Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar (1996) bases Esther Greenwood’s life experiences as a young woman in the US patriarchal society of the 1950’s and 60’s. She lives independently in New York City. She is suffering from social pressure. Esther’s attitude and belief are that women belong to the family or private sphere and men belong to the public sphere in that time. Women, it is expected, should only accept so-called “feminine” or “nurturing” jobs such as teaching, the fashion industry, secretarial work or as nurses, and have to look, dress and act in ways that satisfy societal expectations.
Plath describes how all the women staying at her hotel ‘were all going to posh secretarial schools like Katy Gibbs, where they had to wear hats and stockings and gloves to class, or they has just graduated from places like Katy Gibbs and were secretaries to executives and junior executives and simply hanging around New York waiting to get married to some career man or other’ (p.
The expectation for women seems that education is important mainly as a tool for marriage; for finding suitable husbands, and not for intellectual development or pursuit. This also shows that Esther wants to say women’s education is useless, because both educated and uneducated women are waiting for marriage rather than work. She is trying to escape the repressive ideas about gender that surround her. constantly struggles between being herself and conforming to society’s expectations. The society expects Esther to become a housewife and stop pursuing her passion once she is married.
Confronting society’s expectations, Esther feels at times hopeless and disillusioned. She says, “I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. (I felt very still and very empty…)”(Plath , 3). She feels very empty, she feels a hollowness that does not allow her to enjoy herself. She cannot decide if she wants to live a conventional lifestyle and marry or pursue her love of writing. Esther actively tries to escape these restraints through both disobeying them and attempting suicide.
Gender is a social and political process rather than a biological fact. In the article “The Social Construction of Gender” Lorber emphasized that gender is a kind of social construction, which is carefully constructed through teaching, learning, imitation, reinforcement, etc. This shows that the concept of human gender is constructed by culture, instead of being born and determined by nature. It is a sign that describes our social status, roles, clothing, behavior, etc. as gender identity. The concept of gender considers that physiological differences (gender, skin color, chromosome, body size, etc.) do not affect the construction of gender. What really divides gender is the norm of culture. It is the long-term cultural influence that gives us the concept of male and female. ‘Through cognitive development, children extract and apply to their own actions the appropriate behavior for those who belong in their own gender, as well as race, religion, ethnic group, and social class, rejecting what is not appropriate.'( Lorber, 4) The self-identity formed in early childhood is extremely important, which is the basis for establishing self-understanding in the later stage. Usually baby boys and baby girls have different growth paths because of their specific relationship with their mother.
In the article ‘The Construction of the Gendered Self’, Bruce Hart thinks that gender is a social construction created and maintained between men and women and not a fixed quantity that one is born with. Gender differences reflect the different social backgrounds and status of men and women. (Hart, 4) Gender differences are mainly due to differences in social practices and customs, rather than differences in individual attributes. He believes that social construction is generated by language and experience gained by oneself, not by social experience or social influence.
Gender and social status are all crucial factors that play a huge role in one’s ability to achieve their goal because oftentimes they are not given as many or as equal opportunities as others are based on whether they are a male or female. We can see gender played a big and strong role in society. It can affect people’s behavior and succefful. Gender influences social power and access to opportunities in a consistent way. But I think that Women are the builders of society, not dependents of men. Only in this way can men and women start healthy competition on the basis of cooperation and let women play a greater role.