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by George Bernard Shaw

Pygmalion Theme of Women and Femininity

A lot, as you've probably guessed, has changed in the last century. Back when Shaw wrote Pygmalion, women could not vote in the United Kingdom; in 1918 women over the age of 30 were given the right, and it took another ten years for all women to be given a voice. Shaw's depiction of women and attitudes toward them is impressively and sometimes confusingly varied. They are shown in conventional roles – as mothers and housekeepers – and as strong-willed and independent. The play pays special attention to the problem of women's "place" in society (or lack thereof), and Shaw offers no easy answers to the tough questions that arise.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Shaw addresses a lot of problems concerning women, and allows us to hear a number of different opinions on them, many spoken by female characters. Does Shaw's position as a male author prevent him from directly addressing these issues? Or is he able to present an unbiased view?
  2. Eliza tells Higgins that she wants to be independent. Does she achieve that independence by play's end? Can any of the characters in Pygmalion truly be described that way?
  3. In Pygmalion, women don't have many options and, at least according to Mrs. Higgins, high class, educated women have fewer than most. What roles are they able to fill? Why can't they fill others?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Pygmalion, Shaw portrays a society in transition, in which progressive notions of femininity clash with more established, traditional ideas about gender roles.

In asserting her independence from Higgins and the usual conventions regarding marriage, Eliza nonetheless ends up confirming established gender stereotypes.

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