Why is it that girls are always the characters in stories that are expected to “grow up?” In J. M. Barrie’s famous masterpiece Peter Pan, gender plays a paramount role in deciding the actions and paths of the characters. Gender roles in our society define much of how we grow as people. For instance, boys are usually immature and childish in nature, while females are expected to handle a care-taking responsibility far earlier in life than their gender’s counterparts. These gender roles are consistent stereotypes and serve as a reflection of the semi-sexist culture of modern day society.
In Peter Pan, Peter originally brings Wendy to Neverland because he wishes to provide a mother figure for both himself and his troop of Lost Boys. While one would assume that Peter would then take on the role of the father figure, this happens to be far from the case. Peter, like many young boys, rejects the responsibility of adulthood and in turn places the weight of such responsibility on Wendy’s shoulders alone. Is there no one else who thinks this is ridiculously sexist? Am I the only one screaming in the glass box here? It is absurd that Wendy, a child of the same age as Peter, should be forced to assume the role as mother while Peter sits idly by and enjoys the perks of never having to go through puberty.
I believe this contrast between Peter and Wendy is a reflection of Barrie’s personal beliefs pertaining to gender roles in society. Peter represents the stereotypical male by proving to be cocky, immature, and “boyish,” while Wendy acts as the quintessential embodiment of how a woman is supposed to act. Although the story is meant to be a lighthearted fairytale, this drastic difference in gender roles very much upsets me. Wendy was essentially stolen from her home, whisked off to some far away land, and is forced to act as a mom for a bunch of rowdy snot nosed kids. This sounds eerily like how many marriages would play out during the time this novel was written, considering that women were married very young and were expect to immediately start taking care of a family.
Most revolting of all, Barrie supports this sexism by making the story have a happy ending! By portraying Wendy as accepting of the roles thrust upon her Barrie is creating an image of how a woman should act to the young girls who read his novel. In this regard, his piece, while written for entertainment, serves as a catalyst for the continuation of sexism in modern day society.