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Andreina Figueroa Gender and Sexuality in Science Fiction Professor Melissa Saywell 7 October 2023 Forced Gender Construct Produces Harmful Gender Performativity Gender performativity is the way in which an individual expresses themselves -- be it the way they dress, talk or behave -- and is executed through their own belief of what their gender should look like. It is important to note that gender looks different for everyone therefore what one person defines as "feminine", or "masculine" differs from someone else's perspective on what that looks like. In the 1900's, men and women had two very distinct roles in society, they were seen differently, treated differently and were allowed specific characteristics to possess. The 1915 utopian novella, Herland , written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is particularly interesting because it shows a society that functions differently than what the main characters were used to. Thus, it points out what their society lacks and can do better. All the while the three main characters' ideas and preconceptions about gender are challenged when they come to find out that a society run by women functions better than their society that is dominated by men. Though the concept of gender isn't as fixed as it used to be, there is still an idea that the past was an easier time for everyone. The Stepford Wives , a film released in 2004 and directed by Frank Oz, alludes to this idea by showing a society based in the 1900's, particularly in the 50's, that shows the ways in which women and men are expected to think and behave, but in the end demonstrates that patriarchy and gender roles are damaging to all people in society. The concept of gender is very complex and has varied over time. Gilman and Oz take on the complicated task of not just Figueroa 1
demonstrating how gender is performative, how it is learned, and how society pushes certain characteristics on each gender, but also how it can be harmful. The way humans behave can be influenced by their immediate surroundings, so it is fair to infer that behavior is learned and certain behaviors can be harmful to oneself and others. The film The Stepford Wives follows a family that moves into Stepford Estates. They intermingle with the residents there and quickly notice some peculiar things, the biggest of all being that the women are turned into robots by men who feel inferior by their success therefore turning them into their idealized version of what a woman is. In the first scene when the family arrives at the Estates, they meet Mrs. Wellington. Her interaction with the children in particular stands out because of how differently she treats them both. She tells Pete, "You must be Pete" and he responds with, "Duh", to which Mrs. Wellington simply ignores Pete's rude response and proceeds to call him "handsome". Then with the daughter, Kimberly, Mrs. Wellington tells her that she's "As cute as a bunny's ears" and Kimberly responds by informing her that "Bunnies don't have ears". Mrs. Wellington then proceeds to say she's "sassy" and "sad". Just because Pete is a male, Mrs. Wellington excuses his rude remark, enabling the child to continue with his rude behavior. Whereas Mrs. Wellington feels the need to reproach Kimberly for a comment that was neither rude nor deserving of being called sassy or sad. Mrs. Wellington wants these kids to learn to act like all the men and women do at Stepford Estates -- the women need to be "perfectly feminine", which includes no witty remarks, and cater to the needs of men, and the men get to act however they want without repercussions. What's effective about this scene is that if we look at the character Bobbie Markowitz, we can see how others will treat women if they don't act a certain way, hence any female character that acts out of place will be judged and treated differently than the rest. Dr. Oz is drawing our attention to how quick adults are to influence Figueroa 2
children to be a certain way according to their gender therefore perpetuating this harmful cycle of molding people into how they should act depending if they are male or female which usually results in the discrimination of females. The concept of family/maternity is sometimes weaponized to be used against women if they refuse to fit into that role. In Herland, Gilman challenges the idea of what defines paternity and maternity through the male and female characters' ideas of the importance of offspring. One way that the characters, Jeff, Terry and Van, perform their gender is through their ideas of what motherliness, femininity and paternity means to them. The three of them seem to be concerned that the children don't carry a family name, asking the women why that is, to which they respond by saying, "'We keep the most careful records... Each one of us has our exact line of descent all the way back to our dear First Mother. There are many reasons for doing that. But as to everyone knowing which child belongs to which mother -- why should she?'" (40). These three men have a very different view of what it means to be a parent. For the women in Herland, motherliness isn't rooted in simply claiming a child as theirs. They have a wider perspective as to what it means to be a mother. For them, being a mother isn't about claiming a child as theirs but nurturing all children, not just their own. The men don't seem to be satisfied with this answer and it challenges their established ideas of being a parent, "Here, as in so many other instances, we were led to feel the difference between the purely maternal and the paternal attitude of mind. The element of personal pride seemed strangely lacking" (40). Since Herland is hugely a story that points out how a society can improve, Gilman is challenging the way a lot of men in the U.S. think about what makes someone a parent. The men think that the women lack pride, so they don't understand that the women don't claim their children as theirs, not because of a lack of pride, but because there is no need for it. Since these women don't fit the maternal role that these men are Figueroa 3
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