Judgement of Females in Literature

Recently I read an article, Do We Judge Female Characters More Harshly Than Male Characters?  It brought up an interesting point about gender perception and the work done by social psychologists that “has repeatedly demonstrated that women are perceived and evaluated on a different criteria than men. Some traits seen as positive in one is seen as negative in the other ..such as assertiveness is seen as a positive trait in a male and in a female it is seen as pushiness, or a lack of warmth is acceptable in men but in women it can be a deadly (in terms of perception by others).” The discussion followed by how it translates to literature as well and how the female characters are evaluated against a different scale than their male counterparts.

It made me think about the character of Beatrice Joanna in The Changeling. There is no doubt that she is a villain, but the characteristics she exhibited are very similar to those we have seen in the “new men” in the different plays we have read this semester. And yet, as a female she is giving the harsher judgment, which as the ending of the play reaffirms shows it holds true….because it is De Flores who confesses the full extent of their crimes and kills her and himself.

While I am in no way trying to defend her as a character, there are some points that should be considered. And one of those points is the fact that in any other situation, and through our modern eyes, De Flores was basically stalking and sexually harassing Beatrice Joanna. Yes she was mean to him, but it wasn’t completely unprovoked. She also had very little choice and control over her own life, as many women of that time, as it was her father who would decide who she would marry….even if she did not want to.

But putting aside Beatrice Joanna, that double standard of character evaluation holds true even when applied to other characters. We praise Isabella for her virtuousness to her bastard of a husband, Celia for her goodness…and even with the Duchess and Julia there is the ingrained comparison of the moral virtuousness of the female character.

It does cause me as a reader to reevaluate, if not precisely how I evaluate what I read and judge characters, then at least how those judgements differ between genders and if the judgment would be the same if the gender was taken out of context.

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One Response to Judgement of Females in Literature

  1. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we judge women on a different scale, whether they’re fictional characters or actual people. What complicates this is that so many of the actions that we’re evaluating have some kind of sexual basis, so there are real gender distinctions as well.

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