There are multiple examples of sexism in Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello. They include the way the story’s female characters are treated and referred to by men.
Othello was written and set at a time when gender inequality was the norm. The play vividly shows the reality of 16th-century womanhood. Back in time, men treated women as objects and abused them physically and verbally.
Treating women as their possession is found in different quotes from male characters. In the beginning, when Desdemona runs away from her father to marry Othello, Iago tells Brabantio: “You’re robbed”. The same attitude is seen in Othello’s words to Desdemona:
“Come, my dear love,
The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue;
That profit’s yet to come ‘tween me and you.”
(Act 2, scene 3)
In both of these phrases, we can read the perception of women as something that can be bought, won, or stolen.
Therefore, marriage is not perceived as a family union. It is seen as a woman’s duty to return the favor of her being purchased. Talking to his wife Emilia, Iago says:
“You are pictures out of doors,
Bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens,
Saints m your injuries, devils being offended,
Players in your housewifery, and housewives’ in your beds.”
(Act 2, scene 1)
In this quote, Iago summarizes the woman’s circle of responsibilities: housework and sex. Seeing women as sexualized objects of seductive nature is demonstrated by the derogatory terms that Desdemona, Bianca, and Emilia are regularly referred to: “whores”, “wenches”, and “strumpets”.
However, despite this attitude that female characters have to endure. Desdemona and Emilia manage to show themselves as feminist characters. Their friendship inspires resistance and the courage to speak the truth. In one of her impassioned speeches, Emilia explicitly raises the issue of gender inequality:
“Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them:
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.”
(Act 4, scene 3)
Emilia’s feminist nature confronts male brutality and gives hope, despite the tragedy’s inevitable end.