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Dracula, written by Bram Stoker, portrays many of the expectations and realities of victorian women. Set in the eighteenth century the book provides
In eighteenth century victorian england, a woman’s place was to be at home. They did not have the same privileges as men. They were not allowed to go to school or hold a job. They were seen as inferior to men. “A woman was inferior to a man in all ways except the unique one that counted most: her femininity.
Her place was in the home, on a veritable pedestal if one could be afforded, and emphatically not in the world of affairs” (Altick 54).
A women was expected to be married off so much so that before marriage they would learn domestic skills instead of attending school. These skills would include things such as cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, doing the dishes, and sewing. A women was expected to know how to do all of these things by the time she was married.
Marriage and motherhood were what every victorian women was supposed look forward to. Women were seen as child bearers and caretakers.. The woman expected their husband to provide for them because they was not allowed to work and could not provide for themselves. In return the women were expected to do household things, like chores. They were also expected to take of their husband and child, if they had one.
Perfect victorian women characteristically must be not only genuinely innocent but they must look innocent on the exterior.
The men approved of women who were ignorant of intellectual opinion, submissive, weak and helpless (Petrie 184). If a women did not posses any of these qualities, most of the time, she was left to be a spinster. Which was looked down upon considering a women’s main goal in life, in the victorian era, was to be married.
Stoker captures the essence of the ideal or perfect victorian ladies and puts them in his story. With Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra. Mina is considered as the perfect victorian lady and wife. Her and her husband Jonathan, whom she loves dearly, have a perfect marriage. She is independent, intelligent and practical. Everyone sees her as being basically perfect. “She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist—and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so sceptical and selfish.”(Stoker 161). Lucy is also seen as a perfect victorian lady at least before she is bitten. She is described as extremely beautiful, with a vibrant, caring personality and immensely innocent. Although she is very bold, flirtatious, and seemingly a social butterfly, unlike mina, she is extremely devoted to her fiance Arthur “I love him. I am blushing as I write, for although I think he loves me, he has not told me so in words. But, oh, Mina, I love him.”(Stoker 47)
However In the late eighteenth century, came a wave of feminism. The feminist of this time were called new women. Characteristically, these women went against everything that was deemed acceptable by society. They wanted to be free from society’s expectations and the authoritative power that men held over their lives. The new woman wanted to see economic and social change. This naturally caused fear among society.
Stoker is making use of the book repeatedly to comment on the new women and the fear that came with it. ‘Some of the ‘New Woman’ writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won’t condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself.’ (Stoker 77). It seems as though he used it as a platform to voice his own opinion about them or maybe he was using it for the controversy of the topic.
Dracula’s three daughters are seen as very impure, horrid and sensual. ‘All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.’ (Stoker). They have rejected the expectations that society put on them as victorian women. Therefore they could be interpreted as new women. Then there is Lucy who was seen as a very perfect and pure victorian women. Until Dracula bites her “we recognized the features of Lucy Westenra. Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed. The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (Stoker 180). She changed after she got bit she became sensuous and promiscuous instead of innocent and pure. Lucy is not conforming to victorian expectations either thus she can be seen as a new women.
Both Lucy and the three sisters both seem to be described as horrid, impure and promiscuous. They are described this way because that is how most of society viewed the new woman. They thought thought that the women did not belong in society and were unnatural because, that was not how women were supposed to act. Furthermore, “They all are influenced by Dracula who could represent the rejection of victorian ideas of femininity” (Buijsman 40).
At the beginning of the nineteen-sixties women were still being portrayed as housewives, nurses, and school teachers. Women were still expected to get married and have children. If they did not get married they were rendered spinsters. They were supposed to aim for elegance,, beauty, a happy home, children and marriage. Women grew tired of these expectations and wanted change. “In 1960 a statistician estimated what it would cost the average american male to have his meals prepared and served, his laundry dane, his house cleaned, his children cared for, his shopping done, his sexual needs met, and his social obligations catered. The bill came to something like forty-thousand dollars a year before inflation. “yet “observed the statistician “ all the average man, who couldn’t afford afford all those services otherwise, is a wedding ring” One exausted house wife was asked what she wanted more than anything else in the world. “What I need,” she sighed, “is a wife”.” (Archer 123). They also had very very few to no rights “In 1961, President Kennedy established a national commission on the Status of Women, which reported that women were given little or no equality with men and that eighty percent of those forced to subsist on welfare rolls were women and children. But nothing was done to change the situation.”(Archer 125).
This brought about a second wave of feminism. Things like equal pay, ending domestic violence, sexual harassment and there were more jobs becoming available for women. This caused a rise of women in the workplace (Heywood & Drake 27). This is prevalent in Where are you Going, Where Have you Been because June, connie’s sister, works “Her sister June was twenty-four and still lived at home. She was a secretary in the high school Connie attended” (Oates 673). Over time, women were expected to be able have the same careers and pay as men do.
The feminist movement had a powerful influence on Oates fiction (Daly 1). Female sexuality and objectification is very prevalent in Where are you Going, Where have you been?. She uses uses male dominance as a force against young teenage girls who have been conditioned to be submissive to males. Which makes them vulnerable to male attacks (Daly 1). She brings this situation to life in the story with Connie and Arnold friend.
Connie, who is one of the main characters, is obsessed with romance and beauty. She defines herself by her beauty “She knew she was pretty and that was everything” (Oates 672). Connie only thinks about how others view her and is always looking at herself in the mirror. Connie also defines herself by the amount of attention she receives from the boys in her town. This could be brought on by insecurity from society making women feel like they have to look and act a certain way. She identifies too profoundly with the fallacies that movies and music place in the minds of young women.
Oates plays the on teenager and female gender stereotypes to describe Connie. This makes Connie seem almost familiar or relateable in some ways. She is characterized by nativity, weakness and inexperience. She is just a teenager trying to gain her independence. However, what Connie does not realize is that by trying to gain her independence she ultimately pushes herself closer to Arnold Friend and what seems to be her demise.
One day while Connie is at a diner she captures the attention of Arnold Friend “Gonna get you baby” (Oates 674). Arnold says this to Connie the night he first sees her at the diner. One day later in the narrative he shows up at her house wanting her to go on a ride with him. Arnold Friend would not take no for an answer “Connie, you ain’t telling the truth. This is your day set aside for a ride with me and you know it” (Oates 677). He also threatens her “come out here nice like a lady and give me your hand, and nobody else gets hurt, I mean your nice old bald-headed daddy and your mummy and your sister in her high heels. why bring them into this?” ( Oates 682). Connie is helpless against arnold friend. He even threatens to kick down the door “I mean, anybody can break through a screen door and glass and wood and iron or anything else if he needs to, anybody at all and specially Arnold Friend” (Oates 680). Eventually, at the end, Connie ends up submitting to Arnold Friend because she has no other choice.
Oates used this to bring light to the fact that although the feminist movement is going on, which brings about a lot of female empowerment, women still need to be careful. Our society has always considered men superior to women. Which gives them power or control in both private and public settings. This can be incredible dangerous for girls like Connie, who have been taught to be submissive to dominant males by society.
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