UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA, NSUKKA
FACULTY OF EDUCATION
DEPARTMENT OF ART EDUCATION (ENGLISH)
THE PRESENTATION OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY IN ANY TWO MODERN COMEDY WORKS
A TERM PAPER
SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT FOR THE REQUIREMENT OF THE COURSE ELS 240
OKORAFOR-NWOSU EKENE JOY
LECTURER: MR ONYEKA ODOH
Sexuality and gender are prominent themes in Shakespeare’s plays. Depending on the genre of the play, sexuality and gender are used as either a tool of manipulation, a form of propaganda or sometimes both. During the time of Shakespeare, there was a social construct of gender and sexuality norms just as there are today. There was a hierarchy of sexes and each had their own role in society. Men were masculine, they were not ruled by emotion, they were strong and hard working. Women belonged in the home, they were ruled by men and by their emotions and therefore were thought to often make bad decisions. By blurring the lines between sexuality and gender in his plays, Shakespeare deconstructs these norms to display their ambiguity. Masculine men can play effeminate women roles (which they did on stage) and effeminate women can play masculine men roles.
During the time when William Shakespeare was alive and writing, there were social norms about gender and sexuality that existed similarly as they do today. A major difference is that today there are feminist movements out to abolish gender inequality whereas during Shakespeare’s time, women were fully aware of their role in society and generally shared the same viewpoint as the men did.
THE PRESENTATION OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY IN LION AND THE JEWEL AND IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST
Gender refers to the widely shared set of expectations and norms linked to how women and men, and girls and boys, should behave. Unlike 'sex' which refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that are assigned to men and women in any given society. These expectations are not fixed but are continually being constructed and reinforced through social relationships and economic and political power dynamics.
Researchers, like those in Nirantar, who have explored the relationship between gender and sexuality, argue that gender and sexuality cannot be thought of as distinct and separate categories but as intimately related. The societies we live in construct the right and wrong way to behave as men and women and these are mapped onto ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sexual practices, beliefs and behaviours:
“Ideologies claiming that women should be pure and chaste can lead to female genital mutilation, honour killings, and restrictions on women’s mobility and economic or political participation. Ideas that men should be macho can mean that sexual violence is expected rather than condemned. In many places, to be considered a ‘proper man’ or ‘proper woman’, you need to act one hundred per cent heterosexual, and stay in line with gender stereotypes.” (Ikkaracan and Jolly 2007: 3)
Social expectations linked to gender influence how women and men behave and this includes their sexual behaviour, attitudes and feelings. These expectations tend to be based on the assumption that there are two categories of people, men and women and that they behave differently based on their biological sex.
Women’s role in the society: Polygamy and wife wooing girls to the husband Hence, Soyinka portrays the customs and traditions in his Yoruba country. It is new to the reader. The Polygamous society gives importance to the Bale, for example: It allows him to marry as many girls as he wants. He just uses them for his pleasure and after the arrival of the new favourite; he sends the last favourite to an outhouse. In our society, we represent this as the society that never gives respect to woman as Lakunle says "they are used to pounds the yam or bends all the day to plant the millet ...to fetch and carry, to cook and scrub, to bring forth children by the gross" .
Lakunle believes in the modern concept of love, so he tries to court the village belle. Finally, result will be in marriage. Unfortunately, the crux of the problem still exists. Although Lakunle is an African by birth, he has Europeanised himself by his modern education and contact with the alien culture. In his new concept, there is no polygamy and monogamy is a modern phenomenon. Hence, Sidi believes in the traditional African values of life including the conventions of marriage. She also does not believe in the European concept of “love marriage". She expects him to buy her by giving her brideprice. Wole Soyinka's works can also be criticized from a feminist view; in The Lion and the Jewel, women are really considered the second sex, essentially created for serving men, and in The Road there is no female character at all. On the other hand, Euba claims that when women appear in Soyinka's works they appear in a dramatized womanhood, because they are manifestations of the Yoruba goddesses Oya, Yemoja, and Oshun, which represent beauty, love, sensual power, etc.
Jack and Algernon are both products of the upper middle class and as such fall in between the aristocratic and middle class categories that Sedgwick presents. Algernon seems rather delighted to find out that Jack has been taking part in the same activities as he has: “...now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist I naturally want to talk to you about Bunburying”. The notion of homosocial bonding over their shared proclivities is understandably exciting to Algernon who has heretofore been missing a peer group. However, the two have rather different attitudes towards the practice. Jack denies being a Bunburyist and insists that if Gwendolen agrees to marry him, he plans to kill off his imaginary brother, that is, to stop leading a double life. This sparks the following exchange:
ALGERNON: Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if
you ever get married...you will be extremely glad to know
Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very
tedious time of it.
JACK: That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like
Gwendolen...I certainly won’t want to know Bunbury. (IBE14)
First of all, it should be noted that unlike Jack, Algernon is not willing to stop his Bunburying even in the event of marriage. Furthermore, his statement about the necessity of Bunbury in a marriage appears to advocate the idea that limiting yourself to sexual encounters with just your wife is “tedious” and unnecessarily limiting. It seems that unlike Algernon, Jack is willing to compromise his happiness in favour of a heterosexual marital agreement that is sanctioned by the society. But even Algernon is not oblivious to rules he is circumventing. Although he can generally be trusted to say perfectly wonderful things about Bunbury, he does rather insistently refer to him, and by association to the act of Bunburying, as an “invalid”. This works as a reference to the poor health of Bunbury and consequently as a convenient excuse for him to avoid his obligations. It also shows that Algernon is aware of the invalidity of his sex adventures in the eyes of society. Though he may recognise that according to society’s norms Bunbury is an invalid, he continues his exploits without a trace of guilt. The notion that Bunburying would define Algernon as a sexual degenerate is rejected. In fact he remains an “eligible young man”, fit for marriage and high society Algernon's insistence on the necessity of Bunburying in marriage undermines the normative marriage which only has two participants and anyone interfering is an outsider, distraction or a possible threat. Far from being threatening, in Algernon's view Bunbury is actually an inextricable part of the union and conducive to its success. Algernon further places the female gender as immoral by saying that girls do not marry who they flirt with and therefor gwendolen would not marry jack. We equally find that food is placed to represent the female gender in some cases that is why Algernon tells jack to go and collect bread and butter instead of giving him the cucumber sandwich he requested also jack who at first wanted the cucumber sandwich suddenly see the bread and butter to be delicious because he realizes that gwendolen likes it to.