Challenged Victorian Gender Roles

One thing I noticed while reading Wuthering Heights was the ways women and men were portrayed in some abnormal representations of gender roles, not sticking too closely to gender stereotypes. As Martineau wrote in her piece on government and women’s’ rights, women were often considered the property of their fathers and then their husbands, and were expected to act in a certain way. A “proper” lady did not mix with men in public except formally and with a man at her side. Although Martineau is mostly discussing the political rights (or lack thereof) of women, the social and interpersonal go hand in hand with that. Women of this time were restricted from acting on their own accord, and were expected to be proper and sophisticated all the time. They are expected to stamp out any other impulses while they are still young, and conform to society’s definition of a lady.

Bronte exposes this ugly and repressive side of society through her description of young Catherine Earnshaw’s evolution. At first, Catherine is portrayed as very tom-boyish, running across the moors with Heathcliff all day, refusing to do housework until forced, being reckless and rowdy and spending her time with her brother doing physical activities. When she is sent to the Lintons, however, she loses that personality and instead begins to wear fancy dresses and speak with polite manners as she is under the influence of a family instructed with the task of turning Catherine into a lady. This transformation is portrayed in a negative light, as her relationship with Heathcliff, her closest friend, is damaged. Bronte criticizes the way that society breaks down women and forces to change into someone they’re not, by providing a realistic example of Catherine Earnshaw, and taking her readers on the painful journey of her conversion from a wild, excitable tom-boy to a proper lady.

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