Gender Roles In The Wife Of Bath

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The Psychological Effects of Traditional Gender Roles in The Wife of Bath’s Tale From the medieval society in which Chaucer wrote to the current cultural structure, men have experienced societal pressure to exert dominance in all aspects of life. If men do not assert this expected dominance, especially in their relationships with women, society often labels them as inadequate. It is not uncommon, then, for men to develop psychological defenses in response to a fear of inadequacy created by society’s gender expectations. The character of the knight in The Wife of Bath’s Tale acts as a representative of the male population which feels the pressure of these societal expectations. As Cynthia Fuchs Epstein concludes in her book Deceptive Distinctions:…show more content…
The Loathly Lady fits this dominant role in relation to the unconsciously submissive knight, a trait which engenders fear of societal rejection in the knight. In Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale, the knight exhibits defensive behavior including displacement, avoidance, and fear of intimacy as tools to repress his innate passivity. As the knight engages in this defensive behavior, he ironically attempts to avert the Loathly Lady for failing to stay within the parameters of the female’s expected role in society by engaging in dominant – traditionally male - behavior, while he himself fails to meet male societal…show more content…
In the combined research done between researchers at New York University and Columbia University, it was fond that when women achieve successes in the work place, “the self-assertive and tough, achievement-oriented, agentic behaviors for which men are so positively valued are typically prohibited for women” (Heilman et al 417). Although the NYU and Columbia scholars conducted this research in the twenty-first century, many centuries later than Chaucer’s writing of the Wife of Bath’s Tale, this research is relevant to both time periods. When the old woman was successful in both her knowledge and her ability to get what she wanted from the knight, the knight felt threatened by those successes. He is so threatened by these successes that he does everything in his power to get out of having to become physically close ther. The knight tells his wife that he does not want to have sexual relations with her because she is “so loothly, and so oold also,/ And therto comen of so lough a kynde,” and though the wife freely admits these things are true about her, they offer only alternative reasoning behind the knight’s fear of intimacy (1100-1). The unconscious reason for the knight’s reluctance to sleep with his wife is his attempt to
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