Gender

By: Kaylee Oliver, Emeilya Erway, Dana Circelli, and Ryan McCann

Historically, the terms “sex” and “gender” have been used interchangeably, but their meanings are becoming increasingly distinct. In biological terms, sex is classified by either male or female, but the definition of gender is more complex. The social and cultural roles associated with each gender is what is used to categorize and set them apart . The term gender is now used more broadly to explain a range of identities that do not correspond to established and historical ideas of what constitutes male and female. Outside of the binary sexual classifications of male and female there is a similar categorization of human beings based on the individual’s personal awareness and identity. To each owns gender there are required pronouns that distinguish the identity one chooses to associate with, having it so a person can choose how specifically they want to be addressed as.    

The word gender is derived from the Middle English word ‘gender’, which at the time it was grammatical gender. Grammatical gender meant that every noun was either feminine, masculine or neutral. The Old French word gendre is defined as kind, sort, and a class or kind of persons or things sharing certain traits. It also was defined as the quality of being male or female, which in the twenty first century is considered outdated; gender is no longer restricted to the domains of male and female. In 12c. From modern Modern French came the word genre which means kind, species; character; gender. Genre stems from Latin genus which means race, stock, family; race, kind, species, as well as female or male sex. The use of male or female sex stopped in the early 15c. Seeing as the word sex started to become erotic and no longer fit within the definition. With this happening, by the 20c. gender become the word that was used to describe a persons sex. 

Throughout the play, A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry portrays three generations of women through the characters Mama, Ruth, and Beneatha, emphasizing the changing expectations placed on women throughout history. 

Mama is the oldest member in the Younger household and is seen as a traditional woman which stems from her being a part of the older generation. She is a strong motivational force for the family tasked with the decision of what to do with the money from the insurance check. Mama also asserts herself as the leading figure for the family by stating, “There are some ideas we ain’t going to have in this house. Not long as I am the head of this family” (Hansberry 54). With Mama being in charge of the family, this is seen as an uncommon practice during the play’s time period as it was usually the male’s role to be the authority figure and in charge of the household. However, at the same time that Mama assumes this powerful position, she also upholds the idea that her son Walter should be the one in charge of household decisions. Mama gives Walter the remaining money in the check and tells him, “It ain’t much, but it’s all I got in the world and I’m putting it in your own hands. I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be” (Hansberry 107). Mama admits that she was wrong and feels guilty for not letting Walter take his place as the man of the household. By the end of the play, Mama mentions how Walter “came into his manhood” (Hansberry 124), by putting the needs and wants of his family first before his own.

Ruth portrays the role of a housewife during this time period as she is married to Walter and takes care of the household. However, during this time period, black women did not have the luxury of a single income household and housewives usually consisted of middle and upper class white families which does not represent the Younger family as they were African American and poor. A recent study shows that since the 1980’s, the median wealth among black families has been less than $10,000 which is only 2 percent of the wealth the median of white families own (Collins 2019). Ruth is also faced with a jarring decision on whether or not to get an abortion. This stems from the idea that their current living conditions are already tight and the family having little money to support another child. During the play’s time period, it was illegal for a woman to get an abortion, yet during a conversation with Walter and Mama, she tells him that Ruth is thinking about getting rid of the child. Walter refusing to accept this idea, tells Mama that Ruth would never do that, Mama replies, “When the world gets ugly enough – a woman will do anything for her family” (Hansberry 77). Aborting the baby is a huge sacrifice, albeit an illegal one for Ruth and something that she is willing to do if it ensures a better future for her family.

Beneatha Younger sets herself apart from the other members of the family by battling the societal expectations of getting her dream job and deciding herself on who she is going to marry. Beneatha Younger dreams of one day pursuing a career as a doctor, but struggles to accomplish this as it is the societal norm that women are seen as nurses. Her older brother Walter even goes as far to say “go be a nurse like other women” (Hansberry 41) despite her hardworking efforts to achieve this goal. Beneatha’s family also expects her to marry George Murchison due to his wealthy status as a black American, although she shows a clear love interest towards Asagai. Early in the play, Ruth ask Beneatha why she doesn’t want to marry “That pretty, rich thing.” talking about George, to which she responds, “No I would not marry him if all I felt for him was what I feel now.” (Hansberry 52). Beneatha challenges the role of women in American society by achieving her dreams of becoming a doctor and through her relationships. 

