The play I am looking for today in Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition raises more than one eyebrow because of its apparent misogynistic elements. There is a man psychologically tormenting and torturing a pigheaded and obdurate woman, who is an unwilling participant in their relationship, until she turns into an obedient wife happy with her place under his thumb. Or maybe it is all irony, or part of a farce. Whatever school of thought you follow one thing is for sure, one major theme of the play is the role and place of a woman.
Shakespeare lived most of his life in the England of Elizabeth I. The queen’s unmarried status was a popular topic of the time, though she thought of herself as married to her kingdom. She said on this subject: “I keep the good will of all my husbands — my good people — for if they did not rest assured of some special love towards them, they would not readily yield me such good obedience.” Under her reign women lived a freedom unknown to women in other European cultures of that time; maybe because it was a brief period of largely internal peace and economic health that allowed to turn the focus a bit away from men, armies, conflicts and war. There were more well-educated upper-class women than anywhere else on the continent and the marriage age at least outside nobility was relatively high. Despite all that it was a patriarchic society in which woman stayed weak because they didn’t owe a thing and always had to yield to the wimps of a male protector. That even becomes clear in Elizabeth’s statement because she saw only the men – her husbands – as the good people that mattered and whom she had to tend to. So, Shakespeare could have been both: a conservative who felt endangered by headstrong, educated women demanding more freedom or a progressive who understood that without regard to gender education leads to freedom, leads to the most normal thing of them all – equality.
Yes, equality is the most normal thing of them all. It is scientifically proven that the difference in our chromosomes, whether we are xx or xy, has no impact on that what governs us – our brain. Of course, the difference has some importance beyond the pure definition of our gender. Men – the carriers of xy chromosomes – lack a leg on one of their chromosomes, hence a certain amount of information is not available. While an x chromosome carries about 1500 genes, most of them busy with anything but the shaping of female anatomical traits, a y chromosome carries only 78 genes involved in essential cell-housekeeping activities and sperm production (9 do that while 1 is responsible for the male anatomical traits). As a result baby girls born before their time have a greater chance to survive than their male counterparts. The prevalence to be born with genetic diseases on the other hand is bigger for baby boys. And the average man has a lower life expectancy than the average woman. As one of my teachers always said: nature had no use for old men.
The reason why I just took this excursion into the realm of biology should be obvious – while our gender is determined by our chromosomes, nothing we can learn from them screams females are weak or inferior. They don’t actually say either that females are superior. Quite a couple of genetic diseases are encoded on the x chromosome. It is only because women have two x chromosomes that both bring their information to the mix that prevalence of these diseases is higher in males who can’t patch up defects on one chromosome with information from the other. The differences in the hierarchy that were once perceived as the norm are rooted in culture and not nature.
These differences in the hierarchy were written into laws – by men – like laws preventing women to possess things, to sign contracts, to partake in higher education or to vote. It was these rules that made and make women dependent. And it was the implementation of these rules over centuries that anchored these ideas as facts into our brains.
The letting go is a slow process. It’s not just because whoever once gained power of any kind has a hard time of letting go. It’s also because the same rules forced men into a corset that by far doesn’t fit all. And it is because there are obvious differences between the genders most significantly but not limited to everything connected to reproduction. This leads to the big question what equal really means beyond women’s suffrage and equality in front of the law concerning everything marriage and parenting to property and contracts.
In my opinion equal means that regardless of gender what one wants to be and how one wants to live must be up to choice solely based on personal preferences and abilities. There must not be any judgment whether one wishes to serve in the army or serve a family. So, the line ‘Thy husband is…’ could be concluded: maybe existent, sometimes above me, sometimes below me, always covering my back, and possibly even a wife.