary writing style and strong word choice to portray the narrator’s inability to express herself. By using an epistolary style where the narrator writes to herself, readers gain insight into the narrator’s inner thoughts, but also have awareness of events happening around her. The narrator expresses John’s beliefs when she says, “John says if I feel so I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself, —before him, at least” (Gilman 30). This statement gives readers awareness of the narrator’s behaviour around John. She purposely controls herself when around him, but at this point, it is not clear what action she is controlling. Shortly after, the narrator writes, “There comes John, and I must put this away,—he hates to have me write a word” (Gilman 31). This interruption of John’s presence illustrates the constraints placed on the narrator for a behaviour she uses to express herself – writing. The author uses the strong word choice of “hate” to describe John’s feelings about writing, and this helps readers understand why his wife hides this habit from him. This word choice also givesreaders insight into the severity of John’s beliefs. By saying that he hates for her to write a word, he is indirectly saying that he hates for her to have the ability to express herself. One reason for the narrator’s restriction of self-expression is her subordinacy to John. This is exemplified when she states that she “doesn’t like the room one bit” and wishes to move into another (Gilman 31). John’s dominance over her is demonstrated when he “would not hear of it” (Gilman 31). John’s domination results in his wife becoming obsessed with something she can have control over – the yellow wallpaper. The narrator describes the wallpaper as “repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight” (Gilman 31). The author describes the wallpaper using negative diction such as ‘revolting’ and ‘smouldering,’ and by doing this she portrays the disgust the narrator feels for this wallpaper. Readers begin to see the narrator’s obsession with this wallpaper when she describes it by saying, "It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following...and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide-- plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions" (Gilman 31). The author utilizes an antithesis by initially describing the wallpaper using the adjective ‘dull.’ She then immediately says that it ‘commits suicide’ and ‘plunges off at outrageous angles.’ This contrast demonstrates the narrator’s impulsive and abnormal way of thinking about the wallpaper and allows readers to see the consequences of John’s extreme dominance over his wife. This dominance is accepted by the narrator, who is naïve towards John’s treatment. The author uses dramatic irony when describing John’s treatment protocols for his wife. He insists that she “have perfect rest” and avoid doing any activities (Gilman 31). However, readers are aware that this treatment of rest is responsible for spiraling his wife into insanity. The narrator is much less aware because instead of questioning John’s treatments, she blames “the nervouscondition” for her acts of anger (Gilman 30). Even though she thinks that many behaviours he disapproves of would help her (i.e. writing), she remains thankful for him and uses a sincere tonewith words such as “caring” and “loving” to describe him (Gilman 31). In other words, the narrator rationalizes that John has her best interest at heart and doesn’t realize the detriment he is causing her. The author shows this naivety to demonstrate how helpless the narrator is in the situation. As a woman, she is at the mercy of John, and she lacks the power to fully understand her condition and the consequences of his treatment. Ultimately, in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator describesJohn’s attitude towards her, and readers gain insight into his extreme dominance. This dominanceis exemplified through the restrictions John puts on her self-expression, and the naivety she has towards his treatment. Through these points, the author demonstrates women’s lack of autonomy in the Victorian era. Stories like this show how stereotypes were established, and they are still being produced through political and social discourse today. Women have internalized these gender roles, as when they are asked to refer to someone who is “brilliant” or “highly intelligent,” they are 40% more likely to refer a male over a female (Bian et al. 2018). Works CitedBian, L., Leslie, S. J., & Cimpian, A. (2018). Evidence of bias against girls and women in contexts that emphasize intellectual ability. Journal of American Psychology, 73(9), 1139-1153.Gilman, P. C. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Broadview Introduction to Literature: Short Fiction, edited by Lisa Chalykoff, et al., 2nd ed., Broadview Press, 2018, pp. 29-43.Storage, D., Charlesworth, T. E., Banaji, M. R., & Cimpian, A. (2020). Adults and children implicitly associate brilliance with men more than women. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 90,


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