Sexual Gender Structure
Feminine revolution against the strict confines of a patriarchal society
occupies thematically the works of many historically significant authors from
William Shakespeare to Jean Rhys to Rudyard Kipling.
Each shapes and molds
this subject according to their own ideas and beliefs, often times presenting a
contradictory thesis to the others.
However, Shakespeare’s play Othello
provides one of the most fascinating and insightful examinations.
playwright delves into the structural foundation of societal dominance in respect
to traditional “women subordinate to man” gender roles.
Two primary aspects
which form the foundation of the play; how men manipulate and control the
perception of society and therefore keep women stagnant in their station, and
women’s attempts to break these social bonds, through the adoption of
masculine roles which immediately casts suspicion and discredit upon them.
volatile relationship between Othello and his wife Desdemona clearly exemplifies
this gender structure through their interaction with one another.
Throughout the play, Othello and his male counterparts establish very
specific guidelines to which Desdemona and the other women must adhere.
These rules of behavior and social perceptions hinge upon the central themes of
obedience, purity, “honest, [and] chaste” (4.3.17).
These coupled with a fixation
upon “promiscuity” or the yielding of sexual access dictate the action of the play
and perception of characters.
Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, offers a prime
illustration of this philosophy:
A maiden never bold;
Of spirit so still and quiet, that her motion
Blush'd at herself; and she, in spite of nature,
Of years, of country, credit, everything,
To fall in love with what she fear'd to look on!
It is a judgment maim'd and most imperfect
That will confess perfection so could err
Against all rules of nature, (1.3.94-101)
Predicating his opinion on the aforesaid societal norms, he presents Desdemona
as the penultimate manifestation of this gender ideology.
Her lack of “bold[ness]”
and “quiet” disposition runs in accordance with the idea of purity and adjectives
such as “maiden,”
“blush’d,” and “perfection"
further enhance the spiritual
virginity and saintliness of his daughter.
Brabantio elevates his daughter to such
and extreme she takes on a Madonna-like persona.
(Women should, arguably,
aspire to this level.)
Desdemona encompasses such innocence that, “her
motion/Blush'd at herself.”
“She is so modest that she blushed at every though
and movement” (Kernan 18).
Moreover, Desdemona exists in such a state she,