Today, women have to make a choice whether to rebel or conform to several heavy expectations placed on them due to their quite prominent oppression throughout society; specifically through the media. Both routes have advantages and consequences, but most choose to conform to these expectations. Conformity can present one with a feeling of a lack of true identity, and a feeling that they are not who they wanted to be. Yet, those who conform tend to be more accepted by society. On the other hand, those who chose to rebel can be subject to ridicule and ostracism from mainstream society, yet often feel more fulfilled as they are the person they desired to be. Whether it be in the evident oppression of Women or in the struggles of Men, conformity and submittance or rebellion and rejection is a struggle every man and woman must face repeatedly throughout their lives. Nearly every debate a person has with themselves about following the norm or following their hearts is a strife that has to do with gender identity.
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An underhanded example of a strong independent woman conforming to society’s expectations of women is an astounding short poem titled Dreams, by Nikki Giovanni. She explains that she used to dream “radical dreams” of taking America’s racism and sexism by storm; of being big and extraordinary and rebelling against the expected of her. Then she explains that she “awoke” from the dreams she believed to be unrealistic and decided to “dream natural dreams of being a natural woman doing what a woman does”. She traded her ideas of rebellion and hopes of being largely free and awe inducing for the safe pillow of conformity of her gender expectations that she decided she would prefer. She decided she’d prefer to be extraordinary in rather ordinary ways. On the other side of the spectrum is Emily Dickinson’s Much Madness is Divinest Sense. In this spectacular work, the author fully embraces oddity and explains that conformity, or “sense”, is the true madness of life, not the madness itself. She rebels against conformity itself, taking the risk of being shunned by most of society in order to do what she pleases and to make a difference. Both of these women took the path that would be most fulfilling to them, though I believe I would probably go along with Emily Dickenson’s point of view.
As we talked about in class, men also must choose whether to conform or rebel to the societal expectations set upon them. The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy is a clever yet poignant approach on this struggle, focusing on men’s pressure to participate and kill in war. The narrator of the poem admits that “had he” and the man he killed met outside of war they “should have set” and made acquaintance with each other. He explains that he “shot him dead because – Because he was my foe” because he realizes that he only killed the man he never knew formally because that’s what he was told to do; because he knew he had to or he would be exiled and rejected. This man does not want to conform to men’s expectation to kill and fight in war, but he understands that it’s a more comfortable option than rebelling against his expectations. He is likely uncomfortable with conformity, but not as uncomfortable as he is with rebelling. He is an overlooked part of society, because, as we’ve discussed, he is expected to be strong and independent and unemotional. Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen is another less clever but just as effective take on the same struggle. Owen challenges the male stereotype of dying a heroic death. The entire poem paints a harrowing picture of a battered, beaten battalion all struggling just to stay alive while bombarded with gas-shells. The narrator decides that all of this is not a heroic way to die. While male expectations paint vivid pictures of grandeur, victory, and great achievements, conformity to these ideals aren’t as grand as one may believe. The author is illustrating the idea that conformity is not always as it seems to be, and it seems more controlled than free will and rebellion does. He ends by saying people should not tell children it is fitting to die for one’s country, stating that it’s a lie. Both of these poems elaborate on the same idea. In their views, conformity may seem like a safe and more accepted option, but conforming tends to take freedom of will and expression out of the equation. While this is a legitimate view on the ideas of conformity, they fail to realize that conformity may work for some, just not for them.
Lastly, I’m looking at one of my favorite’s movies, El Laberinto del Fauno or Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s a Spanish movie about a girl, Ofelia, and her journey moving to a new home when her mother marries Captain Vidal of the Army of Spain, whose goal is to defeat resistance in Spain. She meets with many fantastical creatures and is instructed to complete many tasks in order to return to her domain in the underworld as a princess, but she is not who I’ll be talking about. The resistance against the army has a reasonably sized role throughout the movie. A woman Mercedes, who is my favorite character throughout the film, is a woman who works directly for Captain Vidal. She also happens to be part of the resistance. She is extraordinarily strong throughout the film, more so than most other characters. She works hard to stay under the captains nose, she care’s greatly for Ofelia, she works to get supplies and information to her rebellion, and she doesn’t embellish on the fact that she’s a woman until she gets captured by the captain. At this point he says his guard may stay outside because she’s “just a woman”, to which she states “that’s why I could get away with it, you believe I’m just a woman”. She then proceeds to escape, brutally injure the captain, return to her rebellion, and save the day towards the end of the movie (not spoiling any plot points).
It has become rather clear that both conformity and rebellion have their advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, conformity can result in a stripped identity while being accepted by society, while rebellion can bring a sense of true identity to a person while being shunned by society. This struggle affects both men and women on a daily basis and many are torn on which side to choose. In other words, conforming or rebelling to specific gender rolls can work better for different people, and it’s up to every individual to decide. These specific media examples are all explaining the benefits and disadvantages to each strife between conforming to their gender expectations or rebelling and making a statement, but they also have underlying struggles that have been explained above. Most media deals with these struggles of women oppression and gender expectations, though I believe literature captures struggle and current problems better than any form.
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