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Essay: Themes of gender inequality in Othello

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101 years ago marks the year where women gained the right to vote in the United Kingdom. Before this time, women were treated as property to their superior opposite: men. Women fought a hard and long battle in order to have the right to vote. Movements and protests took place continuously until they were provided with the equality that they deserved. Women waited for the day when their lives would be changed forever and World War 1 brought the opportunity that they needed. While men were off fighting in the war, women had to take on the role of a “man’s job”. If not for the women during this time of desperation, the United Kingdom wouldn’t have survived the terror and destruction that the war brought. Women were finally able to show that they were suited for the same responsibilities of a man, and so when the war ended, they were rewarded with the right to vote. Unlike men, women weren’t just handed what they deserved, but rather had to fight for their equality, persist, and prove themselves over and over again.

Now, we have to ask ourselves, while it has been more than a century since women gained the right to vote, are men and women one hundred percent equals? The answer is still no. Women today still face gender equality barriers and prejudice. Countless scenarios of sexism take place in our society daily. Factors such as the pay gap still occur in our work environment today and the fact exists that women are extremely underrepresented in our government. Also, it is worrisome that a woman has never been elected president of the United States or that women shoulder more of a household burden even if they aren’t a stay-at-home mom. The inequality that women still face is very real and is holding us back as a society.

Othello by William Shakespeare is a great play that represents the gender inequality that women have faced. To start, the presence of women in this play is very minor as the only two female characters that possess any relevance are Desdemona and Emilia. Desdemona plays Othello’s innocent wife as Othello controls her and Desdemona possesses no self respect as she allows herself to be treated as her husband’s puppet. Desdemona defends him and lets him treat her like garbage throughout their whole marriage. At the end of the play, Othello kills Desdemona and when Emilia comes rushing into their bedroom and asks what happened, Desdemona takes her final breath as she protects her husband and coughs out the phrase of suicide. Emilia cries out, “O, who hath done this deed?” Desdemona responds with, “Nobody; I myself. Farewell.” (V.II.125) Desdemona is so loyal and so tightly wrapped around Othello’s finger that she protects the man who tried to kill her. Her innocence and love takes the best of her and she lies in order to defend Othello. Although some may see this as an act of love, I am disgusted by this. The reality is pathetic – think about this; she is lying for the man who just tried to kill her. The gender bias shines through during this scene as we see the way that the woman is inferior to the man and must abide by his rules.

The other woman that plays an important role in this play is Emilia. Emilia is Iago’s wife and unlike Desdemona, she respects herself. The woman throughout Othello are belittled and constantly undervalued. Emilia’s intelligence is underestimated as she takes a stand and speaks her mind in order to defend herself and Desdemona. After Othello kills Desdemona, Emilia proves Desdemona’s innocence and voices her true opinion. Not many woman during this time would advocate so firmly for what they believe in but Emilia is different. Emilia yells towards him in anger, “O, the more angel she, And you the blacker devil!” (V.II.132-133) Emilia doesn’t only stand up to Othello but additionally to her own husband; Iago. A woman denouncing and confronting her husband was a brave scenario that had no precedent. Iago undermined what Emilia was capable of and thought that she was unable to read between the lines because of who she was; a woman.

“O thou dull Moor! That handkerchief thou speak’st of

I found by fortune and did give my husband;

For often with a solemn earnestness,

More than indeed belong’d to such a trifle,

He begg’d of me to steal it.” (V.II.238-242)

Emilia’s role in this play changed the storyline drastically. Without her, the play would have ended with Othello being accused of murdering his wife and Iago would have been a free man. Emilia knew the risk of making such accusations against her husband but she didn’t care. She brought justice to those who deserved it and in the end, she sadly paid the price for the risk she took. Iago stabbed Emilia for revealing his manipulations and Emilia clasped to the bed next to her already dead friend, Desdemona. Emilia’s death was heartbreaking as she died because of the actions she took. She could have stayed silent but she knew what was right and she didn’t worry about what society’s expectations of her were. Overall, Emilia is the only woman in Othello who dared to challenge the social norms and gender roles of her time.

Although this letter to you (yes this letter is for you and therefore you need to listen to what I am telling you to do) could ramble on for hours about the ways women are misrepresented and underappreciated today; but that is not what is important here. We can’t dwell on our the past (or in this case the fictional past of a play) or present because that will lead us nowhere. What we have to focus on now is changing our future. Women are the voice of change. Following the leadership of women who are guiding us towards change is what we should be engaged in. There are many great women throughout history who have influenced where we are today. Reminding ourselves of how we can change our world like these past woman have done is what should inspire us.

To conclude, I want you to dig deep into the importance of this letter. Remind yourself of who you are and think back to the gender bias that you most likely have faced at one point within your life. The bias you may have faced could have even been something so simple and silly like being picked last for a sports team in physical education in school. Being picked last because the boys were all picked first as they were considered to be better than you in physical games because of their gender when you could be highly more skilled. The gender bias that many hold is undeniable and very recognizable. Minor scenarios such as this are likely happening to us all daily and while they may seem unimportant, the small things are the important ones. These small incidents add up and if no one ever fights for the small things then how while we ever be able to overcome the larger issues at hand. Our society is in desperate need of woman like Emilia who will sacrifice what is needed, and see the bigger picture, to gain what is important. The more woman who emulate the courage of Emilia is what will change our gender inequality for the better.


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