Despite being the only male adult within the Younger household, Walter has conflicting issues with each female member in the family. Walter wants to take initiative for the family by opening his own liquor business, but is conflicted when Mama refuses to give him money because it goes against her religious morals. Walter believes that a man should be the leader of the household; however, he struggles because his mother is the one making the decisions and preventing him from opening his business. With Walter’s sister Beneatha, his argument that she shouldn’t become a doctor stems from her being a woman. During a dispute with Beneatha about what is best for the family, he proclaims, “She should not even want to become a doctor….Who in the hell told you, you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy bout messing ‘round with sick people, then go be a nurse like other women – or just get married and be quiet” (Hansberry 41). Walter believes that women are only fit for supporting roles and this belittles Beneatha’s dreams of wanting to become a doctor. Also, Walter tells Beneatha to get married even though she’s not worried about who she is going to marry, nonetheless if she does decide to get married. Finally, Walter feels that he is leaving his wife Ruth dissatisfied and that he should be buying her luxury items, despite not having the money. He states, “Ain’t she supposed to wear no pearls? Somebody tell me – tell me who decides which women is suppose to wear pearls in this world. I tell you I am a man – and I think my wife should wear some pearls in this world” (Hansberry 143). Walter being the man, thinks that he should be able to provide for his wife with luxuries and beautiful things, but by not having the money it makes him feel less like a man.

In studying literature, we can better understand the depth of gender; in turn, through understanding gender we can better analyze the characters and reason in literature. The traditional roles filled by each gender affect the characters we read about and can help explain why they do what they do. This predictability and understanding comes from the fact that each gender’s members share common experiences, and have historically behaved in a similar way in society. In The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, stories are used to portray the memories of Kingston’s growth into adulthood. She tells the story of her aunt, who was shamed into suicide for going beyond the expectations that as a woman, she would be a silent housewife who stayed faithfully within her marriage. When originally told the story of her deceased aunt, Kingston writes that her mother told her, “You must not tell anyone…what I am about to tell you,” (Kingston 3). This quote shows that even in the twentieth century, Kingston’s mother expected her not to speak out of place, and still believed the sexual freedom of the aunt was something to be ashamed of. Knowing the potential fear generated by the horror story of her aunt’s fate, readers can understand Kingston’s rejection of common female roles. 

Through literature, authors can show the complications that stem from harmful gender stereotypes. “Even now, unless I’m happy, I burn the food when I cook. I do not feed people. I let the dirty dishes rot” (47). She burns food so as to reject the stereotype that women belong in the kitchen, and she isn’t overly social so as to avoid the stereotype that women serve as hostesses in a social setting. By telling her aunt’s story, Kingston fights against the idea that women should be silent and go unnoticed. Authors like Kingston can use their words to fight back against what is assumed about a gender, but not true to all of its members. By going against what people expect and embracing the qualities of who they are, writers are able to provide insight into the many facets of each gender.

It is important to understand gender when analyzing literature because it provides readers with a greater understanding of characters within the stories they read. Without knowing the traditional expectations of each gender role among differing cultures, socioeconomic levels and even races, readers are unable to fully grasp deeper concepts within the work. Within literature, gender roles play an important part in the reader understanding the characters for the  time and place that the book was written and takes place in. Gender roles also come into play when it comes to the authors. By knowing the author’s gender, too, the reader is able to see the differences between writing styles; the intention of each author in portraying gender related themes and issues through their writing is more evident to the reader. Writing style can be affected by the author’s feelings and experiences revolving around gender. When we as readers more thoroughly understand gender itself, we are more effective at finding meaning and depth in literature. 

   Works Cited

Collins, Chuck. “New Study Says the Median Black Family Will Have Zero Wealth by 2082.” 

InTheseTimes, 31 Jan. 2019, https://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/21705/race-wealth-gap-black-family-inequality-white-economy-united-states

“Gender, n.” Gender, n. : Oxford English Dictionary, https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/77468?rskey=A7sfMq&result=1#eid.

“Gender (n.).” Index, www.etymonline.com/word/gender.

“Gender.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gender

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Methuen Drama, 2018.

Image by Peggy_Marco

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. Vintage International, 1976.

Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 7 Feb. 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232363.php.

Newman, Tim. “Sex and Gender: Meanings, Definition, Identity, and Expression.”

Histories Many Roles Within Mean

In Myriam Gurba’s memoir, Mean, the idea of history comes to play throughout and is used in many different ways. From the first time someone reads this book the reader is able to understand that history is an important concept and that as they continue to read it just becomes clearer. History takes on many different roles within this memoir and they all are able to give us a better understanding of Gurba as she was growing up. 

