Up until the nineteenth century, women were perceived as being gentle, kind, and motherly beings. Men were not held up to such high standards as women. Many of the actions deemed condemnable for women were largely ignored if done by men. To many, their sole purpose was to look beautiful, take care of children and the home, and entertain guests. After centuries of this oppressive lifestyle, women began to voice their unhappiness towards the treatment. One of the most influential ways for women to express their opinion was through writing. One author, Mary Shelley, chose to convey her thoughts on gender roles covertly. In her novel Frankenstein, her characters reflected how she felt men and women fit in her society. Another author, Mary Wollstonecraft, chose to take a more direct route with her work “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” In this work, she outlines all the mistreatment women endured and denounced the idea that women were inferior. Both authors used their powerful writing skills to influence their patriarchal society. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it becomes clear early on that the focus of the novel lies on the male characters of the story. In every layer of the novel, there is a dominant male figure. Many of the actions the men in the novel take are a reflection of the problems of such rigid gender roles. Victor Frankenstein wants to discover the secret of life. He becomes obsessed with obtaining this knowledge. He isolates himself and begins to forget about his family (Shelley 48). This is very similar to what would happen in Shelley’s time. Men were allowed to take on whatever tasks they wished, even if that task meant putting family life on abeyance. “The men in Frankenstein’s world all work outside the home, as public servants (Alphonse Frankenstein), as scientists (Victor), as merchants (Clerval and his father), or as explorers (Walton)” (Mellor 275). Walton, who has a strong desire to discover new territories, is largely contemptuous. He longs for power that no one else has. By the end of the novel, Victor has failed and his knowledge has not lead him to the happiness he assumed it would. It can be said that Victor represents the traditional male figure of the time. Walton, on the other hand, represents a male figure who has been enlightened by what can happen when the traditional male figure stays within his rigid roles. By the end, Walton no longer decides to continue his trip. This was a big step for Walton, because he was symbolically breaking from what men traditionally did, which was to never give up their ambitions no matter how destructive they may be. The male gender role is displayed in its literal form in Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” She discusses various reasons why men are not and should not be seen as superior to women. She states:
“It is impossible for any man, when the most favourable circumstances concur, to acquire sufficient knowledge and strength of mind to discharge the duties of a king, entrusted with uncontrolled power; how then must they be violated when his very elevation is an insuperable bar to the attainment of either wisdom or virtue, when all the feelings of a man are stifled by flattery, and reflection shut out by pleasure!” (Chapter 1).
Wollstonecraft is equivocating the power of a king to the powers given to men. High status many times causes men to expect flattery and praise. This stops men from pursuing virtue and wisdom. Men of the time were the same; the fact that they had unquestionable power over everything, including women, caused many to be arrogant. Wollstonecraft continues to state, “[...] every profession, in which great subordination of rank constitutes its power, is highly injurious to morality (Chapter 1).” Wollstonecraft is saying that a society should be wary of creating jobs where men are ranked and given power. This creates an environment for men to act in