Sexism In Jane Eyre Essay

1956 words - 8 pages

The social system of the Victorian era was one that was heavily influenced by the patriarchal right of men. This social construct favored men while forcing women into submission. Sigmund Freud, in his essay entitled “The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming,” articulated that women were considered capable only of having erotic wishes that dominated their “phantasies” and that even their ambitious “phantasies” were rooted in erotic wishes (177). The prevailing thought concerning women during the Victorian era was that—due to their nature—only desired marriage. Those women who were not fortunate enough to marry (due to appearance or social status) had only one remaining position, to become a governess. Charlotte Brontë, through her protagonist Jane Eyre, clearly depicts the struggles of an indigent young woman who is forced into being a governess. The tale of Jane Eyre is clearly articulated by Adrienne Rich in her essay entitled “Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman,” when she states that Jane wants to “choose her life with dignity, integrity, and pride” (471). Even though Brontë depicts a woman who will not be bound by the mores of her society, she is not so exuberant as to have her protagonist proclaim: “I am woman, hear me roar.” The toning down of Jane’s demeanor and actions can be attributed to satisfy the critics, but Brontë also demonstrates that the societal expectations of men (considered their patriarchal right) produced a similarly negative effect on men in addition to women. From John Reed and his self-righteous attitude, to Rochester’s internal battle in regards to the treatment of women, Charlotte Brontë argues that sexism—something that is inherent in a patriarchal society—has an adverse effect on both men and women.
Though the patriarchal right of men was used by men as a means to demonstrate their superiority over women, this behavior was not perpetuated strictly by men, but also from mother to daughter. In Jane Eyre, the protagonist Jane suffers abuse by her cousin John Reed. The constant assault was not only conducted by John, but also allowed by the women within the house. As John’s father had passed away, he was left as the patriarch of the family and John understood the expectations that had been bestowed upon him. John frequently asserted his patriarchal dominance and superiority over Jane. This behavior is reflected when John proclaims that the entire house belonged to him (8). Following a fight between Jane and John, Jane is exiled to her uncle’s bedroom, the room in which he actually passed away. As Jane is being tended to, Miss Abbot informs her that she must demonstrate her respect for John by calling him “Master Reed” and that she was below the level of a servant for she did “‘nothing to earn her keep’” (9).
While being a girl, or woman, during the Victorian era was challenging because they were always subjected to the will of men, being an indigent girl was far worse. Women were considered not...

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