Living Up To Societies Gender Stereotype
When men are described as strong, independent, brave, and tough. Women are described as submissive, sensitive, talkative, and maternal. Stereotype is defined by a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment (Merriam-Webster).There are many stereotypes to be held about gender roles and their impact on men and women. Even though biology determines sex, these stereotypical roles are learned norms for society.
There are many biological differences between male and female, and gender is viewed as a social position that affects one's mental development. Gender roles are subject to change over time just as societies mental development changes with time, stated in Gender roles and gender role conflicts (Pearlstein). These stereotypes are faced by society every day, young children watch their parents and role models and are receptible to the actions seen. Claire Vaye Watkins portrays gender roles in her short stories, The Last Thing We Need and Wish You Were Here. The two short stories go hand in hand with both lead characters not meeting the standards' society has in place for their genders.
When Wish You Were Here started, lead character, Marin and her husband live a happy life until they move to this adobe (101) town where satisfactory seems to subside and is described by Marin that she feels this little town tries too hard (101). The story goes on as the couple have conceived a child, this is the sight of gender roles shown in the story. Along with the growing child in Marin's body comes the growing of arguments and tension between the couple, the story says Before the child is anything, it is a catalyst for fights.(102)
This is explained by Pearlstein, Researchers have found that the gender roles of married couples tend to become more clearly defined following the birth of a child. Often the woman assumes the primary responsibility for child care and the greater part of the housework. This is not what happens in Watkins story; although, readers are shown bits and pieces of Marin's maternal instincts, Marin does not care much about eating healthy, exercising, or compromising on things to be shown to the child once in this world. Her husband, Carter, wants to know all the details about Marin's action through the day and everything that could potentially affect their child. He is very involved, and took the maternal position in the story once the child, referred to as It(107), was born. He is a hand on a father who wanted a say so in his child's life and the day to day variables affecting him. The story uses Carter taking this strong interest in his child as a way to tear down the stereotypical father who would be taking the role as bringing income for the family and allowing the mother to presume the responsibility of the children.
In the same way, the story shows Marin as a mom who does not take the maternal job as Pearlstein describes women's roles often are. This continuing theme of gender roles being taken lightly follows as Marin drinks more than a few beers and smokes a joint. This is not the image of mothers that come to mind; otherwise imagined as a traditional image of a woman with combed hair, and a nicely matched outfit in the kitchen cooking or helping her children, not kicking back smoking a joint and drinking beer. This shows how societies views on what women and men shall be doing affect the views on how genders should act and what roles those genders shall be responsible for.
Watkins short story in Battleborn, The Last Thing We Need starts with a male lead crumbling beneath the pressure of his innocence being taken away too soon and having to become a masculine figure who was too much, too soon for Thomas Grey. The narrator shows the readers the wavering mental stance of Grey as the story is a compilation of letters Grey has written to an owner of a Chevy Chevelle, a ?66 (26). Grey found this vehicle wrecked and abandoned, with pictures and letters in the inside; he sees more than a glimpse of the owner. He sees a glimpse of his late childhood, a glimpse of being in high school, working a night shift at a gas station where a boy in a small town drives up in a Chevy Chevelle '66 and comes in with a gun. The fucking money, Frankie said (35).
In this moment Thomas Grey grabs the before mentioned gun from under the counter, and as he pulls the trigger as the fast moving bullet leaves the barrel so does Thomas Grey's innocence leave him. Thomas Grey is told over and over he did the right thing, but this does not clear him of the guilt he feels for his actions. This moment in his life follows him to college to meeting his wife and keeping the encasing action to himself. The letters written to a man never met by Grey, someone who the story does not answer the questions of if he is still alive, receiving the letters or the relevance to the man; the only connection and information given is that he is the owner of the car that brings back this awful life changing event in the narrator's life. This moment in Grey's life brings him to lie, run away, and makes him a coward to the past. In the article The Burden of Being a Man in a Patriarchal Society, Strength was found to be prime masculine stereotype in men this is what is expected and Grey doesn't show this with his weary letters to the man unknown to him and the obsession to a car that his wife describes as That man, the one who knows a '66 when he sees one, that's not the man she married(37). Expectations of men are explained as, Once a boy grows, his habits of dressing, eating, attitudes, and relationships are all socialized constantly with the thought of masculinity. (Adil) Thomas Grey grew into a man with this daunting life that a rightful action affects his daily roles, as a father, as a husband, and as a man.
Conforming to societies gender roles is how genders learn the difference between what society deems fit for their themselves.Human beings begin to develop gender identities very early in life as they pick up on cues and clues given off from the sociocultural contexts in which they find themselves. As people and institutions demonstrate socially appropriate ways of being male or female, children become apprentices and learn what it means to be a boy or girl in their culture(Csinos).
The teaching of gender specific roles begins immediately with infancy. This continues as the child grows, mothers and fathers play roughly with boy children than with girl children. As children continue to grow boys are supposed to run errands earlier than are girls. Boys are told boys don't cry, and they are to control their more feminine emotions, while girls are taught to embrace their emotions. Gender roles taught to children conform them into the men and women society expects them to be, with the exclusion of a few, including Marin, Carter, and Thomas Grey. Being masculine or feminine is a norm learned from values society forces upon men and women every day. Everyone is conformed into these norms, and it is up to the people to decide how they grow with what they have been taught and shown, or will the people dismay from the norms and become a maternal figure as a father or become a weak man, who to a reader could be mentally unstable. It is up to the people to decide to fall into the gender roles or to create personal gender roles.
- Adil, Farah, et al. The Burden of Being a Man in a Patriarchal Society. Journal of Arts & Social Sciences, vol. 4, no. 2, Dec. 2017, pp. 57“70. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.selu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=128207430.
- Csinos, David M. Will Boys Be Boys and Girls Be Girls? Correcting Gender Stereotypes Through Ministry with Children. Priscilla Papers, vol. 31, no. 4, Oct. 2017, pp. 21“26. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.selu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=126124237.
- Pearlstein, Elyssa. Gender Roles and Gender Role Conflicts. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health, 2013. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.selu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=93871992.
Stereotype. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2004.
- Watkins, Claire Vaye. Battleborn. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012.