Out of curiosity, can you please put your hand up if you think “Women should still inhabit the domestic sphere, or as you adolescent males put it “staying in the kitchen and making sandwiches? ” Good morning Year 12, I am Professor Belen from the University of Sydney. I understand you have been studying gender this past term, so I am here today to enlighten your minds on how different composers have reflected the concerns of their society, in regards to gender, through a variety of texts.
I will be focusing on two texts in particular, an excerpt from The Princess entitled “The Woman’s Cause is Mans” by playwright Alfred Lord Tennyson written in 1847 and the film adaptation of the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” originally composed by Tennessee Williams in 1947. Both of these texts offer readers an insightful analysis of the gender issues prominent at the time. A key gender issue that is present in both texts is the idea that women are inferior to men. In addition to this, the concept that females will always be dependent on men is also explored within the two texts.
For many centuries, it was always seen that men dominate society. Although this may seem less obvious in this day and age, it was very much accepted in the Victorian era and the mid 20th century. It is interesting to note that despite the 100 year span that separates these two texts, many key issues remain the same. The life of the woman in the Victorian era was very restrictive. It was summed up as, “married life is a woman’s profession. ” Women were seen as property of their husbands. These social norms come to the fore in Tennyson’s A Woman’s cause is Man’s.
Within in the poem, Tennyson’s continually expresses that women can liberate or advance themselves in society, but only with the help of men and only if they remain womanly in nature. The repetition of “with man” in lines 7-9 emphasise that only with the help of men; can women liberate themselves, thus, demonstrating their inferiority to men. “To give or keep, to live and learn and be all that not harms distinctive womanhood” highlights the fact that woman can do anything they want, so long as they remain womanly and only if it pleases the man.
This shows that women cannot be seen as being independent and therefore must be inferior to men. Although, this gender concern is portrayed differently in William’s work, it is still reflected in A Streetcar named Desire. Through the main character, Stanley Kowalski, we clearly see that males are seen as superior to women. Being set in the post war era, Stanley is ready to assert his masculinity after returning as a war-hero, as he tries to rebuild his family’s life after the Great Depression.
Throughout the film, Stanley is portrayed as being the “man of the house”, through his controlling and violent nature when challenged. This is particularly obvious in the birthday scene. After Stella insults Stanley with the way he is eating, Stanley reacts violently and begins to throw crockery at the wall. He stands over them and with aid of a low-angle shot; they cower in fear, thus highlighting his power over them. His reference to Huey Long “Every man’s a King and I’m the King around here” further emphasises his dominance over the women of the house.
The ideal feminine roles in these times were very domesticated, relying on the man of the house to be the provider. Although this standard was less rigid in the 1950’s in comparison to the 1850’s it was still expected. If a woman in these times were to leave her husband and children, she would have nowhere to go. Tennyson clearly highlights this aspect of women in his poem. As I said before, Tennyson reveals that women cannot be liberated without the help of men. Therefore emphasising that women will always be dependent on men for their support and development as women.
Henceforth thou hast a helper, me”, this line reflects the idea that women need help and that they cannot advance by themselves. The biblical allusion of the Garden of Eden adds to this idea as Eve was created from the parts of Adam, thus showing that women will always be dependent on men in order to live. Even in Princess Ida’s response, she admits that “each fulfils defect in each” meaning that each sex is needed in order to create a “single pure and perfect animal”, her metaphor for marriage.
Much like the poem, the film also demonstrates the dependency of females on males. The film itself is set in the period of industrialisation and efficiency following the years of the Great Depression. Throughout the film, we notice that Stella and Blanche are always usually found in a domestic setting where as Stanley, we learn, works in an industrial factory. He is therefore, the provider for the family. Without Stanley, Stella would not have a place to live or food to eat.
In the scenes following the poker game, Stanley physically abuses Stella. Although this is not seen by the viewers due to the Codes of Decency, it is confirmed through sound effects and dialogue. Stella is obviously hurt by the abuse, however, chooses to return to Stanley despite his violent nature, highlighting her dependence on Stanley and his ability to provide for his family. As you can see, both Tennyson and Williams were able to effectively express the concerns of their society in relation to gender.
Recurring themes of male superiority are apparent in both texts through the use of camera angles and body language in the film, and in the message of the poem. The gender concern highlighting that women will always be dependent on men was emphasised in both texts through Stella’s actions and the repetition of “with man” in the poem and Tennyson’s constant justification that women can be liberated, only with the help of men. Well, I think that is enough of my rambling, so I would like to say thankyou year 12, you have been and excellent audience and I wish you all the best for your HSC.