You are on page 1of 9

Victor 1

Krystal Victor
Dr. Detmer-Goebel
Intro to English Studies
11 October 2016
Women in Literature: Gendered Ideology
In the play, Trifles by Susan Glaspell, sexist ideology of the early
1900s is present in both a subtle and elaborate fashion. Although the context
of the play is about a man who is murdered and the detective work behind
uncovering the details of the crime, we can also look beneath the surface to
view gender roles and how women are viewed during this specific time
period. It is no question that men and women are portrayed in different ways
when it comes to literature, and many times, these different portrayals can
reflect the stereotypes that were assigned to each gender throughout
different historical time periods. Women in the early twentieth century were
considered inferior to men in many ways. Gender roles during this time
period, and throughout history, placed women in their homes, doing
housework, and taking care of the children, while men would go to work,
bring home the money, and were minimally involved in the housework. This
was not the case in every family structure, but it was the norm, and both
men and women were expected to abide by these standards. Even in more
modern times, gender roles are still prevalent and sexism still exists. If you
are interested in finding examples of gender-based stereotypes in the

Victor 2

present all you have to do is turn on the television, pick up a magazine, or


read a book and you can see that certain objects, roles, or behaviors are
ascribed to a specific gender. Women have been fighting for equal rights
since the beginning of recorded time, so sexist ideology is not a new
phenomenon. Throughout history, women have been oppressed and denied
basic human rights and Glaspells play can help us see gendered ideology in
a way that many people can better understand. While exploring this literary
work, we can view the gender roles present in a deeper sense, and learn
more about how these roles have evolved throughout history.
In Trifles, we get our first glimpse at gender roles when Mr. Hale is
telling the story of why he went to John Wrights house the previous day. Mr.
Hale states that he was going to ask John to go in with him on a party
telephone, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, was a
single telephone circuit connecting two or more subscribers with the
exchange. These lines were shared between households, so Mr. Hale and
John Wright would have shared a line. Mr. Hale states that he wanted to try
to talk about the party line with Mrs. Wright present, but he says, I didnt
know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John. This shows us
that John was the leader and the person who made the decisions within his
own household, and, while Mr. Hale sort of implies that his own wifes opinion
mattered to him, he explicitly says that, in the Wright household, the only
persons opinion that mattered was Johns. Another sexist overture that we
see, and one of the most important, in my opinion, can be seen at the

Victor 3

beginning of the investigation when the men are looking for evidence in the
kitchen. The men are investigating the crime and the sheriff, Mr. Peters,
makes the remark, nothing here but kitchen things, and the men proceed
to criticize the way that Mrs. Wright kept her kitchen. The women, Mrs. Hale
and Mrs. Peters, attempt to defend Mrs. Wrights housekeeping by explaining
that there is a lot of work to be done and that sometimes it is just impossible
to keep up with everything. That is when George Henderson, the county
attorney, says, ah, loyal to your sex, I see. I feel like this interaction makes
such a powerful statement because there are so many different aspects to it
that can really give us clues about different characters and their roles as
either men or women during the early 1900s. First, we see that the women
feel like Mrs. Wright is in trouble because she did not keep her house up to
par with the way that women were expected to. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters
become defensive, and begin making excuses for her as a way to show their
own sympathy for Mrs. Wright. This shows us that women were made to feel
like they had to keep their homes in pristine condition. Next, we can look at
the statement about kitchen things. The words chosen for this statement
were strategic, and the tone that the man who said them used adds emotion
to the statement as a whole. He regards the items in the kitchen in a way
that passes off womens work as a simple task, which tells us how this
particular man felt about women. Finally, the remark loyal to your sex, I
see, directly places men and women in opposition to tell the reader that the
gender roles are definitely an important feature of the play.

Victor 4

Although the men were investigating the crime, the two women were
able to better understand some of the clues and find evidence that the men
could not see. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters ultimately decide not to share the
clues they find with the men. They do this for several reasons. The first
reason is that they felt sympathy for the accused Mrs. Wright. The women
understood how unhappy Mrs. Wright was with her marital situation. The
women discuss Mrs. Wrights personality before she married John Wright, and
the way the women felt about the situation is evident by their own responses
to the things in the kitchen that seemed out of sort. These included the
ruined fruit, the left out bread, the unfinished quilt, and most importantly the
empty birdcage. The play suggests Mrs. Wright was like a caged bird. She
was the bird longing for freedom, and she was caged in by a controlling
husband. The symbol of the bird also represents Mrs. Wrights happiness. It
was not much, but the bird was the only bit of joy that Mrs. Wright had in her
life, and the context implies that Mr. Wright killed the bird. Mr. Wright took
away Mrs. Wrights freedom, and killed her spirit, so Mrs. Hale and Mrs.
Peters felt a certain level of sympathy for Mrs. Wright that ultimately leads to
them withholding information from the men. Also, after the women find Mrs.
Wrights quilt with the erratic stitch work, the men overhear their
conversation and make fun of the things that the women care about. The
women realize that the quilt shows something about Mrs. Wrights recent
state of mind, but the men do not even attempt to look at it because,
according to them, women worry about silly, unimportant things, otherwise

