The Struggle of Being a Woman

Back in Shakespearean times, being a noble woman carried a lot of weight. Males sexualized us. We would have to look and dress a certain way. Our mannerisms mattered (even if they were not authentic). And last but not least, we were expected to be docile and follow the lead of the men in our life, especially our fathers.

The struggle of being a woman is very present in the play, King Lear, by William Shakespeare. In the play, King Lear’s daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia are expected to proclaim their love for their father in order to receive their inheritance. Regan and Goneril overexaggerate their love for their father, while Cordelia remains true to herself and does not blanket her father compliments in order to gain his favor. Because of this, she receives none of his power or inheritance, despite her authentic love for her father being more than her sisters’. This is just the first of many examples in the play, where the struggle of being a woman is very real. Non-submissiveness results in great consequences, as seen with Cordelia. “Fortunately” for her, the King of France decides to court and marry her, which means she will remain in nobility. This further exemplifies how difficult it is to be a woman because she must marry someone in order to remain above water. Without a noble man, she would have been nothing.

Later in the play, the portrayal of Goneril and Regan is quite dramatic due to the power that they hold. When Goneril requests that Lear downsizes the amount of knights that he brings, Lear exclaims that Goneril has a “wolfish visage” (1.4.325). In the play, women of power are frequently described as rabid animals. In this case, because Goneril was exerting her authority over her father, who distributed all of his power, she was bashed and described to be a wolf. Moreover, after abandoning their father. the Duke of Albany condemns Goneril and Regan when he states, “Tigers, not daughters, what have you performed?”(4.2.49). By describing them as tigers, he is emphasizing that they are acting wild and animalistic.

Even more, the fact that the females in the story act out of control when in power plays on to a theme that we as women cannot hold power without being ruthless. In reality, women can act and rule in a very normal way. The chaos in King Lear does not serve as a proper example of women in power, but does emphasize the many bad perceptions of women. In this modern day and age, ruling as a female is still quite difficult. It is nice to think that progress is still happening. With Kamala Harris as the first female vice president of the USA, we can clearly see change and understand that females are very capable of leading. There is still hope for future women in power.

6 thoughts on “The Struggle of Being a Woman

  1. EVELYN D

    I like the way you talked about how women of the time were incapable of being authentic without losing everything. I find it absurd and interesting how men were considered honest and noble for speaking their minds while women would lose everything for stepping out of turn. I also really liked your comment about how women in power were considered ruthless or evil, instead of just powerful.

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  2. Danielle W

    I agree with Evelyn in that I love your feminist approach on the story. The blatant sexism portrayed in the story is exemplary of the time period, and while not surprising in the least, it is still frustrating. The fact that the negative actions conducted by some of the women in the story were made out to be the result of their gender rather than their character is an important thing to point out when discussing the gender roles of King Lear.

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  3. SYDNEY R

    I agree with the two comments above as well! You did a great job talking about the sexism throughout the play and identifying certain moments where women are only thought of in negative ways. Especially when talking about them as a leader, we would act in a normal way without the constant chaos that others think would bring to the table. I do and hope for more women leadership in the future.

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    1. ALEXANDRA NICHOLSON

      Great analysis on the gender issues in King Lear. I agree that they are portrayed in a negative way by being described as power hungry and compared to beasts. Basically stating that woman in power is essentially a bad thing.

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  4. Zoe H

    I appreciate the way you ended this post with a hopeful tone connecting these issues to modern times. I agree that the issue of women in power becomes increasingly complex as time progresses. On the one hand, it seems like change is being made – but maybe our hypocritical standards are just taking a new form.

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  5. MIIKA F.

    You bring up some really important points. The portrayal of women in this play in many ways condones a patriarchal society. The way women in power are portrayed as animalistic and impulsive does not paint an ideal picture. The reality is, like you said, that women can and do achieve power, and these portrayals are quite frankly false and dangerous.

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