Wise words were spoken by the political leader, peace activist, and philanthropist, Nelson Mandela, as he explained an issue that has remained relevant for many decades, by stating, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.” This undeniable truth has been the topic of much debate, due to the fact that the unfair social norms that are skewed in favor of men have put women at a disadvantage in many aspects of life.
This constant, ongoing oppression that females all over the world have been forced to comply with in their daily lives, has been wrongfully occurring for many years. In fact, over the course of its three acts, the timeless play, A Raisin in the Sun, written in 1957, by Lorraine Hansberry, highlights the persistent unfair prejudice that has plagued society since antiquity, the concept of gender inequality.
This classic piece rightfully sheds light upon this pervasive injustice that occurs worldwide and is growing particularly pressing in today’s society, as women are continuously underrepresented and deprived of equality, the effects of which harm all of humankind by restricting half of the world’s vital contributions, which in turn hinders the total population’s greatness.
The unequal and degrading expectations that society places on women is depicted in the play, A Raisin in the Sun, as the young, intellectual female character, Beneatha, questions the societal stereotypes that her environment and family expect, as she learns and pushes the boundaries that restrict her as a woman. Beneatha is the adventurous member of the Younger family, as she has high hopes and ambitions about her future, despite the fact that she is an African American female. Her optimistic outlook on the future is juxtaposing to her older brother, Walter’s, as he pessimistically feels that she will not succeed in her future endeavors, as they do not follow the social standards that he, and the rest of society, feel should be obeyed.
Beneatha’s interest in pursuing a medical career as a doctor has caused a lot of tension between Walter and Beneatha, as he doesn’t approve of her ‘unfeminine’ career choice. In one of these heated discussions, Walter gets so angry that he yells at Beneatha, “‘Who the hell told you-you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ‘bout messing ‘round with sick people- then go be a nurse like other women- or just get married and be quiet…”’ (Hansberry 38) In this passage, Walter’s true expectation of a woman’s role in society reveals itself, as he uses the overarching phrase, “like other women”, in a derogatory way.
By stating this stereotype, that all women in the medical field are expected to be nurses, Walter rationalizes his disgust at Beneatha’s choice to be a doctor, by making it seem as if she is disobeying the rules of society. These career restrictions are forced upon her by society, solely because of her gender, and the stereotypes associated with women, but this isn’t the only unfair expectation that Beneatha is expected to follow.
In fact, ever since she was little, it was made clear to Beneatha by both her mother and society, that she was expected to marry and have kids, just like all the women before her. This was a societal obligation of women, and it made Beneatha upset about the expectation of getting married. To the relief and joy of her mother, Beneatha entered into a courtship with a rich African American man named George Murchison.
She continues to date him and learn more about him, but unfortunately, she finds George to be too shallow for her, and she admits to her family that, “‘…if the Youngers are sitting around waiting to see if their little Bennie is going to tie up the family with the Murchison, they are wasting their time…I’m not worried about who I’m going to marry yet- if I ever get married.”’ (Hansberry 50) Mama responds to Beneatha’s declaration by shouting, “‘IF!”’ (Hansberry 50) By having Beneatha constantly use the word “if” when she’s talking about her future, it makes her mother astonished and surprised at the proposition that Beneatha might never get married. To her mother, not being married, is like breaking the laws of society, and that, in and of itself, is shameful.
As Beneatha continues to test the boundaries of society, by both pursuing a masculine dominated career and deciding that there is a possibility that she may not be married, she learns how influential societal norms and female stereotypes are in her life, as they continue to restrict her dreams and future. In both the play’s society and today’s society, women are not given the same rights and representation that men are, despite the fact that they make up roughly half of the population, and this gender inequality has caused our world’s advancement and evolution to be hindered because a significantly large portion of the population is not able to be justly included or contribute to society.
This inequality has been highlighted in the current debate that has sparked anger and a strong wish for change in American society: the immense wage gap between males and females. Gender discrimination in the form of unequal pay was and is so important, that during the recent President of the United States, Barack Obama’s, term, a statement was released, which explained why the new piece of legislation, called the Fighting for Equal Pay and the Paycheck Fairness Act, was passed: “On average, full-time working women earned 77 cents to every dollar earned by men for equivalent work…by the age of 65 years, the average working woman would have lost more than $430,000 over her working lifetime” (The White House 5).
The harsh restrictions that are placed on women are showcased in today’s society, as the wage gap hinders a woman from fulfilling her full potential and gaining the full freedoms that men in society enjoy. The statistic that stated that women earned 77% less income than a man for, “equivalent work”, demonstrates that, though their abilities are equal, men and women are not treated equally, and this blatant discrimination not only hurts the women that earn far less than their fair share, but also weakens families, communities, and the entire economy.
The enormous potential of a more thriving economy is hindered by the gender pay discrepancy, as the more money women are deprived of, the less they spend on their family’s everyday needs, the less they use to invest in their children’s futures, and, when added up over a lifetime of work, they acquire and spend substantially less for retirement. Unequal pay has led women to have unequal economic contributions to society, which in turn, shortchanges society as a whole from reaching the success that it’s capable of. Unfortunately, not only are there economic effects on the gender inequality that curbs women’s potential in society, but there are also many problems that arise from the unequal representation that women have in the world of politics.
The fact that roughly half of the population are not represented equally to the other half, has had detrimental effects on the decisions that are passed in male-dominated fields, such as key political positions. The astoundingly disproportionate percentage of women to men in politics was commented on by Anna Brown, who wrote the article from Pew Research Center, Despite Gains, Women Remain Underrepresented Among U.S. Political and Business leaders, “In 2017, 21 women serve in the U.S. Senate and 83 serve in the House of Representatives, comprising 19.4% of Congress…it remains well below the 51.4% of women in the overall U.S. adult population” (Brown 3). This statistic remains pertinent today, as women aren’t being represented as well in politics as men are.
The “19.4%” of women in Congress compared to the “51.4%” of the population that needs to be expressed in the United States, leaves a large portion of women not having their ideas and voice represented in the legislative sector of society, which really gives women an unequal voice in their world. Lack of female representation in politics is a problem that affects everyone, as women politicians are statistically more likely to emphasize crucial social issues like equal pay, reproductive rights, parental leave, and protection against gender-based violence, then male politicians. In order for women and men to contribute to society in the most beneficial and productive ways possible, society must fix the inequalities that hinder large portions of humanity from contributing to their full potential.
As a starter for a better thriving society, equal opportunities must be given for men and women to be economically successful, politically represented, and justly free to express themselves. Without these basic rights and freedoms afforded to women along with men, the progression and evolution of this mediocre world into a grand civilization, will be impossible. In past societies, gender inequality was a very impactful issue that directly effected the opportunities that its citizens were given and the overall culture that created the male and female stereotypes that were prominent in past and present societies alike.
These stereotypes included gender based societal expectations that limited the roles, rights, and opportunities that women were and are afforded. In today’s society, this injustice hinders the potential world-altering contributions that half of the population could bestow upon the world in order to make it a better, more advanced place. Women are still payed less, respresented less, and free less, thus verifying Nelson Mandela’s statement about the shackles that society has placed on women, and therefore, on itself, as he once again states, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”