Victor 5

known as trifles. In the end, the women assume that the men will not care
about certain things like quilts and kitchen things so this is another reason
that the women decide not to come forward with the things that they found.
The play implies the women knew what Mrs. Wright was going through
and they were enduring the same or similar treatment in their own homes.
The fact that the men left them in the kitchen with the kitchen things
implies a lack of respect. It was as if the women and the kitchen things were
being left in the same spot because they belonged together. Knowing they
were considered second class citizens, just as Mrs. Wright was, the women
stuck together insinuating loyalty and the need for women to work together.
The women felt the need to cast aside the demeaning cultural norms.
(Holston).
The cultural norms that the women in this play endure have been
around for a very long time. Looking at the bible we can find several verses
that provide us with insight on how gendered ideology has been present
throughout recorded history. One verse that we can look reads: reproduction
is aimed at generating males while females result whenever nature fails to
achieve this (Henry 254). This sexist ideology is part of the teachings of the
noted Greek philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle was teaching sexist ideology
hundreds of years before Christ. In the Christian bible, women are also
discriminated against. In the book of Timothy, Chapter twelve verse two, it
states let a woman learn in silence with all submission (Christian bible).
This demonstrates that the sexist rhetoric and ideology towards women has

Victor 6

been around for thousands of years. Other cultures outside of Western


influence have also discriminated against women for a very long time. Many
countries still oppress their women to this day. Muslim countries like Saudi
Arabia and Iran are very sexist. These countries wont even allow women to
go to school or work outside of the house. In fact, if a woman in this culture
are raped, she could be put to death, while the male who perpetrated the
crime will likely go unpunished.
In an interpretation of the play titled: "Glaspell's 'Trifles.' (Interpretation
of Susan Glaspell's Play), Judith Russell compares the characters in the play
to Greek mythology characters known as the Fates. In Greek mythology,
the Fates are given the responsibility for controlling the fate of mankind. Mrs.
Wright is considered Atropos. Atropos is the Greek goddess of destiny who
chooses the weapon to kill mortals. Mrs. Peters epitomizes Lachesis. Lachesis
measures the thread of human life and determines the destiny. Mrs. Hale
represents Clotho. Clotho is the Greek goddess who decides when a mortal
dies. The significance of this analogy is profound. The analogy demonstrates
three women tied together in life. This allows for a better understanding of
the actions taken by the women in the play. (Russell)
Even through the considerable social changes in the twentieth century,
gender bias is still present. This sexism can be directly related to the ideas of
sociologist Patricia Hill-Collins. According to Collins, there are three levels of
class structure. In the middle is the white male. He is not effected at all by
discrimination. On the next level are black males and white females. Both

Victor 7

suffer discrimination: one from racism and one from sexism. The last level is
the black woman. She suffers both sexism and racism. (Kivisto, 352). The
members of the clergy in Christian religions also have a stringent and
immoveable idea of the role of women in society. The clergy insists on the
role of the woman as the home-maker. The feminist theory is based on the
support of equality for women. Many feminists believe men are caught in
between confusion and rage, trying to accept the new idea of women as
equals and let go of the old ideas of domination. (Senft, 3).
All you need to do if you want to see sexism in modern society is open
your eyes and look around you. I decided to look to modern media to take a
look at how women are portrayed. I tried five different channels on the
television to find sexism. I watched WE, ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN for thirty
minutes each. Four of the five channels produced a sexist commercial within
a thirty-minute time frame. Ironically, The channel with the most sexist
commercials was WE or Womens Entertainment. These commercials
advertised vacuum cleaners, cleaning products, and laundry detergents. The
gender of the person in every commercial was female. This suggests women
are the member of the family who cleans the house, vacuums the carpets
and does the laundry. On the flip side I only saw one female in commercials
related to business, military service, or politics, and this female was current
presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. All forms of media portray gendered
ideology in todays society. This idea brings me to the use of women as sex
symbols. In the magazine Military Issue, there were several depictions of

Victor 8

women as sex symbols while the men were portrayed as the rough and
tough combat soldiers or the military warlords of the time period
represented. This has significance in different ways. Women are portrayed as
subordinates to important issues and ideas. The portrayal of women in
subordinate roles advertises the lack of cultural advancement in the United
States of America. This subordinate portrayal also illuminates the fact of our
children growing up surrounded by sexist rhetoric. This means that, although
we have made progress and come a long way from where the women were in
Glaspells play, sexism and gender inequality are still embedded in our
society.

Victor 9

Works Cited
Holstein, Suzy Clarkson. "Silent Justice In A Different Key: Glaspell's 'Trifles'." The
Midwest Quarterly 3

(2003): 282. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Oct.

2016.
KIvisto, Peter. Social Theory: Roots and Branches 3rd Edition. 2007: Oxford
University press, London
The English Standard Version Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Print.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.
Henry, Devin M. "How Sexist Is Aristotle's Developmental Biology?" Phronesis52.3
(2007):

251-69.

Web.

Senft, Terri. Third Wave of Feminism: 1983-Present. Retrieved 5 October 2016


from http://www.livejournal.com/talkread.vml
Russell, Judith Kay. "Glaspell's 'Trifles.' (Interpretation Of Susan Glaspell's Play)." The
Explicator 2 (1997):

88-90. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.