The Crucial Need for Feminism in a Patriarchal Society: Evaluating Death of a Salesman
The issue of gender equality is a pressing topic in our modern society. Over the course of the past century, we have established human rights, racial rights, and even animal rights. So why is it that when a woman demands equality, she is looked at as an ego-driven feminist? Our government and society have come a long way since the mid 1900’s when women’s rights were not a negotiable topic. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is an accurate portrayal of a society negatively impacted by these unjust times. Though we have slightly changed our discriminatory ways, we still have many prejudiced obstacles to overcome. Miller successfully exemplifies the bitter objectification of women in the mid 1900’s through Death of a Salesman. By explaining the sickening ways that women were treated during this largely ignorant age, the readers are taught that disloyalty, neglect, and objectification were the norms during this period of time.
In the mid 1900’s, women were not always treated with the respect that they deserved. Willy Loman’s wife Linda is a prime example of a mistreated woman granted no respect within her household. Linda is constantly lied to, put down, and pushed aside. She is emotionally abused because of all the stress that she has endured while taking care of her needy husband. During an emotional and tense conversation with her son Biff, Linda explains: “No, you can’t just come to see me, because I love him. He’s the most dearest man in the world to me, and I won’t have anyone making him feel unwanted and low and blue” (Miller 55). This heartfelt quote proves how Linda has been blinded by Willy and his manipulating tendencies. She longs for her son Biff to appreciate his father as much as he cherishes him and it angers her, because she loves Willy more than she loves herself. Her dependency on Willy’s approval exemplifies the pressures that were put upon women in the 1900’s due to a lack of female rights, and consequently, a lack of self-esteem.
Along with being emotionally manipulated by Willy, Linda is constantly being lied to. This causes a weak bond between the two and demonstrates how women like Linda were not treated with respect, as her husband did not value being honest with his wife. Linda steadily believes the lies that Willy delivers. During a conversation regarding their finances, Linda says: “But you’re doing wonderful, dear. You’re making seventy to a hundred dollars a week” (Miller 37). This statement convinces the reader – aware of Willy’s financial status – that Linda is easy to persuade and ignorant to the fact that Willy is a compulsive liar. Willy was a self-absorbed man that lied about his income just to sustain his high ego. During these desperate times, men often acted as if they had superiority over their wives, which is exemplified in the portrayal of Willy Loman.
Although women currently have more rights than ever before, women can still often be treated as the “lesser” sex in a professional capacity. Stephanie Coontz of The New York Times states: “Women are still paid less than men at every educational level and in every job category. They are less likely than men to hold jobs that offer flexibility or family-friendly benefits. When they become mothers, they face more scrutiny and prejudice on the job than fathers do” (Coontz 8). This is a current analysis of how society is still in touch with the ignorant views of past generations. As a society we have evolved and our morals have purified but we are still being discriminated for being female, as women continue to try to evade these sexist pitfalls.
Betrayal is yet another common factor that a woman in the mid 1900’s could anticipate. Being pushed to the side and used for selfish reasons was not a rare occurrence. Within Death of a Salesman, many symbols are used to exaggerate the disparity of this time. The most controversial symbol that Miller includes are the stockings. These skimpy, translucent garments represent how Willy treated the multiple women in his life. When stockings tear, they are thrown out and disregarded because they are no longer useful. Ironically, Willy Loman does this with the woman he has an affair with. While Linda Loman is sewing her torn stockings, Willy is giving them away to a woman that he has even less respect for. This is demonstrated when Willy yells: “I won’t have you mending stockings in this house! Now throw them out!” (Miller 39). Willy clearly does not appreciate his wife or the work that she puts in to prevent their marriage from crumbling apart. This also symbolizes how Linda is desperately trying to keep their marriage intact while Willy does not care for the outcome of their relationship.
The woman that Willy had an affair with in this play serves a very important purpose in developing the plot. Their relationship illustrates how Willy is in fact built up with guilt. We witness the breakdown of Willy Loman’s character after he has the affair with the woman and is speaking to Linda. Willy exclaims: “I’ll make it all up to you, Linda I’ll-” (Miller 39) proving that he feels subconsciously guilty about his affair. However, as soon as he snaps out of his daydream, he is back to his egoistic self. He uses this woman as arm candy and nothing more. This makes it evident that women in positions such as herself were not treated with dignity, in spite of the fact that both were complicit in the affair. While such a disparity may not exist today, as affairs have become normalized to a certain extent (in that women are not necessarily blamed more than men for the illicit activity), the stigma of blaming the woman is still pervasive today, and inherently unfair and sexist.
The greatest hurdle that women face, however, is objectification. Being objectified is to be treated like an object rather than a sentient being. This can result in a lack of self confidence as the woman is objectified. Being labelled and insulted in this form is something that no woman should ever stand for, but it is far less common today as we have raised awareness on this issue and strive to educate girls. When we contrast our current views on this issue to the women’s views in Death of a Salesman, we see an obvious change in the respect that women have gained for themselves over the past few years. Willy and Linda Loman’s son Happy is a prime example of a man who took girls for advantage. After years of watching Willy treat his wife with no respect, Happy easily follows in his father’s fumbling footsteps. Happy’s dishonourable actions come into play when he is out with his brother Biff at a restaurant and begin to admire a lavishly dressed woman. After approaching the woman, Happy states: “Isn’t that a shame now? A beautiful girl like that? That’s why I can’t get married. There’s not a good woman in a thousand. New York is loaded with them, kid!” (Miller 103). This statement shows how Happy often categorizes all women as prostitutes because of one woman that he assumed was “on call.” For this reason, he puts down all women in New York because of one isolated incident. This shows a deep lack of respect towards women, during this era.
The main problem of this past generation is that men believed that it was proper to treat a woman as their own property. For instance, Happy is a lost young man in an era with no morals. He objectifies woman and attempts to control them because, ironically, he has little control over his own life. He can barely take care of himself yet he acts as if he is a big shot with the women that he meets. This can be proven when Happy exclaims: “You know how honest I am, but it’s like this girl, see. I hate myself for it. Because I don’t want the girl, and still, I take it and I love it” (Miller 25). Happy is an egocentric male who thrives in a patriarchal society and would be nothing without it.
Over the years, we have overcome many forms of objectification but many are still commonplace. Judith A. Freeman of Scholarworks states: “In a desire to restore a family-centered way of life, men like J. Earl Schaefer relied on traditional patterns of behaviour within the existing consumer society. By doing so, these manufacturers and promoters perpetuated the long-established mode of appealing to women as homemakers, regardless of whether or not the image was congruent with women’s real activities, goals, and needs” (Freeman 21). This is proving that the mid 1900’s were a time of disparity and loss due to the war and that women were forced to give up on their dreams and be relegated to their homes, enslaved to the members of her family but particularly, their husbands, the unquestionable “head” of the household.
Our awareness on this issue has been raised over and over again within the past few years. Girls are finally being educated in crucial topics such as self-respect and equality. If we continue on the path that we are on now, this antiquated female objectification will hopefully disappear. Future generations will surely learn from the mistakes that their ancestors made in the past. Ultimately, Death of a Salesman accurately exemplifies the current issue of lack of female rights in a patriarchal society, in an exaggerated but poignant way. Even though the play takes place in the mid 1900’s, the issues that are presented still taunt us to this day. Hopefully, we will be more successful in sustaining and attaining gender equality within all civilizations in the years to come. Women must be treated with the respect that they deserve in order for the world to be balanced. Feminism is not a way for women to be superior to men but a way for women to sustain equality amongst both genders, and finding this balance will be the key to a more sustainable way of life for all people.
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