Being a man in today’s world can be a difficult challenge. However, when masculine stereotypes determined by society come into play, the task rises to a whole other level. Men throughout history have been faced with daily tests as to which societal norms are to be followed. If the expected norms are not followed, a man could become an instant outcast of society and could be looked upon as weak, feminine, or an overall disappointment. There are a number of masculine stereotypes that are often found in Victorian literature.
These include men limiting and controlling their feelings and emotions, rules on how men are to treat women, the economic and social standing that men are expected to achieve, and finally, how men influence family life. Even though these stereotypes were finely ingrained into Victorian society, they were not always demonstrated by the men depicted in the literature of that era. The ability to have feelings and display emotion is something that everybody should be allowed to experience.
Yet, when it came to one of the typical stereotypes of masculinity found in Victorian literature, men were often taught that emotions should be controlled and not shown to others. When this societal norm was not followed, a man was looked down upon as having feminine characteristics, and he was then thought of as weaker than a “proper, dominant” male who did not need to showcase his emotions to the world. This stereotype, in particular, was commonly broken when a male showed emotion and genuine love towards a female.
With regards to marriage, one would think that it is wonderful to show love toward a partner. Yet, in reference to the stereotypical masculine identity during that era, a display of affection from the man to his spouse or partner may have been looked badly upon by society, especially if done in public. Such a display of affection by men was considered a weakness. This conflict is very prevalent in The Story of Avis with regards to the marriage of Philip and Avis. At the beginning of their relationship, Phillip puts on an emotional mask in order attract Avis.
He manages to pull off a very elaborate lie in order to get her commitment to marriage. Phillip says, “I do not want your work, or your individuality. I refuse to accept any such sacrifice from the woman I love. You are perfectly right. A man ought to be above it. Let me be that man”(Phelps 107). Phillip realizes the boldness of this statement when he says this. He knows that he will not be able to commit to this proposal because he would not be following the gender rule that he not show emotion towards a female. Avis knows that she will have to give up her career if she is going to marry any man.
She realizes this when she says, “I was not made to yield these to any man. I was not made to absorb them in his work and life” (Phelps) Initially, Philip respects this quality in her. Yet, like every other woman of this time, eventually she loses all her ambition to the norms that are expected of a woman when she marries. As time goes on in the marriage of Avis and Philip, Avis loses her ambition and the skills she initially had. She was now under the influence of a man who ruled her life. Avis ended up being very dissatisfied with herself.
Another piece of literature that shows men straying from the typical masculine identity and, as a result, showing their emotions and feelings is in The Luck of Roaring Camp. This short story shows a sharp contrast to the ideal masculine identity of the time when it describes how the hundred men of the camp suddenly demonstrate their emotional side as soon as the “Baby Luck” was born. In this camp, the typical masculine man was someone that was rough, dirty, and strong. Once the camp finally had a newcomer, the baby, Luck, these men suddenly turned into the most caring group of hundred men in order to take care of their newborn baby.
A possible reason that all hundred men were so caring for the baby was that they were not quite sure who the actual father was. Before Luck was born, the story began with the camp environment being in complete disarray. Once Luck arrived, the camp went through a major change of behavior in order to make everything much more clean and presentable. “The cabin assigned to “Tommy Luck”—or “The Luck,” as he was more frequently called, first showed signs of improvement. It was kept meticulously clean and was whitewashed. “THERE was commotion in Roaring Camp” (Harte 1).
Once Luck was brought into the equation at Roaring Camp, it created an incentive for the men to have someone to love and a need to care about something. The men showed that they were not the typical hard-nosed men who didn’t have the ability to have a loving figure in their life. When emotions are bottled up inside a person, it can have negative consequences on a person’s selfworth and their quality of life.
