At birth one is assigned one of two genders, other than a few medical or scientific anomalies, one is either a boy or a girl at birth. As defined in wikipedia.com, “Gender roles are also known as sex roles” and it comprises our unacceptable conceptions of Femininity and Masculinity. These can entail conceptions due to gender expectations. Even in countries where women tend to play a greater role in development, governance and politics, they are still treated and judged disparately and more harshly by institutions as well as the public in comparison to their male counterparts, these are very common in most African countries, and the whole society has conformed to this idea including women.
In “A Doll House”, by Ibsen, Torvald was a very manipulating person towards his wife Nora. “Is that my squirrel rummaging around? …When did my squirrel get in?” (Ibsen 1). As has been seen briefly, Torvald has no respect for his wife and call her by the names of animals. Nora who has been very loyal to her husband and hides her financial problems from her husband Torvald. When Torvald learns of her secret, he becomes angry. Disgusted by his selfishness, Nora leaves him to become an independent woman at the end of the story. Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl,” is a young girl who is receiving advice from her mother, she needs to learn washing clothes, cooking, sewing, ironing, housekeeping and start “behaving like a lady” (Kincaid 320). What her mother tells her to do prepares her to be a perfect, sweet and traditional woman and a hardworking wife so that she can be accepted by the society. By being hardworking and a traditional woman, her mom was getting her ready for her marriage life, In the sense that she is preparing her to meet the needs of a future husband. Both stories are very concerning, in relation to women rights and position within the house and society. Stereotyping in gender roles can affect the society by leading to unequal jobs, domestic violence and body image within women.
Gender roles has been a stumbling block to women in achieving their independence. Women struggled a lot to show their society that they are fit to work outside their homes and to seek a better career. In “A Doll’s House” by Ibsen, Christina a friend of Nora had to struggle after the death of her husband. She was jumping from job to job on whatever she can get her hands on, “I had to fight my way by keeping a shop, a little school, anything I could turn my hand to, the last years have been one long struggle for me.” (Ibsen 6). Christiana stated that because she could not keep or find a stable job due to her being a woman. At that time women were completely dependent on their husbands to provide and care for them. Since men were the bread winners of the house, if a woman loss her man who is the financial supporter for the home, the problem arises on how to sustain the lifestyle which was once made possible by the deceased partner. So, it becomes a problem and very hard for them find a job to care for themselves and their offspring. But when they know how to provide for themselves, they feel proud, they feel that they can work like men. Nora told Christina that it was her own pride when she started to work, “it was splendid to work in that way and earn money. I almost felt like a man.” (Ibsen 9). In addition to “Girl” Jamaica Kincaid describes a mother who tries to teach her daughter how to be a house wife and take care of house work, how to be accepted in the community by conforming to gender role which judges her behavior. “ you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys” (Kincaid 320), these are the king of advise and command between a mother and a daughter. The fact that the mother takes the time to train the daughter in the proper ways for a lady to act is demonstrative of their family love. The fact that there are so many rules and moral principles that are being passed to the daughter tells that, mother and daughter spend a lot of time together. This also goes a long way to explain this stereotypical behavior where girls are expected to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct themselves. These are because of gender role expectations in most society. According to De Giusti, Giovanna, and Uma Sarada Kambhampati there is the believe that “women’s work opportunities translate into better economic and welfare outcomes for women.” The sources describe how it was hard for women to get good job, because they were not educated enough to seek professional job, they were only taught on how to be provided by the men and raise children. It can also be argued that this situation recreates in the daughter the kind of discrimination against females that the mother has experienced, probably in her younger years. In this way, Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” effectively illustrates some of the ills of society, and how parents could propagate discrimination through generations. This also leads to discrimination against women which includes differences in treatment that has existed because of stereotypical expectations, attitudes and behaviors towards women. Discriminating in the government and the business world, these systemic stereotyping can even be found in one of the best Military in the world, The United States Armed Forces.
Conforming to gender role in some countries increases the domestic violence against the women, and most of the time without punishment. In “A Doll’s house” by Ibsen, Nora came across as an astable woman by her husband. Torvald refers to Nora, his wife in a demeaning way and sometimes went to the extent of calling her by names of animals, Nora’s husband never saw her as an equal but rather, she is of no good use. It also represents how Helmer had the control over everything in the house and poor Nora has to agree on everything the husband demands. He controls what she should eat or not “threatening with his finger. Hasn’t the little sweet-tooth been playing pranks today?” (Ibsen 3). “Hasn’t she even nibbled a macaroon or two?” (Ibsen 3). Nora was trying to make her husband change his mind by keeping Krogstad in his job, he insisted that Krogstad is a liar and he started to judge Nora his wife, as being a woman who lies. “I have seen it often enough. Nearly all cases of early corruption maybe traced to lying mothers.” (Ibsen 18). Helmer has this strict opinion towards women. When Helmer knew Nora’s secret, he was very aggressive, and he started to rebuke her and calling her unprincipled woman and he wanted her away from the children “you will continue to live here. But the children cannot be left in your care.” (Ibsen 40). Helmer wants her to live like a prisoner in his house. Similarly, to “Girl” by Kincaid, it views that when men feel that they are superior than women, it that cause conflicts and that leads to violence “this how a man bullies you.” (Kincaid 321). The mother tries to show her daughter that she will face bullying from men since it was very common back in the days and even now domestic violence is found within the society we live in, some women are being assaulted by their partners. Humphreys, Cathy, and Ravi K. Thiara in their article “Neither Justice nor Protection: Women’s Experiences of Post-Separation Violence.” Journal of Social Welfare & Family Law” stated that “a woman suffering domestic violence. Implicit in this question is frustration and mystification that women are failing to ‘look after themselves”, and often their children.” Women are most of the time being victims of domestic violence by men because the society allows it by conforming to gender role. There were some women in the past that learned this lesson the hard way and included it in the litany of advice for future generations. There has always been a general expectation that, women are supposed to take care of children, cook, and clean the home, while men take care if finances, work on the car, and do home repairs.
