Female and Male Gender Roles and Sexualities in Feminist Literature and American Nation
The last two centuries have been and the last 80 years especially can be called revolutionary for Western and global literature, as the female author’s perspective has finally become one of its thematic and genre mainstreams during these times. It was and continues to be a historical age of both social and literary female visibility and liberation. Interestingly, women of color are the ideological flagship of this ongoing cultural phenomenon. According to experts, “Black women in the United States are transforming the literary world as writers, publishers, magazine editors and academics” (U.S. Embassy Tbilisi). Nowadays, many modern white and non-white women writers are concerned with topics such as the desired and assigned societal positions of women and their responsibilities within the intersection of institutional realms. This essay will explore women’s perspectives on such fundamental pillars of femininity as gender and sexuality through the works of Jamaica Kincaid and Maxine Hong Kingston.
The Gender Figure of Women in Girl and No Name Woman
The Gender Figure of Women in Girl
Girl by Kincaid is all about the dualism of female identity in indigenous society affected by colonial white Christian domination. The overall imagery symbolizes “the hegemonic relationship between the mother country (England) and the daughter island (Antigua)” (Soumya 153). To be more specific, the reader sees a moralizing dialogue between a strict mother and her young daughter, who does not seem to understand why her parent is so severe and rude to her.
There, the older generation raised in a strict Christian cultural paradigm manifests itself in the form of a mother. They dictate to the younger generation that is still close to their native Antiguan cultural roots what characteristic elements the socially accepted female gender role should consist of. The mention of benna in the context of Sunday school indicates a conflict between native island culture and the still dominant colonial one. These mandatory female gender behavior patterns include modesty, tact, neatness, and being a housewife and caregiver to men (Kincaid). “You mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions” is a metaphor that women should not socially express their sexuality; otherwise, they will be perceived as sluts (Kincaid). The poem shows that women are expected to strictly observe these unspoken gender laws to be simply accepted and treated fairly.
The Gender Figure of Women in No Name Woman
However, traditional native culture can also be a source of systematic restriction of female identity, expression, and behavior. For example, women “did not choose” in the pre-Communist rural Chinese community described by Kingston (6). The story of her unnamed aunt shows that this writer’s conclusion applies to both women’s gender role and their sexuality. The former is limited by traditional social statuses such as wife, mother, housekeeper, and legal liability for their husbands who work abroad (Kingston 3). Any act involving extramarital sex is considered taboo, shameful, and unforgivable for women as active and expressed female sexuality is simply “humiliating” there (Kingston 5). The restriction and punishment of everything unconventionally feminine in terms of society and biology maybe because the described community is heavily dependent on male labor and food resources.
Temporal and Cultural Differences of Two Groups of Female Gender Roles
First, one needs to understand that the female gender role in the United States (US) has many different social manifestations. Its numbers are large and continue to multiply by the various religious communities, racial and ethnic groups, and linguistic ones existing in the American nation and culture. One can say that the most significant differing element between the current US female gender role and those described in the works and poems of Kingston and Kincaid is the absence of any major cultural or social regulations and restrictions in the first. American people who identify themselves as female are free to decide “how to love,” and this rule is protected institutionally (Kincaid). There are still ingrained stereotypes about accepted and present female identities and behaviors, but they are only cultural relics of past historical paradigms.
Real Success in Advancing Women’s Rights America and New Emerging Institutional Responsibilities and Expectations
Fortunately, a significant cultural liberation has taken place, and the female gender role has become more diverse and independent of the previously dominant male influence. The argument is that it is undeniable that feminists and supporting organizations have reached great heights in advancing women’s rights and promoting women’s institutional interests. However, with each new goal achieved, novel responsibilities and expectations will fall on them. In their meta-analytic study of mutual gender stereotyping, Eagly et al. argue that women now are superior to men in the use of various communication features and patterns, including formal, casual, and romantic intercourse (1). Moreover, their gender competence has also increased and surpassed that of men, which means that from a socio-economic viewpoint, women have become equivalent social competitors to the manifestations of the male gender role (Eagly et al. 1). The increased superiority incompetence shows that women perfectly understand the institutional mechanism of freedoms and duties and are ready to continue advocating for their political and economic opportunities and legal and societal safety.
The Gender Figure of Men in a Boy in the Forest
Men also have a socially assigned and accepted male gender role whose root is strength, power, and fearlessness. Men in Western culture must be physiologically and psychologically solid and fearless to be seen as performers of the traditional male gender role. Power is necessary for the self-identification of the individual as a male. It is no secret that for every male person, “his first whiff of power … felt heavy” (O’Brien). In American culture, the thing that has given men both strength and power is firearms, and these often make one fearless. Consequently, it can be concluded that the fundamental and most stringent rule for male gender role in US society is the possession and skill of using a weapon. It is the intersection point for masculinity as a sociocultural aspect of North America and the key to understanding its historical and political path.
This work analyzes the two pillars of femininity, namely the female gender role and sexuality, through the literary writings of Kingston and Kincaid. It also discusses societal progress in women’s rights and masculinity advocacy in the US sociocultural field. The researched short stories and poems describe and demonstrate women’s very depressive legal and social status just under a century ago. Today, various manifestations of femininity are finally getting their well-deserved respectful position in the institutions of many countries, with the United States as the flagship. Such a shocking societal difference in the hierarchical place of the female gender role between the two temporal points is in itself a rationale for further study of this topic.
Eagly, Alice H., et al. “Gender Stereotypes Have Changed: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of U.S. Public Opinion Polls from 1946 to 2018.” American Psychologist, vol. 75, no. 3, 2020, pp. 1-15. Web.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “Girl.” The New Yorker, 1978, Web.
Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010.
O’Brien, Edna. “A Boy in the Forest.” The New Yorker, 2002, Web.
Soumya, S. J. “The Treatment of Mother-Daughter Relationship in the Works of Jamaica Kincaid and Shashi Deshpande.” Phenomenal Literature: A Global Journal Devoted to Language & Literature, vol. 3, no. 1, 2018, pp. 153-161.
U.S. Embassy Tbilisi. “Black women transform contemporary literature.” U.S. Embassy in Georgia, 2022, Web.