In an article about understanding male emotion, this problem is described as restricting emotions, which is a staple of traditional masculinity. This is also a central source of gender role conflict, since not having access to emotions, or processing them in healthy ways, can create a variety of negative consequences for people” (Meek). This fact is very true and can be demonstrated in The Luck of Roaring Camp. Before Luck came into their lives, the camp morale was very low. However, when the stereotypical masculine identity was finally renounced, the men were able to show emotion towards something and the new positive environment in the Camp gave the men a higher purpose for their lives.
Even though it was entirely against the camp’s norms, when the men were finally allowed to show their emotions in some way, happiness and a sense of satisfaction filled each man’s life. Another prevalent factor in the typical masculine identity is how men treat their female counterparts. Throughout literature, the male has always been seen as superior to the female. Even in our modern society, that problem is still prominent. However, there are times when this masculine stereotype is broken by men.
This norm is ignored when a male treats a female with respect, demonstrates love for her, and genuinely cares for her. When women are confronted with the typical masculine identity, they learn to be completely obedient to the man and the man is supposed to treat the women with little respect or tenderness. For the most part, it seems that when this masculine identity is ignored, a role reversal occurs. Women inherit the characteristics of the man and the man acts more like the female. This is demonstrated in the novel Ethan Frome.
In this novel, Ethan has a love obsession with Maddie that is very uncommon for the times. Ethan Frome treated Maddie with the utmost love and respect. Ethan wanted more than anything to just move away with her and forget his past life and the sadness that his wife, Zeena, had brought him. Ethan displayed a genuine caring for Maddie that he did not show Zeena when he says of Maddie, “She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling that all he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could wake at will” (Wharton 36).
This clearly showed that Ethan broke away from the concept of the typical masculine identity and almost displayed more of a female persona rather than that of a male. This type of role reversal can also be seen in The Story of Avis. As mentioned previously, Phillip showed a lot of sympathy towards Avis in order to get her to fall in love with him. Initially, he strayed from the typical gender role by telling Avis how he would love her for who she was and he would not let anything come in between them. Phillip says that, “I will take from you only what I can yield to you, the love of a life” (Phelps 107).
In this quote, Philip is talking about how he promised Avis that he would supply her with the love that she was looking for without her having to give up anything. Even though he commits to this pledge, one can gather that this would be impossible to do during the Victorian age, given that society’s rules for men were so clearly the opposite of what he was promising. Another point of view that people during the Victorian era believed was: “Male power was inevitably curtailed; significantly, however, men did not lose the legal obligation to provide financially, nor their right to domestic services within the family” (Marsh).
This discusses how men and women are characterized by their gender roles. Men are given the role of doing the harder work, like supporting the family financially, while the women are to be fully obedient to the husband and to stay home to take care of the children. The Victorian era introduced the idea of there being two separate spheres which made up the foundation of the family.
“The two sexes now inhabited what Victorians thought of as ‘separate spheres’, only coming together at breakfast and again at dinner. (Hughes) Women were determined to be in the domestic sphere and men in the public sphere. This concept was based on the understanding during that era that because of the talents women possessed they were “Considered physically weaker yet morally superior to men, which meant that they were best suited to the domestic sphere. “(Hughes) Again, since the female stereotype said that they are designed to do easier work, men were viewed superior to women from a societal and economic standpoint.
Additionally, women were considered to be inferior to men because, “The qualities a young Victorian gentlewoman needed, were to be innocent, virtuous, biddable, dutiful and be ignorant of intellectual opinion. ” (Pauline Thomas) This is completely wrong, of course, especially in today’s society where women are allowed to express their intellect. As time has passed, the stigma that women cannot do the same jobs as men has become less prominent, but it is still definitely prevalent in some cultures today. Overall, men in the Victorian age were somewhat expected to mistreat women.
When a male didn’t follow this norm, he was considered an outcast and too weak to actually uphold the standards that the male gender was expected to follow by society. After analyzing these characters that disregarded their expected gender roles, it is clear that these were men that actually enjoyed revealing their emotional side to females. They also enjoyed being a caregiver to their children, not just financially, but also participating in more of the day to day attention required when raising children. Unfortunately, people of this time were taught this was not acceptable to do.