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Hannah Baumgartner

English 9


Comparison and Confidence: The Weakness in the Feminist Agenda

In a world where public support for the feminist agenda seems somewhat ubiquitous in

the media, the antithesis of the movement is highlighted in females’ actions regarding love and

life itself. Illustrated in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a modern take on the

character Helena questions the validity of a strong female movement when women’s actions

drastically contradict the message of feminism. Helena's changing attitude towards Demetrius is

representative of the flawed feminist mindset singularly undermined by intra-female comparison

and self doubt to one another.

A movement only has the potential for change if the outward message voiced aligns with

the actions of the followers. When looking at Helena’s initial rejection by Demetrius and s the

self-comparison that follows with Hermia reveals the inherent flaw in the female community:

how we present ourselves as a unified front for gender equality, when in daily life we often

engage in unhealthy comparison with one another resulting in resentment. First shown after

Demetrius dismisses Helena, she states to Hermia, “Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair!"

(1.1.181). Rather than considering the seemingly endless possibilities causing the failed

relationship, Helena’s main thought is comparing their likenesses while belittling her own.

Furthermore, when read in broader context, the tone Helena uses is contentious toward her

friend, indicative of the bitterness she feels as a result of Hermia’s idealized features. Helena

then proceeds to wish for Hermia’ physical characteristics, "My ear should catch your voice, my
eye your eye" (1.1. 188). The belief and underlying ideology of perceived physical inferiority

driven by self-comparison engrained in a web of intra-female resentment is the singular

shortcoming that possesses the power to crumble the solidarity of the feminist fight for gender


In addition to the inherent drive to compare, the perceived obligation women feel towards

one another in terms of success and happiness is the second flaw that prohibits the advancement

and achievement of females both in a social and economic setting. At the end of the play, Helena

accepts Demetrius as her lover after earlier pushing him away. At first she states, “You’re your

derision! None of noble sort/ Would offend a virgin,” (3.2.159)” However, she later states, “And

I have found Demetrius, like a jewel, / mine own and not mine own" (4.1.189). The only

changed variable between the two points is the happiness of her friend Hermia; no other factor

was at play between these two points other than her contentment. Because of this, Helena, and

the many women she is representative of, believes that she only can be happy (in terms of love)

if the females around her (Hermia) are equally as happy. In turn, while a devotion to one another

is needed to catalyze a progression forward, it cannot be so strong to the point where the

obligation to mutual success becomes a hindrance, as it did for Helena who was unable to accept

love until her friend found it as well.

It is not at the acme of the movement, perpetuated by strong and powerful women, that is

the most vulnerable, but rather the base, the masses, or the general female population because

often the subconscious thoughts and actions between females on a daily basis negate the outward

voice projected. In any case, the inherent, albeit only perceived, need for females to compare

themselves to other women and then proceed to resent the object of contrast is a flawed mindset

and creates significant chasms amongst the female community. Additionally, in far contrast to
the fissures created by comparison, the overbearing obligation females feel towards one another

at times is a major deterrent in the movement for equality as it tends to hold women back and

create widespread fallacies and stereotypes. Although this slant on Helena was likely not the

original intention of William Shakespeare, when read through a 21st century point of view it

reveals the limitations and weakest elements of a rapidly growing movement for change,

characterized by marches, protests, and political campaigns, in which women themselves are the

syndicate’s greatest obstacle.


Andrews, Richards, and Vicki Wienand, editors. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cambridge

UP, 2014.