Women’s Roles and Expectations in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Gender Roles Have Changed Significantly from the 20th to the 21st century

Historically, women occupied a subservient position in a male-dominated society. Since the formation of ancient social hierarchies based on force and physical prowess, the patriarchal system formed a set of institutionalized prejudices that were designed to maintain the status quo, with the male occupying the dominant position at all levels of the system. However, as society progressed, and women struggled for their rights and identity, the perceptions of women changed. The public view regarding voting rights, employment, sexuality, and family duties in the 21st century are vastly different from those at the beginning of the 20th century. These differences are highlighted in the story to be explored in the scope of this paper, namely, Trifles.

Gender Roles and Expectations as Demonstrated in Trifles Were Largely Traditional

Trifles is a story set in the early 1920s that revolves around the murder of John Wright, who was found dead with a rope around his neck. The main heroines included Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and Mrs. Minnie Wright. As the Sheriff, Mr. Peters, is inspecting the house, the women, as stated by their gender roles, are expected to stand aside and look pretty, while men are solving the case. They often stop to laugh and mock the arrangements inside the house, hinting that Mrs. Wright was neglecting her “feminine duties” (Glaspell 4). This earns a scornful remark from Mrs. Hale:

“I don’t know as there’s anything so strange, our takin’ up our time with little things while we’re waiting for them to get the evidence. I don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about.” (Glaspell 5)

Although the sheriff is the designated ‘hero’ to solve the case, it is Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters that discover the real culprit, Mrs. Wright. Her husband was abusive of her, and she killed him after he had taken away the life of her pet bird (Glaspell 18). The developments of the tale demonstrate the gender roles associated with women at the beginning of the 20th century.

Gender Roles and Law Enforcement in the 21st Century Have Been Expanded to Become More Liberal

While in Trifles, all women were shown as repressed and not allowed to participate in any major positions within the society, there have been many changes since then. Along with the right to vote, which was granted to the majority of women around the world by 1954, in accordance with the Convention of Political Rights for Women, came the struggle for greater representation in the workforce (Crouch 27). Trifles describes not only the prejudice shown by some of the suspicious and sexist people but also the causes of the society’s perception of justice and women’s role in shaping it (Glaspell 17). This fact, coupled with the knowledge of the lead character’s past demonstrates how far society progressed since Trifles, where even the best of women had a hard time being taken seriously.

Gender Roles and Leadership in the 21st Century Have Shown Greater Involvement of Women

Trifles paint a sad picture of the 20th-century world for women, where their thoughts, ideas, and potential for leadership are constantly undermined by sexist, bragging, and less competent men. While the current status of women in society offers hope and portrays genuine change, the overall perspectives of breaking the glass ceiling remain a contentious subject. Recent studies, in turn, seek to help women break the glass ceiling and aspire to higher positions of leadership (Crouch 38). Therefore, while men can no longer openly control women as they do in Trifles, the unspoken notions of gender roles and expectations are still present in the modern business environment.

Gender Roles and Domestic Life in the 21st Century Have Become More Flexible for Women and Men

The change that has occurred in women’s domestic life is also noteworthy when comparing the situation described in Trifles to the one observed in the modern society. Similarly to the alterations in the domains of leadership and law enforcement, women have gained a sizeable amount of authority and agency in domestic life and family relationships (Baksh and Harcourt 161). The observed situation stands in stark contrast to the relationships between characters in Trifles, where domestic chores are attributed necessarily to a woman and are often a tool for ridicule, “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!” (Glaspell 7).

The contemporary family hierarchy no longer necessarily features a patriarch in the traditional sense of the word as portrayed in Trifles. Instead, the role of a leader can be assumed by a woman. In a similar fashion, responsibilities of a leader are often distributed equally among adult family members disregarding their gender, which signifies that vast progress has been made since the era of Trifles.

Gender Roles Depicted in Trifles Are Distinctly Different from Current Ones Due to Social Change

Gender roles and stereotypes are gradually ebbing away, as it was possible to see when comparing the culture as seen in Trifles with the majority of the modern world. But they have not disappeared completely. Recent studies, in turn, demonstrate a plethora of prejudices against women which, while weaker than 100 years ago, still restrict women from achieving their true potential. The struggle for emancipation must continue until these stereotypes disappear completely.

Works Cited

Baksh, Rawwida, and Wendy Harcourt. The Oxford Handbook of Transnational Feminist Movements. OUP, 2015.

Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Players Press, 2007.

Crouch, Colin. Society and Social Change in 21st Century Europe. Society and Social Change in 21st Century Europe. Macmillan International Higher Education, 2016.