Both “The Birthmark” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” relate to the issue of how women are treated by men and by society as a whole. The men in both Hawthorne and Gilman’s short stories use their positions of authority to control and influence the women. This theme relates well to the event that I attended called “Conflict-related Violence Against Women: Identifying Connections and Distinctions”. The Peace and Justice Speaker Series hosted Dr. Aisling Swaine who has worked for the United Nations and the Irish government. She detailed her work with women in Darfur and Timor-Leste. She described how sexual assault was used as a form of control by insurgents in Darfur and how domestic violence was widespread in Timor-Leste.
In Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”, the husband tries to use his knowledge of science to create the perfect wife. Even though his wife is already considered beautiful by many, he wants to remove her one imperfection and make her perfect. His wife seems resistant to his wishes, but concedes because he is the husband. This situation is similar to what Dr. Swaine describes in Darfur and Timor-Leste, but without the element of violence. In these two countries, men were using their social status and violence to control women. Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” shares a similar theme, but focuses on the effects of isolation that some women experience. The woman in the story slowly looses her mind as a result of being isolated from other people. In this story it’s not so much the man isolating the women, but it seems to be self-imposed. Some of the women that were affected by violence in Darfur and Timor-Leste probably felt some of the same feelings of isolation from other people. Dr. Swaine worked with and advocated for the women that were victims of violence in these countries.
The themes present in both the short stories and Dr. Swaine’s presentation can be applied to life here at Loyola. At the moment, there is an epidemic of violence against women at American colleges. Loyola is not unaffected by this problem. The school has made moves in the right direction by creating the green dot program and educating students. However, it is still up to individual students to be proactive and treat others with respect. Additionally, “The Birthmark” teaches us to accept others as they are because some imperfections can’t be controlled. Being accepting of others is an important aspect of Jesuit teaching and the overall Loyola community.