Gender Bias And Inequality In The Trifles By Susan Glaspell
Gender inequality is the acknowledgement that women and men are not equal, and that gender affects an individual's living experience. Of this inequality, nine out of ten times it is the males that are oppressing their dominance over females; quartering their rights into non-existent capsules in almost every country around the world. The feminist theory goes on to suggest that this quartering of rights is a violation of individual freedom and can also be classified as family violence, which was especially common during the 19th century. This is exactly what is discussed and constantly pointed out during the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell. The play conveys the brutal experience of being a farm wife during the 19th century and even goes on to give examples of male prejudice against females in a crime house setting in a small town down south. This brutality is then also accepted, and the play makes one thing certain; family violence against the female gender is a socioeconomic factor.
The story Trifles is about Minnie Frost. A farmhouse wife who was treated as if she was a play toy; to only be used when her husband desired. Throughout the story, readers begin to realize that Minnie strangles her husband because he treated her like trash, and because he strangled her pet bird. Two other women who are present at the crime scene also begin to realize this, however, they fail to mention anything about it. Why? It was because these women were also being abused and in a sense being discriminated against because of what they were; women. They were aware that the men present at the crime scene were already prejudice against Minnie and did not want to make it worse. They realized that “women are oppressed by patriarchy economically, politically, socially, and psychologically.” This realization of family violence and social prejudice showed them that what had happened to Minnie was unfair and that her husband deserved what came about.
The women also were the only ones to notice certain things that the men considered “Trifles.” This noticing of trifles is what allowed the women to be able to see what had happened at the crime scene compared to the men. The men did not notice these trifles because they were in what was considered a women’s territory and “women have generally been relegated as breeders not leaders”. This relegation of women as breeders during the 1900’s contributed to a massive fact; Women were to be used and not to be followed. It was for this reason that the men in Trifles could not see the hints and clues that the women could see. For example, when the attorney asks the sheriff if there is anything of value that could contribute toward the investigation, he replies saying “Nothing here but kitchen things.” This shows that the men disregard anything of value on the bottom floor simply because a kitchen is a women’s territory. This disregard of a women’s territory goes to show how men treated women in the 1900s.
Another way Susan Glaspell shows us the inequality that had occurred is by mentioning the women as if they were property. Back in the 1900s, “... men in power were willing and eager to make decisions about women’s bodies and reproductive rights, without women’s consent or participation”. This representation of men abusing women’s bodies and reproductive rights were shown throughout the play through subtle yet prominent examples. For example, the women’s last name was the only name to be mentioned. As known, when a woman marries, she loses her maiden name and instead is given her husband’s last name. Throughout the play, Glaspell fails to mention the women's first or previous last name. This shows to us that it was insignificant for the women to be mentioned by the name their parents had given to them; essentially making them their property. This closely correlates to another form of a slightly harsher ownership, slaves. “Slaves remained nameless from the time of their capture until their purchase by American masters” (Inscoe 2006). This goes to show how women were branded and essentially enslaved back in the 1900s. They were mostly called by their husband's names and were never given rights that were given to men. Another example of inequality through Trifles is the fact that the women’s professions were never named as well. However, the men's occupation and first names were mentioned specifically, essentially reducing the women’s identities into irrelevant and useless pieces of information. This goes on to show how women were treated as compared to men in the 1900s.
The men, also, throughout the play try to use their authority to push the women out of their was as if they were insignificant (which they essentially were back in the 1900s). The men’s condescending attitudes toward the women show us how they were trying to overpower them. Men in the 1900s believed that women should only do the things they say they should do and nothing else. For example, in the beginning of the play the women act as if they know their place at the house. The men move forward into the house and move toward the fireplace, while the women remain at the door shivering in the cold. This goes to show how the women know their place under the men's authority. The men go in first, which shows the reigning superiority of the men, while the females go in second, showing their secondary place in the world. The reason the women do not follow the men toward the fireplace is because the men did not ask of the women to come forward, therefore, indicates the men’s authority over the women. Another example, of this condescending attitude is when one of the men tells the other that women are used to worrying about insignificant trifles. Right after this remark, the women move closer together as they were hurt, which once again shows the superiority of the men over the women, because the women could not talk back to their husbands. This once again shows how women were treated compared to men in the 1900s and even up to current date.
This attributing gender inequality also began to drive Minnie to her peak. Her husband's constant unfairness begins to drive Minnie insane. For example, the sewing in Minnie’s quilt is even and impressive. However, on one specific spot the sewing seems uneven and almost as if someone has done it enraged. This sudden uneven sewing represents Minnie’s mental health and how it is deteriorating. The women also notice a bird's cage in which it seems as if someone had been very rough with it. Later on, throughout the play, readers realize that Minnie’s husband had killed the bird. However, the bird was the only thing that had brought Minnie peace and happiness. When Minnie’s husband had killed the bird, he also had killed his wife’s happiness and soul. This is when the women realize that Minnie had killed her husband. This constant inequality and final act of injustice toward Minnie, broke her. Minnie is violated because society accepts it and does nothing to give her the protection needed against these violations. This is when Minnie realized that she wanted to strike back, therefore strangling her own husband in his sleep.
At the end of the play, the women unite to hide the wrong of Minnie. They realized the pain and suffering Minnie had been put through and together decided to hide the evidence which would convict her of murder; the dead bird wrapped in silk. This outrageous action symbolizes the movement and gathering of women finally fighting for their rights. This action of hiding the bird to protect Minnie symbolizes women finally standing up to gender inequality and finally doing something about it, fighting back. At the end of the play, readers finally realize the importance of gender inequality and its effect on those who were affected. Overall, Trifles by Susan Glaspell conveys the brutal experience of being a farm wife during the 19th century and even goes on to enlighten the wrongs of gender inequality.
- “2000 : WHAT IS TODAY'S MOST IMPORTANT UNREPORTED STORY?”Edge.org, 1 Jan. 1970, www.edge.org/response-detail/11723.
- Inscoe, John C. “Slave Names.”NCpedia, www.ncpedia.org/slave-names.
- Purdue Writing Lab. “Feminist Criticism // Purdue Writing Lab.”Purdue Writing Lab, owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/feminist_criticism.html.
- Trifles - a One-Act Play by Susan Glaspell, www.one-act-plays.com/dramas/trifles.html.