History makes its first appearance when we are told that it is a memoir, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “records of events or history written from personal knowledge or experience of the writer, or based on special sources of information.” So we already know that this is Myriam Gurba’s life and history, these are the events that happened to her and things that shaped her to be who she is now. We are able to see history through Gurba’s eyes and get a deeper understanding of her life. 

Gurba also uses history to show a bit of irony within her life. Throughout her time in college, Gurba took at least one history class every semester. This is ironic due to the fact that Gurba had been molested in her history class and had nothing but terrible memories from history class. Gurba says “Yeah history class was where I got molested. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop taking history classes. I really loved history” (150). Even Gurba knows that this is ironic and crazy that she liked these classes considering her past experiences that are associated with history class. But by taking these classes it is as if she’s showing that you can overcome these experiences that change you and then turn them into something that you can make a better outcome from. By overcoming her molestation she was able to turn something that she loved and make it a career.  

Gurba then goes on to tell us that she had graduated with a history degree and then went on to become a history teacher. I find this to be ironic as well considering her past that she has with her history teacher, Mr. Hand. Mr. Hand had known about Gurba being molested in his class but pretended that he hadn’t seen it and chose to do nothing about it. This is shown when she says “Unable to look into a girl’s eyes or soul while she was being molested, something all teachers should be prepared to confront, Mr. Hand snapped his eyes back to the worksheet he’d been grading” (30). Gurba is disappointed in Mr. Hand due to that fact that he couldn’t do something that all teachers should be able to do and that is to stop something from happening when it shouldn’t be. When she states “all teachers should be prepared to confront” she is personally calling him out for being a terrible teacher and showing that what he did should not happen with in any school. Gurba is showing that she can and will be better when she becomes a teacher and that no child should have to go through what she went through.

History is also an important part within the memoir because Gurba goes out of her was to show how history repeats itself. Sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes in more subtle, deeper ways. One time we see this is when Gurba is at a strip club in San Francisco and she says “The stripper was me and I was him. I was reenacting the history of the moment after the art museum from a different perspective” (151). The moment that she is talking about in this quote is when she was raped in an alley after she had left the art museum. She says that she is reenacting the event from a different perspective. She sees the interaction between her and the stripper as almost a parallel to the interaction between her and the man that raped her. This is a way of history repeating itself because Gurba is able to make connections between these two different interactions. She sees how it is so similar to something she had previously gone through.

Another way that history repeats itself is when it comes to how other people are seen by the public. After she was raped, Gurba chose not to testify against her attacker due to the fact that “I’d be that girl that got raped by that cholo just like the boys Mr. Osmond fucked are still referred to as the boys Mr. Osmond fucked” (140). She saw what happened to these boys and was afraid that if she was to publicly say that this had happened to her then no one would be able to look at her the same. They would only see the fact that she was raped. This can also connect to Sophia being called a transient in all of the news articles. No one ever called her by her name and this ended up belittling the incident and making her seem like she was less than human. Gurba also didn’t want that, she didn’t want to feel less than human because of what this man had done to her. By not testifying she is not giving history a chance to repeat itself, she is not allowing herself to become what others before her have. 

Discussion Questions:
1. Why do you think Gurba choses to connect history in different ways within her memoir?

2. When reading Mean how did you see the irony behind Gurba’s choice to major and pursue a career in history?

Work Cited

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

Justification By: Emeilya Erway

I created my found poem on an article that had different quotes that people used to justify rape based on womens clothing. In this poem I wanted to focus on the fact that people feel that they can justify the action of rape just because a woman left her house in a tight dress or just wanted to feel beautiful. The fact that many people feel this way and still think like this makes angry, no woman should ever feel like it is her fault that she was raped. These are all words that people used when talking about sexual harassment and how it has to do with what a woman wears. I started off by going through the quotes and picking out all the words that made me angry, or that I did not agree with. Then I cut all those words out and placed them in different orders to try and see which order I liked best. I also left a lot of space to show all of the information that the speaker is missing while making such strong statements. The article I found also included their apologies but I decided not to include them because I felt they were all genetic, they said the same thing and that even though they apologized that doesn’t mean that what they said was right or can be justified. I decided to have the last line be “she’s asking for it” because this is a common statement that you hear now a days and people feel it is okay to say that and that it somehow is a magical statement that erases everything else. I felt this was a good way to end it and use it as a way to leave the reader with something to think about. 

Hello!

My name is Emeilya I’m a junior and transferred from Onondaga Community College up in Syracuse. My major is Criminology. In my free time I like to watch Grey’s Anatomy in my comfy bed.