The Destruction Of Gender Constructs In Girl By Jamaica Kincaid

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The gender approach is a literary, critical approach that examines how sexual identity influences the creation and reception of literary works. Most of the gender approach is feminist and focuses on patriarchal mindsets that have heavily influenced everyday life. These influences have left an overwhelming majority of pieces of literature filled with male-produced beliefs and assumptions. Gender criticism strives to amend this disparity by correcting these attitudes through questioning, examining, and battling gender norms. An example of a piece of literature that utilizes gender criticism would be “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. In the short story, a conversation between a girl and her mother is put on a display. The girl in the story is the author herself, Jamaica Kincaid. The story is told by her mother; she is left to interpret her mother’s words through the perspective of a young, blossoming woman in the postcolonial Caribbean. There are many instances within the 650-word dialogue where the impact of male-influenced ideas and beliefs are showcased. The gender approach is used to help the reader understand these views. In this work, the gender approach is used to focus on specific societal standards made by the Caribbean people regarding gender roles and standards for women in households, expectations of women in relationships, and the placement of women in Caribbean culture. The short story begins with Kincaid’s mother discussing the daily routine of a good woman. It starts off with Kincaid’s mother telling her that her schedule should go as follows, “On Mondays, wash the white clothes. On Tuesdays, wash the colored clothes and put them on the clothesline”. By looking at these two phrases alone, it is obvious that the mother expects her daughter’s life to be outlined by habitual, repetitive activity and that there are specific timings that each activity should be started and completed. She speaks of the tasks as if they are solely a woman’s responsibility because for a clear majority of people living in the Caribbean, that is the case. Kincaid’s mother does not encourage her daughter to be an independent young woman who seeks to fulfill her own goals in life; instead she encourages her daughter to dedicate her life to fulfilling the stereotypical societal expectations of women. The audience may notice that by encouraging this behavior, her mother is limiting her from reaching her true potential and robbing her of some of the most important and easily impressionable years of her life. Going off the two lines extracted from the text, a reader may begin to wonder why a mother would steal the beauty from a young life. That reader would have to begin questioning the environment and social climate Kincaid’s mother had to have grown up in to end up forcing an unseemly, dispiriting life on her own child.

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The mother was once young like her daughter. Everything she advises and speaks to her daughter about comes packaged with intentions of her daughter maintaining a spotless reputation. Her grandmother gave her mother the same talk at the same age. Her mother seems to start off her first romantic relationship by not have listening to her grandmother. Kincaid’s mother becomes pregnant with her. When Kincaid was born, her biological father was completely out of the picture. Instead of being a single, strong, and independent woman alone with her child, her mother had to marry her stepfather who was a carpenter. He was able to bring some type of standard of money and class to the family. To attract Kincaid’s stepfather, her mother had to display qualities that would draw a classy and tasteful man into her life. After she displayed those qualities and got married, it may be suggested that her mother believes in the advice she has been given. It can be assumed that Kincaid’s mother and grandmother both wholeheartedly believe in the advice that has been passed down through the generations because it yields the results they have been taught to desperately desire. Although that has the possibility of being true, it can also be seen that the advice is not something they would like to cherish and keep passing through generations of women. The advice given would help girls to find husbands, settle down, and climb the social heirarchy; however, the only reason these rules and expectations exist in the first place is because men have been able to convince women that they are an absolute necessity to live happily and that in order to obtain a relationship with a man she must be “pure” and act “like a lady”. Consequently, people’s obedience to the theory of needing a man leads to the need for instruction, guidance, and direction to be given to girls from such young ages on how to attract someone deemed good. The instruction given is very telling and has a great focus on ways to make people outside of her home think that a woman is quiet, pure, submissive, and a genie that gives into her husband’s every wish. Several times throughout the text Kincaid’s mother warns her daughter of ways to avoid “looking like the slut she is so hell bent on becoming” (Kincaid 184). She is not concerned with her daughter’s mind, personal beliefs, and ideas but instead that her daughter doesn’t “sing Benna in Sunday school”. She doesn’t want to change the system that stressed her out every day of her life. She had become complacent and wanted to advise her daughter so that she would be able to skip obstacles and hindrances if possible. Kincaid is being taught from an early age to limit herself and to fall into stereotypes concerning her role as a woman because of social constructs. With this, the audience can now see how Kincaid’s as well as her mother’s beliefs were formed. Her mother’s beliefs were not her own; she was a product of a society that convinced her she needed a man to be successful and at peace. The gender approach in the short story will challenge this belief and leave the audience wondering why it is so easily accepted that a man is needed. Not only will it challenge the need for man but also what the role of women should be.

Kincaid’s mother is not the only person who is doing things because society had taught her to do so, Kincaid herself had times she allowed society to influence her behavior. Despite the clear enforcement of inequitable treatment on her daughter by just the first two sentences of the story alone, the mother continues to advise her daughter uninterrupted. She insults her daughter on numerous occasions and accuses her daughter of things she is not guilty of doing. Regardless of the disrespect and negative energy, Kincaid listens to her mother speak with nearly no protest. The respect she gives her mother is a result of Caribbean culture. In Caribbean culture, a person is supposed to give respect to family and someone above themselves in the social pyramid. Just how she was taught to respect her mother, Kincaid would be taught to follow the rules and guidelines relayed through her mother but created by society. Kincaid’s acceptance of these rules and her mother’s willingness to pass these rules down stems from many environmental and social factors. These factors include culture, colonization, social and financial status, and education. These are all factors that people in a society place significant value on. The gender approach tries to question the validity and credibility of these factors to evoke change in the mindsets of the audience.

Since the beginning of time until today, there are forces that are ceasing men and women from attaining absolute equality. Inequality is running rampant in every aspect of people’s everyday lives. One place where gender inequality has been greatly overlooked throughout history is in literature. The recognition of the existence of sexist ideals in literary works requires the need for an approach that will combat the inequality. The gender approach is the best way to fight sexism in literature. By utilizing the gender approach, writings allow for the audience to recognize how commonplace and how subtle sexist ideals are. “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid is the perfect example. It helps the reader understand how society expects a great deal from women and places them in boxes where they are never able to explore their interests and desires. With that understanding, the audience is given the ability to question and combat these issues and bring the sexes one step closer to absolute equality.

Works Cited

Bailey, Carol. “Performance and the Gendered Body in Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ and Oonya Kempadoo’s Buxton Spice.” Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, vol.10, no. 2, 2010, p.106+. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 15 Apr. 2019.

Paravisini-Gerbert, Lizabeth. “At the Bottom of the River (1983).” Short story criticism, edited by Joseph Palmisano, vol. 72, Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 15 Apr. 2019.

Penier, Izabella. “Postcolonial, Feminist, and Transatlantic Studies-A Confluence of Ideas In Jamaica Kincaid’s Fiction.” Academia.edus, Accessed 15 Apr. 2019

Rosenthal, Pamela. “Analysis of Jamaica Kincaid’s.” Paramount Institute, Aug. 2015, Accessed 15 Apr. 2019.

01 July 2021

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