Gender Issues in Pygmalion and the Importance of Being Earnest
The female characters in both plays are faced with a mutiny of challenges from marginalization to being treated as lesser beings to their limited understanding of the male world (Conolly-Smith 95–121). The society heaps upon women a lot of expectations that they have to contend with. Gender roles are defined harshly, especially for women. In the Victorian society of the play's time, men were viewed as superior beings to women. The comparison in these two plays is in their diminishing of women characters and their demands for women to be desirable to men. Therefore, this discussion seeks to shed light on issues women faced in the old times as outlined by both Shaw and Wilde through their plays.
Despite her condition as a poor flower girl Eliza, the main character in the Pygmalion, endeavored to be something more (Grene 236–259). She sought an education from Higgins and Pickering to become a better lady. Her decision to get married is informed on her enlightenment. Given the times, these were decisions primarily done by male gender. Admittedly, this lady had evolved in her character; from a timid flower girl to an outspoken, strong lady. Other people marginalized Eliza in the play (Pfeiffer 194–241. She mistook Pickering for a police officer when told he was writing something while she spoke. Only a marginalized person would be so afraid of the police. Marginalization was a challenge most matron had to endure for they were considered lesser beings. On the other hand Lady Bracknell, a leader, is effluent. The contrast between Eliza and Lady Bracknell was sharp from their societal positions to their view in education. Lady Bracknell stood against women education and said, “The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever" (Gaden). To her, learning would mean being equal to men, which was ironical of her as she had power over women. Denying women the right to education because of traditions was unfair to her. Alternatively, she could have advocated for women education so that they could have a voice and some independence from the Masculine society. Her opposition to women education showed the female gender’s problem of lack of knowledge and primitive assumptions of not undertaking it. Women were not supposed to go to school unlike their male counterparts.
Evidently, women were challenged with regard to education. While Eliza knew that it was her only way towards liberation from poverty, Lady Bracknell was outright against it. The two women cannot be blamed whatsoever. While Lady Bracknell was obviously rich and enjoying her husband’s wealth, the same cannot be said for Eliza, a poor flower girl. Lady Bracknell through her myopic conventional mind saw female education as a threat to the social system that made men superior beings to the mothers. Thusly, social stratification based on gender was engraved in the minds of these ladies. However, through Eliza, we witness an awakening as she sought training from the scholars, Higgins and Pickering.
Eliza is further marginalized by Higgins and Pickering when they proposed they needed to train her into a better woman. The societal demand that ladies must conform to certain norms is misleading. Worse still is that fathers, fellow humans must dictate what ladies should be (Grene). The same can be said of Lady Bracknell who despite her position of power was merely a mother and nothing more to men. Even in their exchanges, gents seemed to belittle her (Ruff 462–464). The reversal of role may seem comic, given the times, but presented more challenges to her. She had stepped into a man’s position as was traditionally dictated. Therefore, her rule was treated skeptically by men. Even so, it was not even appreciated and was viewed as an upset to the conventional way of life.
Women folk are not appreciated for their contributions to society. It is as if they owe the men everything and they are mandated into working albeit for little appreciation. Higgins ignored Eliza despite her input in winning the bet. He could have at least acknowledged her that evening. By so doing, he implied that she owe him nothing. Furthermore, sending her while ignoring her true emotions is absurd and clear chauvinist of him. Things only worsen when he advised her to get married (Grene 236–259). A woman was not privileged to have a say in their marriage. While there is a slight difference in Importance of Being Earnest, seen through Cecily’s proposal to her longtime lover, the men seem upset and surprised at this turn of events.
Oscar Wilde seemed comic at the time by placing his main character Lady Bracknell at the helm of leadership. Back then it was sarcastic and almost taboo for women to get leadership positions. And even when they did, they demonstrated ignorance of societal norms and expectations of them. However, it showed that women could be equal if not better than men. She had the difficult task of dealing with men who saw themselves stronger and better than her (Ruff 462–464). Her comments on politics are a depiction of her test to act like a man, be masculine. She said, “Oh they count as Tories they dine with us or come in the evening,” while commenting about voting. During those times, women had no role in politics as they were prohibited from voting. Her ascend to powers manifested the gender role reversal of the 19th century (Roberts 336–348). Women began taking male roles such as leadership and vice versa. The challenge of being women was also shown in Shaw’s Pygmalion where Eliza must rise against odds to become a better woman as demanded by the society. Given her poor background, she chose education as her way out.
Apparently, the general public was slanted to underestimate and command over ladies. Aside from directing their conduct and particular requirements of them, these ladies are likewise underrated. Notwithstanding when they have administration positions, they are as yet thought to be second rate compared to men. For example, it is clear from the two plays that fundamental rights like training and voting were not permitted to women. Also, both novels demonstrate that men needed to act more than moms; they looked down on women. Regardless of their enlivening and clatter for autonomy, the difficulties ladies need to persist are as yet incalculable
Conolly-Smith, Peter. "‘Well, I'm Dashed!’: Jitta, Pygmalion, and Shaw's Revenge."Shaw, 33.1 (2013): 95–121. Print.
Gaden, Élodie. letter et arts. 2007. Web. 23 December 2017 <https://www.lettres-et-arts.net/litteratures-francophones-etrangeres/oscar-wilde-importance-being-earnest+60>.
Grene, Nicholas. "SHAW PRODUCTIONS IN IRELAND, 1900–2009."Shaw (2010): 236–259. Print.
Pfeiffer, John R. "A CONTINUING CHECKLIST OF SHAVIANA."Shaw,32.1 (2012): 194–241. Print.
Roberts, Gerald. "Earnest Men: Two Victorian Contemporaries."Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 102.407 (2013): 336–348. Print.
Ruff, Felicia J. "Theatre Journal."Theatre Journal, 63.3 (2011): 462-464. Print.
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- Dr. Amos Wesonga (Author), 2017, Gender Issues in Pygmalion and the Importance of Being Earnest, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/439519