Will gender ever be equal?

Throughout “Life in the Iron Mills” Rebecca Davis draws attention to the struggles of women. Davis emphasizes women’s struggles when Wolfe builds the korl statue. The statue goes against the typicality of a female. The statue was of a woman but was “muscular, groan coarse with labor”(Davis 2773). The statue represents the struggle of the typical working class woman. She was not beautiful, graceful or happy, the typical qualities defining a female. She was instead compared to qualities of a man. This statue expected and longed for something out of her life. Wolfe claimed the statue was hungry, not only for food, but also for life. The woman was not content, and wanted to be more than a meager female in her lifetime. This emphasizes the women’s low role in society and how one day they hope to grow out of this stereotypical role and create a more meaningful fulfilled life.

Contrary to what the women of this society crave to become, the males keep the term ‘female’ under submission. While Hugh Wolfe grows weaker, more haggard and is not able to fight in the cockpit, he is referred to as “Molly Wolfe” (Davis 2769).  When the males in this society call Wolfe a female name, they emphasize women as inferior. They underscore females to be not as strong and unable to do the work males are able to do. Davis even compares Wolfe’s face to a “meek woman’s face” (Davis 2769); again his weak demeanor is automatically equated to a female.

However at the end of the novella, when all the people gather around Wolfe’s jail cell, there is a Quaker woman there. She is the one to comprehend Wolfe, to give him a proper burial and to assure Deborah that life will move on.  Davis perhaps adds in this strong female character to allude to a future of gender equality. The women in this novella are struggling throughout and want to gain more out of their life, and the Quaker women shows that this someday will be able to happen.

  1. I strongly agree with you, Ali. I also saw the identities of gender slowly mesh and become level. At the end of the novella, on top of the Quaker woman’s presence, Wolfe commits suicide. Suicide is often seen as a cowardly and shameful act. Men are ‘supposed’ to show no emotion and certainly not run away from obstacles. I’m interested to see what other examples of feminism people have found in the text; I have a feeling there are a lot. Great job!

  2. So we have women (statues, at least) who are like men and men who are like women. What’s led to this flip-flopping? Is it something that Davis would think is natural?

  3. It is an insightful analysis about the korl statue of a woman, and I completely agree with you. Men and women play opposite roles in this novella, and this is one of the ways for Davis to pursue gender equality. By making Hugh a character who’s nickname is “Molly,” Davis feminized Hugh. In contrast, she makes the statue a man and describes the harsh working conditions women have in the novella. The gender exchange strongly reflects to Davis’s stand of feminism, and she is foreshadowing or wishing for a world with no gender discrimination.

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