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On The Divergence of Womens Traditional Roles

The time period Shakespeare lived in called for much discussion about where a womans
obligatory place in society was. Yet for the sake of public approval, Shakespeare portrayed his
opinions through female characters in Othello, which exemplified that the social construct of women
was oppressive. Towards the conclusion of the play, Emilia not only betrays her husband Iago, but she
also betrays her role as a woman, by going against the conformity women were brought up with in order
to speak her mind. Although this resulted in adverse consequences for Emilia, one can trace the unfair
treatment of her and the two other female characters to the need for gender equality today.
Emilias rebellious underpinnings began in the Willow scene between her and Desdemona, and
only escalates from there; unlike the naive and inexperienced Desdemona, Emilias opinions on infidelity
are much more candid, declaring that anyone in their right mind would be unfaithful to their spouse if it
meant them the world (IV.III.60). Her opinion combats against how women were supposed to be
faithful to their husbands regardless of whether the husband may have been unfaithful or not, which
contributes to the work by providing character development within female characters beyond the sphere
of being an abiding daughter or wife. Women during this time were under the control of men, as well as
being legally the property of men (Marriage 263). Emilia dissents from these two character spheres,
making Iagos ownage of her less so by alluding to her inevitable betrayal.
Later in the Willow scene, Emilia makes the point that women and men function the same way,
which causes the audience to question: Then
why
are they treated differently in regards to infidelity? It
is due to a double standard, which has always favored the mens side throughout history; women would
get into more trouble when caught cheating in 17th century England (Marriage 264). Traditionally,
women arent encouraged to pay for themselves and their companion on a date, and when the topic

changes from romance to business, there are less female CEOs. All three instances involve women
overstepping a mans authority, which less people have a problem with if the typical gender roles were
maintained. This demonstrates that the imposement of double standards against women are
unnecessary; there is no reason for someone to be treated differently solely because of gender.
If the audience interprets the play from a Renaissance time period perspective, chances are
Emilias betrayal of Iago was more controversial than Othellos betrayal of Desdemona. Throughout the
play, Iago takes Emilias loyalty for granted, and proceeds to treat her poorly. Once Emilia discovers
Iagos wrongdoing, she takes no hesitation to betray him for the sake of Desdemona, lashing back at
Iago when he desperately attempts to quiet her down (V.II.231-234); note that Emilias actions count
as being disorderly (Marriage 263), because she went against the ideal construct of a woman. In this
scene, Shakespeare illustrates that ones individual opinion is more important than the safety that is
associated with conformity, and therefore advocates the right to express ones opinions without any
limitations.
However, Emilia expressing her opinion resulted in Iago murdering her, which shows that
women were capable of standing up to their male counterparts, but didnt because of the possible
consequences they might have had to face. This applies to the occurrences in the womens suffrage
movement, which had less extreme consequences, but the same degree of inequality; the inability for
women to vote is familiar to the inability to convey ones opinion. Granted, the voting issue has been
long resolved legally, but the lack of women representation still stands in the political realm, especially
on topics pertaining to birth control and abortion. Nothing in that field of legislation gets accomplished
because womens opinions are somehow not as effective as mens, although birth control and abortions

are womens issues; the struggle of not just women, but minorities trying to speak out without
consequences, is still relevant today.
In literature, it appears as if the word betrayal has a negative connotation, but when one looks
at events that caused a revolution for the better, isnt that considered as betrayal too? The fact that
Emilia betrayed her husband for Desdemona diverges from societys acceptance of oppressed loyalty,
but also introduces the concept that
women must unite in order to defeat the constrictions of
patriarchy
. Emilia demonstrates just that through her betrayal of Iago, showing the audience that her
loyalty lies with Desdemona. It is not a matter of establishing a more dominant gender, but it is a matter
of making sure that both genders are equally represented in society, which isnt the case right now. The
betrayal of traditions is necessary for equality, even if it means getting rid of patriarchal values; it wont
be long until more and more of society begins to woman up.