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Essay: Gender in William Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 130’ and ‘The Friday Everything Changed’ by Anne Hart

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
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  • Published: March 18, 2021*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 912 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)
  • Tags: Shakespeare essays
  • Gender in William Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 130’ and ‘The Friday Everything Changed’ by Anne Hart
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Gender is expressed in various ways and in William Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 130’ and ‘The Friday Everything Changed’ by Anne Hart, this chosen identity is expressed in the form of femininity and equality of gender roles. Although both texts demonstrate the generational differences between genders it also shows implications that society has set expectations onto women, especially towards girls in their childhood years. Both Shakespeare and Hart share the theme of stereotypical injustices that females face in their works as this further question the comparisons to modern-day outlook on gender and what modifications have been done to improve this.

Exploring the descriptive portrayal of his mistress in ‘Sonnet 130’, Shakespeare composes the bittersweet sonnet that is first mistaken as ridicule but is in fact, a sincere expression of his love. Thus, underlying the instant generalisation of standard beauty expectations readers have upon women. The debate over whether female beauty is objective and subjective can be explored within Shakespeare’s sonnet, as detailed his work may appear, the confusion as to how a person can be attracted to such can also be questioned therefore underlining the expectations that women face to meet certain beauty criteria. This has been discussed by Kant as “the judgement of taste is therefore not a judgement of cognition and is consequently not logical but aesthetical” . Furthermore, concerning ‘judgement of taste’ being ‘aesthetical’ it would appear as to why people have higher expectations on one’s appearance being nicer – to fit the perfectionist aesthetic. Thus, what is deemed attractive to some may seem unattractive to others, as this is demonstrated by the first impressions readers may have when reading through ‘Sonnet 130’. Essentially, the concept that Shakespeare could be capturing is that love turns a blind eye and the words that one writes is about whom they love regardless of how they look.

Besides, standards of beauty and Shakespeare’s written preference both contradict one another as he quotes “if snow be white, why then her breasts are dun”. Pale skin was highly admired by women during the Elizabethan era, especially as it signified wealth but also indicated a sense of idolisation within beauty. The skin appearing ‘dun’ is an unexpected feature as it refers to a dull greyish-brown colour, which is on the contrary to beauty standards in that era. Yet again, the expectations towards women’s beauty standards were high, whereas compared to modern-day, both men and women are equally free in the sense of exploring and expressing their beauty; whether it is based from makeup or just natural expression, there has been a rise in empowerment within communities to put judgement away and to feel open to their nature. In particular, xxx states “the core of empowerment lies in the ability of a woman to control her own destiny” emphasising that self-belief has a strong impact on the manifestation of one’s identity. However, refocusing on the aesthetic idea that Shakespeare has painted his ideal woman regardless of what society or readers may think is imperfect, it is important to note that women “have these aesthetic values as a reference, that is, these standards that point out what a beautiful woman is”

On the contrary, gender is explored differently in Hart’s ‘The Friday Everything Changed’ in the sense that there is inequality between the two genders at an adolescence stage. Hart depicts the courage it took for the character Alma to “ask[ed] why girls couldn’t go for the water as well” symbolising the sexism and the oblivious gender superiority. This is shown in the language as “the boys felt threatened by this question”. The verb ‘threatened’ holds a strong intention by the boys in the classroom, proposing the idea that this is a boundary that should not be crossed by the girls, almost giving it an animalistic touch. Regardless of gender, boys and girls should be treated as equals to one another yet there is the underlying presumption that boys will always be stronger than girls. This is not only shown in Hart’s work but also projected throughout the history of society on gender inequalities; ranging from pay gap between men and women to women’s rights to many things.

The text can also be interpreted from a feminist perspective as Alma had bravely stood up to question the inconspicuous sexism that had been occurring in the classroom. By doing so, she broke down the walls which eventually allowed the girls in the classroom to carry the water bucket, as no job should be restricted down to one gender but to both. In this case “improving educational opportunities for girls, therefore, is essential to improving the next generation’s educational outcomes” signifies that knowledge developed through education has an impact on children’s minds and their perspective to acceptance. The importance of Hart’s story involving school children shows how regardless of age, there is inequality. Internalising gender equality through socialisation. With this in mind, the representation of gender in both texts suggest that there is an expectation that women and girls must follow. Whether that is to meet certain guidelines to look appealing to the eye or to be restricted within a patriarchal society, women will sometimes struggle but will also conquer to overcome these problems.

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