Gender role has a big effect on women, because by the time they are matured they would have heard so many gender roles and stereotypes that, they have no choice but to comply with what is considered as the norm. They are more conformed to societal rules. In “A Doll’s House” Henrik Ibsen shows how Nora cares about her appearance when she was talking to Anna the nurse about the party “You’ll see how lovely I shall be to-morrow.” (Ibsen 19). And again, when she was taking to Dr. Rank and Christina “you shall see how beautifully I shall dance.” (Ibsen 25). Nora was talking about her husband and kids and how they will have a good life after Helmer get to his new job at the bank. She was showing off how lucky she had been and that she has a husband and three children. Furthermore, “Girl” Jamaica Kincaid mentioned that the mother was showing her daughter how to dress “when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum on it, because that way it won’t hold up well after wash.” (Kincaid 320), how to walk “On Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like a slut.” (Kincaid 320), how to behave when there are men around “this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well.” (Kincaid 321). The mother gives her daughter a lot of advices on how women should behave and the important of being accepted in the community. Adams David Francis in his article “Gender Conformity, Self-Objectification, and Body Image for Sorority and No sorority Women: A Closer Look.” Journal of American College Health” says “conformity to feminine gender role norms was found to significantly contribute to increased body consciousness, negative body image, and feedback on physical appearance. The mother is a representation of the idea that women should be limited to the home and that men can go out without restriction. More importantly, by simply repeating the word “slut”, the mother keeps labeling her daughter in a derogatory way Body images concern is a part of traditional gender role norm for women as it shown in both stories. From reading the passage in Jamaica Kincaid, one can deduce that young women were raised to know their place in the home. The were shown how to dress, how do communicate, and how to take every good care of their bodies. Whereas not instructions were given them on how to survive should they find themselves at anywhere else other than the kitchen.
Women have always been portrayed as weak and play things due to stories that have been told and passed down through the generations. Mostly, women have been told to occupy the back seat and allow men to lead, this has led to women being overshadowed and not taken seriously, women are mostly not given the chance to express or contribute to what is being planned. All society needs from us women are to take care of the house bear children, clean, cook and satisfy them sexually. As I read both stories, the sharp turn in the feelings that Nora exhibits can come as a surprise, but that is often how emotions go when it come to marriages. Signs of discontent can build under the surface, over time until something switches and there is no going back it for this reason that husband and wife must hard to invest in their marriages in terms of caring for each one another, raising children together, trusting each other, being supportive, a good listener, and very flexible to compromise an occasion. As a matter of fact, in ‘Girl’ I was amazed at how much work young women had to do in back in the days. In the United States, the role of women has changed over the years, women now have freedom to move freely and do whatever they deem fit. They do not have to do so many tasks to get through their everyday life, mothers also teach their daughters to be more independent. In some of the other countries like Africa, some women still have many rules that hold them back from being their own person. Stereotyping in gender roles can greatly affect the individual and lead to inequality in Jobs for women, promoting domestic violence among other women and body shaming among women in our society. With the perception that men are better than women, and the society view women as housewife and mother, I very much stand by the fact that whatever a man can do a woman can do it better.
- Adams, David Francis, et al. “Gender Conformity, Self-Objectification, and Body Image for Sorority and Nonsorority Women: A Closer Look.” Journal of American College Health, vol. 65, no. 2, Feb. 2017, pp. 139–147. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/07448481.2016. 1264406.
- De Giusti, Giovanna, and Uma Sarada Kambhampati. “Women’s Work Choices in Kenya: The Role of Social Institutions and Household Gender Attitudes.” Feminist Economics, vol. 22, no. 2, Apr. 2016, pp. 87–113. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13545701.2015.1115531.
- Humphreys, Cathy, and Ravi K. Thiara. “Neither Justice nor Protection: Women’s Experences of Post-Separation Violence.” Journal of Social Welfare & Family Law, vol. 25, no. 3, Aug. 2003, pp. 195–214. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/0964906032000145948.
- Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House.” The Human Experience, translated by William Archer, 1 Jan. 1879, p. 1–45.
- Jamaica Kincaid. “Girl” from Charters, Ann, Ed. The Story and its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. 6th Ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.