Sexism in Language
The writing depicts the gender role in literature, how males are shown to be significantly more dominant, physically and mentally. Sexism in literature is ubiquitous, in literature and language, as well as semiotics in certain cases. Literature from the last two centuries demonstrates a progression. Females were originally portrayed as feeble minded, nimble and weak characters, with little or no dynamics to their personification. Males were shown to be strong, intelligent and domineering, and would be the ones who’d save females from all the unfortunate events in the story.
In modern literature, males and females are often times, given equal consideration. Sexism is indeed, still present in modern literature; however, it has lessened considerably. The dominance of male in literature that reflects the society in each period of time which shows is inferior women is powerless against men. In the modern society women are more liberal and independent. The development of society conscious with the role of female and male differences, and the literature also adapts with the perception of the society with women’s role in the society.
Sexism In Mainstream Literature In the past, sexism in literature is more drastically defined than that in modern literature. In the classic children’s tale “Little Snow-White”, the main characters, Snow White and the evil queen, are nothing but the subject of vanity. As time passes, female characters in literature have become much more personified, taking aspects of a human’s personality instead of that of a vapid, imagined creature as portrayed in Tom Sawyer to a more recent novel, the House on Mango Street.
In these novels, the women’s identities were not solely dependant on men and their actions. Women were more of human beings rather than just ornaments in the novels. In the Grimm Brothers’ “Little Snow-White”, the wicked queen is extremely obsessed with beauty. She is vain and goes to many extremes just to be “the most beautiful in the land”. The character of the queen portrays a one-dimensional female stereotype. She is only concerned about being the most beautiful woman in the whole kingdom. The Grimm’s brothers implied females’ dependence on the opposite sex.
Before killing Snow White on her own, the queen first resorts to hire the huntsman to assassinate Snow White. Only once the male character has failed, due to compassion or possibly Snow White’s immaculate beauty, the queen then chooses to take matter into her own hands. The queen is sentenced to dancing to her death in “red-hot iron shoes”. The authors show negative sentiments towards females’ obsession with beauty. Snow White is the weak and gullible female figure. She seems to embody many female stereotypes that were commonly held during the time.
She is only able to beg for mercy from the huntsman. It is because of her physical beauty that she is able to survive and persuade male characters to help her. The huntsman was unable to execute Snow White because her beauty charmed him; he was unable to harm her as indicated by the phrase “she was so lovely”. When beauty alone does not get her the help she needs, Snow White must resort to housekeeping in exchange for her survival. This implies that the men, the dwarves do not have the ability to effectively run a household.
Though this does imply that a household requires two members of the opposite sex, the story of Snow White still revolves around her dependency on the prince’s aid. During her first encounter with the seven dwarfs, Snow White agrees to “cook, make beds, wash, sew, and knit” in order to stay at their cottage in the forest. Snow White’s actions were what considered the appropriate female role of the time. Therefore, the Grimm Brothers’ “Snow White” portrays female characters as helpless, feeble, and beauty-obsessed creatures that would be deemed inappropriate if compared to literature of a later period.
Written in the late 19th century, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer shows a progression of gender representation within literature through two primary female characters. Becky and Aunt Polly show more dynamic and depth in their personalities. The main character, Tom Sawyer, is allowed to freely act upon his desires as the two female characters adjust to him accordingly. Even with their limited roles and contributions to the main storyline, the characters of Aunt Polly and Becky indicate a significant advancement of female gender representation in literature.
Aunt Polly is still portrayed as a caring mother figure compared to the evil Queen. Furthermore, unlike the passive and feebleminded Snow White, Becky can truly be considered a feminist with various emotional responses toward Sawyer’s actions. There is a dynamic contrast to the characters belonging to both sexes. Becky’s role is mostly defined by her relationship to the male hero. She shows various dynamics throughout the novel. These emotions are markedly different from how Snow White was portrayed.
While Snow White is not capable of emerging from her passive nature without the aid of her prince, Becky is able to experience, and show a variety of emotions. Still, Tom essentially dominates. The female characters in Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer seems to be depicted with more depth than the one-dimensional Snow White and the evil Queen. Regardless of their wider range of emotions, Twain’s female characters are still limited by the role assigned to them and are shallower characters compared to their male counterparts.
The character of Esperanza in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street marks yet another progression of female gender representation within the realm of literature. As Becky and Aunt Polly have shown more consciousness and emotions within their characters, Esperanza takes the matter further and represents the liberated women of the late twentieth century. She is set on establishing herself as a notable figure, despite her social limitations. For instance, Cisneros mentions that Esperanza wants “a house of her own… Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s” .
As a female character, she is independent, self-aware, and capable of making decision for herself. She is aware of the issue of gender equality and decides not giving in to such traditions that are symbolized by Mango Street itself. Unlike Snow White, and even Mark Twain’s Becky, Esperanza has “decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain”. Quite the contrary, she is the self-defined feminist whose goal is to spread her ideals and independent thinking to the other women who are still roped down by gender inequality.