Jane Eyre: Women Oppressed
Gender is not a biological fact but a social construct. However, so many assumptions have been made in the attempt to define the terms gender and sex that society often defines gender as being solely male and female. The female sex has traditionally been oppressed due to inferences on physical and mental constraints that male-dominated society has imposed. As with culture, gender socialization begins with birth and the family structure, though many believe that specific events also have a great influence on the boundaries of gender. It has been suggested, for example, that schooling and education systems have a large responsibility in the formation of gender divisions. Gender differences have confronted society since the first peoples, and though progress has been made to level the playing field, men still receive more opportunities in education, the workforce, politics and other wide-scale arenas than do women. In the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Jane is an example of a woman oppressed, yet she finds ways to break free of that which confines her. The family structure and our school systems are two of the first places children learn about themselves. If they do not grant equal opportunity for men and women, it will be impossible to create a just and gender-equal society.
Susan Moller Okin argues that family life is the first factor that has an influence on the socialization of children. Her concerns about the subjugation of women center around the opinion that "gender-structured marriages make women vulnerable" (5), and that unjust families lead to an unjust society made up of members incapable of making decisions free of gender bias, "They (theorists of justice) take mature, independent human beings as the subjects of their theories without any mention of how they got to be that way" (9). For example, within the family, many women are expected to hold a job outside the home while acting as the primary caretaker of children. In some cases, though, the division of labor separates women from the workplace; "The division of labor in the typical family leaves most women far less capable than men of supporting themselves, and this disparity is accentuated by the fact that children of separated or divorced parents usually live with their mothers" (17). Therefore, both females and youth are put at risk by the effects of gender separation on the family.
Left orphaned and under the care of extended family, Jane Eyre faced oppression from a young age. Though strong-willed and independent with an unusual (and considered unnatural by some) brand of spunk, Jane worked hard to appease her aunt, Mrs. Reed, while at the same time representing everything that a young woman of the time should have shunned according to cultural practices; "I dared commit no fault: I strove to fulfill every duty; and I was termed naughty and tiresome, sullen and sneaking,...