The Male Tramp and the Female Gamin: Gender Roles and Rules

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Modern Times blurred the modernized social norms and expectations pertaining to gender roles and rules that were associated with the first half of the twentieth century. The two primary characters of the film, the male tramp and the female gamin, were each characterized with gender specific qualities and characteristics that purposefully contradicted each character’s sex. Essentially there was a gendered role-reversal between the man and the woman throughout most of the film. At first it would seem that the film was advocating for such innovation and authenticity. However, the film ultimately concluded that the pursuit of such authenticity, through non-traditional gender roles and rules, was sure to result in chaos and dysfunction.

The character of the tramp was most often depicted having particular characteristics and qualities that had been traditionally associated with women. In several scenes, he was observed to be weak and simple-minded. For example, in the opening factory scene, he was easily distracted when a fly buzzed in his workspace. He also had a nervous breakdown when he could no longer handle the strains and demands of his job. He was seen dancing and prancing throughout the factory in a very feminine, teasing, and child-like manner. When he obtained a job as a night watchman in a department store, he performed a graceful and fluid roller-skating routine to impress the female gamin.

The tramp was also depicted as intellectually inferior to his male co-workers and supervisors. When given a job at a shipyard, he was unable to complete the task of matching different shaped wedges that were needed for the task. When employed as a mechanics assistant, he destroyed the mechanic’s tools, coat, and pocket watch by foolishly placing such in the compressor. Through these depictions, the tramp was characterized as absent-minded and inferior, which were also qualities stereotypically associated with women in that time.

Finally, the tramp...
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