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Gender and Sexism in Jane Eyre

            Gender roles are a theme which is explored in a number of ways in Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." Bertens discusses how gender roles are culturally assigned, with women traditionally portrayed as weak and passive, whilst men are dominant and independent[1]. Bronte tackles these ideas in her novel, subverting the stereotypical Victorian gender roles and demonstrating groundbreaking new attitudes towards gender roles in society, making her arguably one of the first proponents of the feminist movement. Jane Eyre deals with the entrapment of women, both physically and emotionally; and the links between sex and power, and the possibilities of women's sexuality being repressed for a subliminal fear of women gaining power in a male-dominated society.
             H. Bertens discusses the gender roles that are stereotypical of Victorian society and can oftentimes still be seen in modern society. Women are traditionally described as "dependent" and "Self-pitying", whilst masculinity holds connotations of "strength" and "self-reliance" [2]. For the majority of Jane Eyre this is true of the male and female protagonists, Jane and Mr Rochester. Rochester is wealthy, independent and both physically and mentally strong, "My master's colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,- all energy, decision, will,- [] were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me"[3]. Here words like "square", "broad" and "firm" connote an appearance of physical and mental strength which also contribute to Rochester's masculinity, making him appear attractive to the reader, although Jane comments that he is "ugly" and "not beautiful". Her use of the word "mastered" also shows the power that Rochester holds over her, demonstrating that he is her "master", emotionally as well as in her occupation as a "plain, Quakerish governess" in his house.

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