Mary Wollstonecraft once said’ “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves,” but the question still remains, how many women can truly testify to this quote about having power over themselves? Thus The power of responsibility; self sufficiency; independent; pride; self reliance and the “can do” ability which I believe comes natural to most, if not every woman.
Among many, there would only be a few women who can genuinely and boldly admit to this. When you literally scratch most feminists, you will see that underneath them is a woman who longs to be anything but oppressed. But the real truth is that, that is not all she wants to be! Most, if not all of these women want love, affection and most of all respect that is not based on looks and body features alone. But the mutual respect for being human and being a woman. Frederick Douglass once said “Woman should have justice as well as praise, and if she is to dispense with either, she can better afford to part with the latter than the former”. Many books have been written on inequality with regards to women. Many stories have been told. But yet many are the women who still live under the oppression of their husbands, boyfriends and other men in their community.
Do these women just lack the power to overcome this oppression? Or did they just fall victims to this situation by virtue of being born a woman or because men are depicted as superior from time immemorial! The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor or midwife says, “It’s a girl”. Society has put so much sexual pressure on women and this has created an environment where most women feel they have to attain perfection in order to please a man or to “fit in” and not to be looked down upon. Some of these women, with their low self esteem, turn to allow themselves to be oppressed in many different forms by men. For the longest time, Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, A Doll’s House, in my mind, is a clear example that illustrates such dilemma and also a feminist piece that draws attention to the plight of women in the Victorian Era which still exists in our society today.
In this play, Nora Helmer’s struggle for independence often leaves me with the impression that the play is a tale of “Everywoman’s struggle against Everyman”! Although there is no denying that an element of feminism exists in this play, the stranglehold that society has over a female is often overlooked. It is a tale that analyzes society in a scope that extends much further than women’s rights. Throughout the play, it is apparent that the majority of the feminine characters are caught within the grip of a society that confines and shapes them.
Nils Krogstad is a perfect example of a character bound by his role in society. Although he is a forger and a blackmailer, it is difficult not to have a bit of sympathy for him. Krogstad is a man with bad reputation. As Dr. Rank puts it “he’s rotten to the core” (Ibsen 1822). At one time, Krogstad was the fiancé of Mrs. Kristine Linde, until she left him because he “hadn’t much immediate prospect in anything,” (Ibsen 1850). Eventually, Krogstad married and had children. His wife passed away, leaving him to raise and support his children alone. Mrs. Linde’s rejection of their relationship and denial of her true feelings for Krogstad for financial support has had long-lasting psychological impact on Krogstad. In other words, society tells him that if he wants to be truly worthy of a woman’s love, he must be able to provide a stable financial environment for his wife and family. It can be assumed, based on Mrs. Linde’s rejection of him that he either consciously or subconsciously attempts to attain society’s goal of wealth by committing an act that is outside society’s acceptable parameters.
While on the topic of Krogstad, it is hard to ignore the effect that society has had on his former fiancée, Kristine Linde. Mrs. Linde left Krogstad to marry a man with money. Unfortunately, she did not have much of a choice, being left with her brothers and ailing mother to take care of, with no way to support them on her own. Her husband eventually passed away and left her penniless, forcing her to work her hands to the bone to survive. This is a typical situation that befalls many women who in some cases do not have the power to stand strong and fend for themselves without the help of a man. And this is what sometimes leads to some men taking advantage of a woman who lacks the will to fend for her self.
Kristine took on a mother role to her siblings and to her mother. Thus, this is what she has been trained to do in life right? Women in that time were not encouraged to get an education and pursue a career. Although it was possible for women to obtain jobs, they were not the types of jobs that led to any type of success, or even provide comfortable working conditions, as a result of the role that she has been forced to take on, she has been made to feel useless and without purpose because she does not have someone (a man, in other words) to take care of.
Nora reacts not to the explosiveness of his vituperation, but to the realization that he has thought only of himself. Rather than live up to his claims of willingness to sacrifice himself for his wife to save her from a great peril, he submits to Krogstad’s blackmail. Thus, Torvald selfishly violates his arrogant morals in an attempt to save his reputation. Torvald’s moral view of the world is not the only aspect of his personality that can be scrutinized. However, this same principle runs much deeper than just the obvious in the Helmer household.
Additionally, Ibsen makes reference to the fact that Torvald likes to have the house kept a certain way. Nora speaks of her urge of “making the house nice and attractive, and having things just as Trovald likes to have them” (Ibsen 1820). This is a woman who yearns to have an independent life, but is caught up with the dilemma of just doing nothing but please her husband. Due to Torvald’s attitude and lack of respect for his wife, it first appears that Nora’s role in the household is reduced to merely a pawn on Torvald’s grand societal chess game. She is expected to be the perfect Victorian wife: beautiful, entertaining, and subservient. Torvald expects her to present herself in a certain way, thus illuminating the idea that Torvald is ruled by society and not only accept this role, but choose to project its standards upon his environment and others around him. His actions are an attempt to create a beautiful façade that fulfils society’s aspirations. He thus embodies the paradox of being the oppressor and the oppressed.
This story expresses the absurdity of Victorian society and its effects that still exists in present day. Likewise, it will not be entirely denied that Ibsen is making a statement on the right of women in this era; So had immortal guinuse like Sojourner Truth in her famous speech “Ain’t I A Woman?” However, this aspect is merely a symptom of an all-encompassing epidemic. My writing of this blog is an intention to make a statement on society, and certainly not exclusive to the plight of women in society. However, it would have been impossible to avoid the issue on the basis that women and their counterparts symbolize the offspring of a broken society. After all, societal pressure is a consistent one. Society’s stranglehold transcends gender barriers. Although some suffer more than others, society is a dictating force in all classes especially among women. Whether one is male, female, rich, or poor, the norms and morals of the society permeate and eventually begin to control the actions of its inhabitants if not its women. But rest assured, any day now; anyway now, most of not all of these women will once in their life, find their voice and their oppressors will find their shame.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Ibsen: The Complete Major Prose Plays. Trans. Rolf Fjelde. New York: New American Library, 1978. 119-196.