Societal Expectations of Women

Societal Expectations of Women

As a history major, it is important to observe the roles women play in society through evolving eras to better understand all cultures. As a D20 girl, it is important to understand the roles and expectations women have in society to better understand how to support the women in our organization and the women we encounter. Over time, these expectations seem to evolve, but unfortunately, they are not changing quickly enough to mold to our ever changing society.


The powerful wife of Agamemnon

In historic tradition, most cultures leave little room for women outside of marriage and motherhood. While obviously there were women who challenged the status quo, these women were largely seen as undesirable and outcasts, such as Clytemnestra, the wife of a powerful king gone to fight in the Trojan War who took control in the play Agamemnon. These women are considered manly and devoid of any feminine traits, and therefore they are against the rules of the gods. After the popularization of Christianity and the spread of its practice, these women were condemned as witches, disobeying God’s will. The formation of the church laws in late antiquity led to the ability for the sanctioned subjugation of women to these limited roles. Similarly, earlier in China, the philosopher Confucius and his collection of proverbs, “The Analects”, subjugate women as caretakers and child bearers as well. These proverbs spread through Eastern Asia, forming similar attitudes, and even today continue to be taught to children in China especially, as young as the age of three.

The persistence of these cultural staples has allowed these traditional roles for women to be maintained. During the period considered modern history, from 1500 to the present, the expectations held of women and the narrow roles society provides have, unfortunately, not changed very much. The importance of social appearances became more and more prominent. Therefore, such things as fashion and social status became very highly valued, yet very highly controlled. In the mid-1700s, King Louis XIV moved his entire court to Versailles with him in order to keep track of everyone. Absolute monarchies allowed for rulers to secure their rule in any way possible, as seen by the master of uxoricide, Henry VIII, who murdered the wives who would not produce a son.

The Gibson Girl

The epitome of Victorian Beauty

In the post-monarchic system of the American and French Revolutions, society was wrought with the new ideas of “all men are created equal” and maintained just that – only men. The late 1700s and early 1800s began the first Industrial Revolution, which led labour away from the home and into the first factories. This trend continued, causing most men to abandon lives of pastoral work and domestic business. This left women at home to function only in a role of motherhood and domesticity. This led to the development of the term “the cult of domesticity”, encompassing the roles and duties of motherhood and child rearing, cleaning and maidly duties, and most notably, service to the husband. In the mid to late 1800s, a moral resurgence occurred, based on Christian traditions, and required women to be exceedingly cautious of their behavior in order to maintain the favour of the public eye. During this time, sexuality was increasingly repressed, as a “chaste and loyal” woman was seen as a valueable member of society. While the eras before this time obviously put a great deal of importance on chastity, it was largely seen as part of a bride’s value, as women were largely seen as stock to only be traded between men. Aside from that, sex was a very commonplace thing, as was infidelity to spouses, even with members of the same sex. These attitudes developed in this time, the Victorian Era, hold on very strongly today, even through the morally loose times of the 20s and the sexual revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. This time is when the traditional concept of what women should look like; this was with the advent of corsets for a perky bosom and tiny waist, heels for a longer leg line and more lifted backside, long hair for a more gracefully and morally upright look, and blushed cheeks.

The older generation in our modern time hold these ideas close to them. Women are supposed to marry a man and have children, and then take care of both while wearing a ruffled apron and meticulously applied lipstick, like the mothers in Leave it to Beaver, Bewitched, and I Love Lucy. To the people who find these expectations appealing, women who choose to live the single life or to have a career as opposed to a family are wrong, as are women who choose to look differently than what they find, usually traditionally and exceedingly femininely, attractive. Women who are transgender, muscular, vocal about their beliefs and rights, and/or uninterested in having a traditional family (among plenty of other things) are marginalized by these people as unfeminine and outcasts.

Unfortunately, often times areas of geekdom such as gaming and comics, follow these hardline stereotypes and roles for women as well. Women are oversexualized to appeal soley to the male gaze, while the ratio of men to women partaking is 1:1 for both games and comics. Women also end up as caretakers, like Pepper Potts. In the Iron Man movies (the most accessible form of the Marvel Universe), Pepper, while intelligent and capable, is relegated as Tony Stark’s girlfriend/babysitter because he is largely irresponsible and reckless. One of the most popular video game females, Princess Peach, is famous for being the traditional damsel in distress, awaiting rescue.

The D20 Girls are an organization that tries to combat these harmful stereotypes, such as damsel in distress and the babysitter girlfriend among many other things, such as animosity between women/girls ourselves because of these crazy expectations, such as competing for the attention of men or belittling each other over physical traits to feel superior, like in cosplay. The only real way to combat the negative effects the attitudes about these expectations produce is for all women to bond together to say that all girls, no matter what role they play, whether a mother and caretaker or single for life CEO and whether we are traditionally feminine or modernly lovely, we are all great people and worthy of acceptance and happiness.