Gender and sex roles have always had
their place in human societies since the first woman and man. These roles have
played major parts in every aspect of people’s lives, cultures, customs,
traditions, and families for as long as history can remember. Secondarily,
marriage similarly has had its own set of rules and forms as well.  Although societies have differences in how
they see sex and marriage, with each matrimonial comes diverse roles that a man
and women traditionally are supposed to follow and abide by. The terms man and
women have always been huge factors in marriage because it’s when they come
together to make lifelong commitments to each other. In some point of views men
are meant to be the strong financial providers to their wife and family while women
are meant to play the caring supporters to their husbands and homes. In other
views, men are superior to women who are seen as the weaker gender. Society set
these roles long ago and have embedded these behaviors in men and women to be
passed on generation after generation, but it didn’t last very long. Women are
fierce creatures who have desires, strives, and motives to be whomever and do
whatever they please no matter how many oppressions men give them. Men, on the
other hand, don’t take too kindly to women when they stray from abiding by
traditional customs of their gender. Because of this, men become defensive of
their masculine abilities and traditional domains. Some men even put women down
because they feel challenged. This is because they are fearful that women can
do everything a man can, which is true. A man considers himself a man when he
has fulfilled all his duties that a man is set out to fulfill, but when a woman
wants to take care of herself and family, whether it be alongside her husband
or not, it prevents a man from completing his duties to her. It makes him feel
like less of a “real” man. Although many people of both genders have grown out
of these traditional ways of life, these are the gender role standards that have
worked their way up many generations to this day.

In a three act play by Henrik Ibsen
titled “A Doll’s House,” Torvald Helmer, the husband of Nora Helmer, takes on the
role of a man, and is portrayed as a masculinity. Assertiveness, being tough, and not
showing many emotions other than happiness, irritation, and anger, all define
and describe what being masculine means. Torvald, being a proud man with a reputation
as the vice president of the bank he works at, a husband who shows minimal
emotion, and a man in a time setting of the play that’s very traditional make
him the perfect example of how society labels his gender. Throughout the play, Torvald’s
assertiveness can be seen in a scene when he forbids his wife, Nora, from taking,
inside the house, some macaroons, because he says that they will rot her teeth.
Nora’s character has a female role,
but despite her gender, she tends to step out of it and do things she really
isn’t supposed to do as a woman according to society. Later in the play, Nora
rebels to what society expects of a woman by stepping outside her role of being
a submissive wife and sneaking in some macaroons anyway while Torvald is away. Although
these examples from the play of how men and women are portrayed in their
separate gender roles may seem small, it shows to prove how a husband treats
his wife, and how she must rebel for such a simple pleasure like the taste of
some macaroons in the comfort of her home.

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A more serious incident that takes
place throughout the play is Nora’s struggle to keep a secret loan that she has
obtained from Krogstad, whom is one of Torvald’s employees at the bank he works
at, away from him. Back in these old days, that the play takes place in, women
were not allowed to get loans without their husbands. Despite this, Nora asked
for this lumpsum amount of money so that she could afford to pay for medical
treatment when her husband was sick a few years ago. Now, news of Torvald wanting
to fire Krogstad begins to arise. With Torvald still being blind to the
situation of Nora’s debt to him, Krogstad begins to feel cornered and brings
Nora into the conflict by threatening to expose her secret. Nora is forced upon
two choices. Either she can fess up to her husband herself, or she can let him
find out on his own. Despite her fear of his reactions, Nora must step outside
of her role in a form of her own masculinity compared to her husbands at this
point in the play. She tries to confront her husband
and persuade him not to fire Krogstad in hopes that, if she succeeds, Krogstad
will quit blackmailing her. Torvald thinks to himself about his wife’s
suggestions and tells himself that if he were to give in to her persuasions,
and if others found out, that he would be seen as less of a man. People would
not think that he could make his own decisions, and he would be acting
submissively to her propositions rather than her to his. These thoughts come
together and ultimately bring Torvald to the decision that sides with his
reputation and masculinity. He goes ahead and follows up with his initial
decision of firing Krogstad. This shows exactly how men in this time, and even
some to this day, think and make their decisions. Almost everything revolves
around fulfilling their masculinity and proving to people how much of a man
they are. They can not be seen as weak in any way no matter what, and this
causes them to treat women the way they do. This scene shows what being a man is
like and how important it is to uphold the masculinity from the mindset of a

Women, like Nora, being that life is
this way between man and woman, have found ways to take advantage of a man’s
masculine character. In the play, Krogstad put a letter exposing Nora’s lie to
her husband in Torvald’s box for him to find. Nora knows this, so while she is
practicing for her dance recital, she begins to perform clumsy and childish so
that Torvald, being a man, will stay to help her for the rest of the night. This
meaning that he will not get the chance to check his letter box. While this may
seem like a weak move, Nora knows her husband will stay to help her, and it
shows how intelligent she can be as a woman. These smart, little manipulations
of men are some of the small tools women have learned to adapt to the masculine
personalities of men throughout time.

When Torvald eventually notices, and
reads the letter in his box, he becomes enraged and takes out his anger on
Nora. Feeling betrayed and lied to, his anger turns physically forceful and violent.
Torvald pushes Nora onto the couch and slaps her in the face. In doing this, he
stands his ground and shows his dominance over her, since she is under him being
his wife according to him. This scene is an example of how society, more, back
then, believes how a man should treat his wife to show and assert his
superiority. Nora, being a strong woman, has had enough and decides to fight
back against the superiority he tries to bestow over her. She becomes verbally
assertive towards her husband, which shocks him into listening to her for once.
Now showing her masculine side, she turns the tables and decides she doesn’t
want this life anymore. She leaves Torvald sitting silent and bemused proving a
superiority over him by being the “last one standing,” literally.

The way Torvald treated his wife and
acted in “A Doll’s House” used to be the typical assertive and firm way men were
expected to act in that period. The want that Torvald had to preserve his reputation
and masculinity shows he is one of the many typical men that woman must deal with
even to this day. Nora is just one of many women who have gotten the guts to
use a man’s masculinity against him, and change the gender roles that society has
set in place for too long. In Henrik Ibsen’s play masculinity runs deep, but because
of Nora’s uprising steps over the margins of her female role it also shows masculinity
in women. This is why some critics of his play have labeled it feminist, but although
it may be, it is a powerful play that shows the struggles a woman has to, but shouldn’t
have to, deal with because of a man’s ego to be a man. Today in this century, many
people have left behind these harsh, cruel, and strict burdens of personalities
and character that society used to expect of a man and woman, and this isn’t a bad
thing at all.  

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