Gender Issues in Pygmalion and the Importance of Being Earnest

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The most important theme in Pygmalion is gender. Eliza was used by Shaw to represent his ideal woman. He transformed Eliza into a better person by Higgins and Pickering, his idea of a real woman; one who stands out from all others (Conolly-Smith 95121). The play depicts how much society expects from women. Personally, I place a high value on the female gender’s position. The same can be said of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Men were regarded as superior beings to women in the Victorian culture of the play’s time. The comparison in these two plays is in their diminishing of women characters and their demands for women to be what men desired.
Eliza is the main character in the Pygmalion play by Shaw. Despite her condition as a poor flower girl, she endeavored to be something more (Grene 236–259). She sought an education from Higgins and Pickering to become a better lady. When she came out from her entrapment, Eliza decided to get married. Additionally, the training enlightened her, and she could confront Higgins without fear. Admittedly, this lady evolved in her character; from a timid flower girl to an outspoken, strong woman.

Others marginalize Eliza in the play (Pfeiffer 194–241). As a woman, she does the odd job of being a flower girl to meet her basic needs. When Freddy dropped her flowers in the mud, she could not help herself. She mistook Pickering for a police officer when told he was writing something while she spoke. Only a marginalized person would be so afraid of the police. Most evidently, her poverty status contributed to this.
Her marginalization is further shown when she asks to be taught to be a fine lady by Higgins and Pickering and cites her desire to become a fine flower girl through her improved speech and manners. She preferred this profession as it was the only job the society would offer her. Even in the employ of Higgins, she was merely a servant, treated with disdain.
As a controlling character, Eliza’s father was dominating (Pfeiffer 194–241). At a point, he would have hit her were it not for Pickering. According to her father, Eliza was merely a means to get money from Higgins. By failing to care about her welfare, her father effectively marginalized this girl. Mrs. Higgins disapproved Eliza when brought to the house.
On the night of winning the bet, Higgins ignored Eliza despite her input in the win. Instead, he gave this lady a task and retired to bed. Eliza’s true feelings of marginalization are revealed when she threw slippers at him- this was her way of expression. Furthermore, Higgins advised her to get married, a suggestion that angered Eliza since this assertion could be interpreted as Higgins’ way of getting rid of her (Grene 236–259).
Eliza emphasized her education when Higgins and Pickering came to her with a proposal to teach her how to be a lady. The training that was offered at the time was only a privilege accorded to men. Both Higgins and Pickering were scholars of poetry. No mention of a learned woman was made in the play depicting a patriarchal society in which only men could get educated. Eliza willed herself to be emancipated from the traditional cocoon, curtailing women from studying. She was confident that through the training, she would become the best flower girl.
An acceptable woman could only be realized through literal sculpture. Eliza, a flower girl, had to be trained by Higgins and Pickering into a perfect woman. Men had expectations of women behavior. Eliza’s language was outright unacceptable to the two men. The fascinating part is in how men seek to control women. By dictating their speech, ladies were left powerless over men. Arguably, if someone commanded your expression, it meant that you were merely a pawn to them and you had to conform to their whims.

As for Wilde, the context was slightly different though the message was clear. He placed a woman, Lady Bracknell, in a position of power over men. Through her, it was evident that men were not perfect as they could be irresponsible and poor at decision making. Although the play was mostly a comedy, given the times of production, it was an awakening of sorts to the female gender. Notably, it showed that women could be equal if not better than men. As a woman in power, she had the difficult task of dealing with men who saw themselves as stronger and better than her (Ruff 462–464.).
Lady Bracknell was against women education. She said, “Education does not affect”. To her, learning would mean being equal to men, which was ironical of her as she had power over women. Denying ladies the right to education because of traditions was unfair to her. Alternatively, she could have advocated for women education so that they could have a voice and some independence from the Masculine society. The contrast between Eliza and Lady Bracknell was so sharp from their societal positions to their view in education.

During the ailment of Lord Bracknell, Lady Bracknell had to take over the mantle of leadership (Ruff 462–464). The reversal of role may seem comic, given the times, but presented more challenges to her. She had to step into a man’s position as was traditionally dictated. Her opposition to women education showed the female gender’s problem of lack of knowledge and primitive assumptions of not undertaking it. Her comments on politics are a depiction of her test to act like a man, be masculine. She said, “Oh they count as Tories they dine with us or come in the evening” to reveal her ignorance of political issues. Who could blame her? During those times, women had no role in politics as they were prohibited from voting.
Wilde demonstrates the gender role reversal that swept the 19th century (Roberts 336–348). Women began taking male roles such as leadership and vice versa. Apart from Lady Bracknell, Miss Prim was a governess of Cecily. The awakening of these ladies seems to imply that men had to take on house-keeping duties from the women. Both Lady Bracknell and Cecily believe that “home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man.” Unlike the traditional way when men proposed to women, it is a woman Cecily who proposed to Algernon. Still, women in this play are faced with a tirade of problems. Thus, they need to contend with men to take their new roles as the dominant gender.
Work Cited
Conolly-Smith, Peter. “‘Well, I’m Dashed!’: Jitta, Pygmalion, and Shaw’s Revenge.” Shaw, 33.1 (2013): 95–121. Print.l
Grene, Nicholas. “SHAW PRODUCTIONS IN IRELAND, 1900–2009.” Shaw (2010): 236–259. Print.
Pfeiffer, John R. “A CONTINUING CHECKLIST OF SHAVIANA.” Shaw, 32.1 (2012): 194–241. Print.
Roberts, Gerald. “Earnest Men: Two Victorian Contemporaries.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 102.407 (2013): 336–348. Print.
Ruff, Felicia J. “Theatre Journal.” Theatre Journal 63.3 (2011): 462-464. Print.

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