Gender Roles and the Perception of Women

There was a time that having a daughter born to a family evoked more pity than congratulations from the community. Sons were valued more for they were viewed to bring practical help towards augmenting the family income through physical labor, as well as ensuring that the family name lives on with his progeny. (“Feminism”)

Daughters were valued only for the potential honor they could bring the family with a good marriage. In olden days, a good marriage was not necessarily defined by the couple’s happiness but rather was deemed as such if both families stand to benefit from the union. Usually benefits would be measured in wealth, alliance or business. Marriages then were basically “mergers.”

gender-rolesWomen were not expected to accomplish anything other than the mastery of domestic duties and union with a suitable husband. After marriage, the only duties that a woman is supposed to fulfill are to look after the needs of her husband and give birth to as many children as possible with preference to the birthing of sons.

The 1920’s and 30’s saw a wave of feminism that sought to overturn the traditional gender role assigned to women. They viewed patriarchy as oppressive to women and advanced the thinking that women are complements of males and therefore should be treated as equals. The 1920’s also saw a major victory for women in the United States with the passage of a law that allowed for women’s suffrage. (“Feminism”)

The Second World War in the 1940’s also provided women with the opportunity to prove their worth outside their duties as homemakers. They started signing up as army nurses, members of women’s corps and workers in factories that provided supplies and ammunition to the “boys overseas.” Even with this however, women still experienced discrimination at the hands of employers who believed that it was the men’s role to earn money for their families. Those that were hired still had to face inequality in wages as their work were deemed easier compared to the men’s. (Acker 46)

It has continually been an uphill climb for women in the assertion of their rights and the fight for identity and equality. Despite the many progresses made by women since the olden days, some cultures still place more premium on males. Sandra Cisneros’ account (Kirszner, 96-99) of being and born and living in a traditional, patriarchal society in the 1950’s show that even with the many new freedoms and rights accorded to women, their roles were still defined by marriage and domestic duties.

“What I didn’t realize was that my father thought college was good for girls –good for finding a husband. After four years of college and two more in graduate school, and still no husband, my father shakes his head even now and says I wasted all that education.” (Kirszner 97)

The selection further goes on to relate the attempts made by Cisneros in getting her father to acknowledge her achievements and herself as more than “only a daughter.” She wanted to BE his daughter in every sense of the word and enjoy the same pride her father has in her brothers’ achievements.

I often witness the “hunch posture,” from women after dark on the warrenlike streets of Brooklyn where I live. They seem to set their faces on neutral and, with their purse straps strung across their chests bandolier style, they forge ahead as though bracing themselves against being tackled. (Kirszner 242)

In Brent Staples’ observations in the “Black Man effect” in altering a public space (Kirszner 240), he presents the image of a woman who is determined to move forward yet remains aware of the possible challenges to her progress. While in the story the context women is defined in is couched in terms of potential threat from street violence and crimes, one could almost picture the same description as applicable to the grim and set determination of the feminists who steadfastly battles for women’s rights and progress.

It has been many years since women achieved a major victory in suffrage and set about to establishing their identity in society. Yet in some cases, there seem to be some women who remain oblivious or at least, not benefited by the new stature and rights women have been able to claim through years of struggle with a male-dominated society.

In Anna Deavere Smith’s “Four American Characters” monologue (2005) she shares a conversation she had with an elderly philosopher friend she had, Maxine Green. In the conversation, Smith asked Green:” What are two things that you don’t know and still want to know?” Green replies: “Personally I still feel that I have to curtsy when I see the president of our University and I feel that I ought to get coffee for my male colleagues even though I’ve outlived most of them.”

Smith follows this up with the characterization of Maryland convict Paulette Jenkins. Paulette Jenkins represents the women in abusive relationship who suffer in silence. She never spoke out because she didn’t want people to know that there was something wrong with her family. She took her husband’s abuse and allowed him to do the same to her children…children that she had in the belief that it would soften her husband.

What would make a man do such a thing? At the same time, what would make a woman stand by helplessly as her husband beats up her children and herself?

Conflict in relationships between men and women are believed to stem from four main reasons: men’s jealousy, men’s expectation of women and domestic work, men’s sense of “right” to “punish” their women, and the importance to men of asserting and keeping their authority.

Women on the other hand, are kept silent due to feelings of shame and responsibility (Dobash, and Dobash 4).

More often than not, the women feel that they deserved whatever the husband did to them. This acquiescence may be due to their cultural orientation of women as subservient wives. Upbringing and cultural orientation can do much to influence a person’s understanding and acceptance of gender roles. (Dobash, and Dobash 4)
However, there is always the freedom of choice and personal introspection, which should allow individuals to reason out right and wrong and the applicability and rationale of traditions for themselves.

The case of Sandra Cisneros is the perfect illustration of this. Despite being brought up in a highly patriarchal household and culture, she chose to follow her own desire and achieve in her own right. In the end, she managed to earn her father’s respect and acknowledgment that she, as a woman, can accomplish and gain honor and pride for the family. Regardless of background, doctrine or culture, everyone, man and woman, has that same choice in choosing how their manhood or womanhood will be defined in their lives.

Works Cited

Acker, Joan. “What Happened to the Women’s Movement?-An Exchange.” Monthly Review Oct. 2001: 46. Questia. 28 Sept. 2007.

“Feminism.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2004. Questia. 28 Sept. 2007 .
Dobash, R. Emerson, and Russell P. Dobash. Women, Violence, and Social Change. New York: Routledge, 1992. Questia. 28 Sept. 2007.

Gender Equality Essay Example | Topics, Sample Papers & Articles Online for Free

Kirszner, Laurie. Patterns for College Writing 10th ed. New York: Bedford/St.

Mcneill, William H. “Violence & Submission in the Human Past.” Daedalus 136.1 (2007): 5+. Questia. 28 Sept. 2007

Smith, Anna Deveare. Four American Characters. 2005 27 Sept 2007

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