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The Plight of Ophelias Everywhere

When Shakespeare sat down to write Hamlet, he probably had no idea the effect that Ophelia would have on teen girls around the globe. He was probably just looking for a pretty prop to be the main love interest (always a staple of a Shakespeare play) whose death is so tragic because she never got to wed or carry Hamlet’s children. She was beautiful and Hamlet was the Prince of Denmark! What a shame.

But the worst part of Ophelia’s tragic life is the way in which she’s treated by the men in her life, and the way that those men hold her to impossible standards. Even in the first scene where we see Ophelia, her father and her brother remind her to remain pure and to hold on to her virginity in order to seem more beautiful and innocent to the people around her. However, both of these men have not been as innocent, and now they’re contradicting themselves. They want Ophelia, and effectively women, to remain virtuous, but also wish to have women to have sex with them.

This insane and impossible standard speaks loud and clear to the women of today, and the struggles they have with their own sexuality. Even Hamlet is shown giving this horrible standard to Ophelia. He wants to have sex with her, makes lewd jokes at her, harasses her in public on numerous occasions, and possibly even does have sex with her. However, when Ophelia reminds him of his promise to marry her, he refuses, saying that he won’t marry her because she’s no longer a virgin. How does this make sense?! How can Ophelia be the woman that he wants in bed and also the one he wants to marry? Unfortunately, this impossible standard continues into the world today.

Women who are virgins, say no to having intercourse with men, or wear less revealing clothing are prudes and teases. Women who are not virgins, have sex with men, or wear more revealing clothing are sluts and whores. How can we, as women, possibly ever please a man? How can we be exactly what they want?  How could we ever make ourselves happy if we have these impossible standards weighing down on us? It’s absolutely impossible! We can never be the perfect women. And the second that women are confident in their choices, and what they choose to do with their own body, they’re instantly wronged and judged for the choice that they made. How can we possibly live up to these standards? How could Ophelia possibly live up to these standards?

This is why Ophelia went mad. She couldn’t live up to the standards of men around her anymore. She wanted to break free from just being “the beautiful Ophelia” and just be herself. Even in her madness, everyone just saw her as beautiful tragedy, and how sad it was that she lost her mind because she was so pretty. She couldn’t take it anymore, and knew that she could never be right, so she took her own life to make a statement about her choices.

THIS was a choice that she could make for herself, all on her own. She wanted to show herself in the least beautiful way, and prove to everyone that the standards she was held to were too much for any woman to handle. And yet, even in her death, everyone only saw her as beautiful.

Women every day are seen as objects that need to be up to the standards of men, but these standards are impossible for anyone to uphold, especially with all of the judgements women receive for their choices that they make. Ophelia died because of these standards, and women everywhere will continue to suffer from the weight that these standards carry. This is the plight of Ophelia’s everywhere.

We, as women, need to challenge the standard we’re held to. But, more importantly, we need to hold men accountable for giving us these impossible standards, and we need to change the conversation. Women shouldn’t have to “just deal with it”, men need to be educated that all women are allowed to choose to do whatever they please with their bodies. Maybe if Ophelia was not held to this impossible standard, she would have not taken her own life. But her story will continue to empower women to break free of the standards of men, and be who you are shamelessly.

WPUNJ class of 2025. Emily loves Disney, musicals, reading and writing, playing the piano, and her two cats.
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