It is a strange idea to think women perpetuate their own stereotypes – but is it so unbelievable? I personally believe this is commonly the case as we all have choices in life, but some women make some decisions that could cause them to feel ‘trapped’ or squashed into doing certain things and not others.
Women can be ‘trapped’ in many ways, for example their marriage, or their job. ‘Ice Cream’ by Helen Dunmore is a short story illustrating this point; she writes of 24 year old model Clara, and her choice between ice cream and her job. Being a model, there is a lot of pressure to be thin, as some people believe fat people can’t be pretty, and models are widely seen as being very pretty. It is almost a battle between Elise (who’s relationship with Clara is unspecified) who wants her to ignore the temptation of ice cream, knowing she was once addicted to sugary foods.
All the women at Clara’s birthday are models, and it is soon made clear in the story they don’t approve of eating ‘badly’; as they tell Clara of many ways in which she can make up for it later; one, Julie, suggests making herself be sick.
‘” If you’re that desperate, why don’t you do what everyone else does?” And delicately, elegantly, she mimes the hook of a forefinger down a throat.’
Julie clearly feels that she is so trapped she has to fit in, and follow the trend. This is shown by her saying ‘…do what everyone does’. The idea of a trap is echoed further on by Helen Dunmore’s use of the word hook, which suggests being hooked, and you’re stuck there; once you do it once, you’ll repeat it over, like being addicted to a drug, only the throwing up is the drug and the cause is the job.
Also Tanya tells of pills which kill the craves, which, are dangerous. I quote;
‘I don’t know what they are but they simply kill the pangs. But better not take them all the time, darling. Just for a couple of days before a shoot.’
It raises an important question – how far are women prepared to go just to fit the stereotypes? Why would you want to take pills that had a limited dosage, and could make you sick? Why do women act like their suffering is nothing even if it’s not? This may be hard, but if all models stood up against the stereotype of having to be thin and ‘pretty’ and didn’t limit their food, this stereotype might change or even stop.
Women can also feel trapped by marriage, with stereotypes often being ‘men should be active, and women should look after the family and home, and not argue with this.’ ‘Samphire’ by Patrick O’Brian tells a story of Molly and her husband out on a holiday, and looking for samphire. From the start the husband is portrayed as being the ‘baddie,’ the ‘annoying one’. From the author’s description of him and Molly, they are almost seen as the roles of teacher and child, with the teacher being in charge of the child, almost educating them.
He is seen immediately as annoying because of his strange repetition of her name;
‘ “It is a clump of samphire, Molly.” He said; then louder, half turning, “Molly, it is samphire. I said it was samphire, didn’t I?” He had a high, unmasculine voice…..’
The reader immediately feels for the wife, Molly, who is silent and clearly feels annoyed and bored by him, suggesting feelings of being trapped in her marriage. We are let to believe she is innocent, like a child, as her reaction to his discovery is less than excited;
‘The round of her chin was trembling like a child’s before it cries: there was something in her throat so strong she could not have spoken it is it had been for her life.’
He however does nothing to comfort her at this moment, but you almost feel he should care she is afraid of heights, because they are married. The whole story contains more and more flavours of this and the tension between the couple. She continually gives things up for him; she gives up her morning ot return to see the samphire, and she gives up her things so he can buy other things for himself. You can clearly see she is in a state near the beginning because of her reaction to him making her look over the edge of the cliff;
‘Even then she writhed away, covering it by getting up and returning to the path.’
The word ‘covering’ is clever because she is covering her emotions, letting them build up inside. Its as if each annoying little thing she does it just builds up like bricks inside her, and eventually she will collapse. And this does happen: at the end of the story there is almost a role reversal; she ends up pushing a man who clearly loves her off a cliff in the vain hope he might be silenced. However he isn’t and can’t believe that she would have done such a thing after looking so vulnerable and dependant.
Although you could argue he was immensely annoying, hard to be with and any other sane person would have done the same, I think differently. Maybe if she had stood up to him sooner, or not even married him, they both would have been saved the pain of marriage. She obviously doesn’t love him, for she would not have pushed him off the cliff if she had – but surely she could have worked this out earlier and got out of the relationship. She could have stopped the stereotype she let him develop, that women are weak and ‘second best’ to the man.
A third story that discusses a stereotype on women is ‘Weekend’ by Fay Weldon. Women are often seen as best being a housewife, which is exactly what Martha is in ‘Weekend.’ She always has everything ready for the family.
‘Martha had everything packed into the car and the three children appropriately dressed and in the back seat, complete with educational games and wholewheat biscuits.’
It shows an annoyingly idealistic view of a perfect housewife, healthy food and disciplined children. However, despite all her perfections, the story shows she is hurting, and is easily offended by her husband’s remarks, showing she cares what she thinks, and wants all her efforts to be accepted.
‘Martha worried about her age, her tendency to complain, and the width of her hips. She took the remarks personally…………..Mummy, with the roots of melancholy somewhere deep beneath the bustling, busy, everyday self. Busy: ah so busy!
She also has clearly not always been perfect, and the stresses have got to her for her driving license is suspended for drunken driving, which may mean she had drunk to ‘escape’ even if it was her birthday meal.
‘Martha’s license had been suspended four months back for drunken driving.’
Her life is her children and family, for when she sleeps in the car, she dreams of all the things she does for them, like a summary of her life.
‘…..Music teachers. Dancing lessons. Parties. Friends to tea. School plays. Open days. Junior orchestra.’
Women in previous generations pass down stereotypes, telling their daughter the ‘right way to live is to….’ Martha clearly wants more from her life, but has become stuck in a routine and feels trapped into one track of mind.
‘If you have children, mother, that is your reward. It lies not in the World.’
In the car Martha thinks of Martin’s ideals, and how she desperately wants to be the woman he dreams of, the slim, cook, almost dummy there for his needs and his sex. This goes through the whole story, with her comparing herself to Colin and Katie, a young, handsome couple.
‘But try, oh try, to be what you ought to be, not what you are.’
This quotation for me sums up the whole issue and in conclusion, I believe that although there are many different stereotypes on women, not all could have been founded by religion or rumour, and particular women’s behaviour cause certain rumours to spread. All the stories have an annoying tone to the writing, which could suggest not only stereotypes are frustrating but the people in them. Stereotypes can cause friction and some women to feel trapped and feel like they can’t do anything they want, but if debatably women started these stereotypes, they can end them, and by breaking free men and women might start to see each other equally and respect each other more.