“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid (Analysis Essay)

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In Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” the author uses rhetorical questions and authoritative tone to show the expectations of the women throughout history can be reflected upon now as degrading through the feminist’s lens. Taking place in postcolonial Caribbean society, men were dominant over women. The mother is setting rules for her daughter to follow to ensure she has impeccable manners to attain a proper husband and climb the social hierarchy. These traditions had a big impact on enforced gender roles in society. At this time, the role of the women was to stay home, cook, clean and raise children. Doing things like owning property, working, and voting were viewed as wrong for women.

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The demands set in place by the mother farther enforce the gender roles, still prevalent in today’s society. At this point and time in history women’s rights were virtually nonexistent. It was imperative in that society that women make good for themselves and marry a good husband because without one, they would not get very far in life. Cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and other regular household chores are nowadays often shared duties. Working, providing for the family and more “masculine duties” are also shared, but still women are subject to unequal payment and poor treatment. Even today, women are expected to fall into the “house wife” stereotype. Although it is more common now for women to work or choose not to get married or have kids—it is a common belief that women are supposed to do all of these things. It is a popular belief that women are meant to have children and if they don’t they are not fulfilling their “womanly duties”. Kincaid states, “this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease; this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease” (115). This is a prime example of how she is taught from a young age how to care for her husband, or now father, properly. How they dress is a direct reflection of their wife’s house making skills. If their pants are not ironed properly it is not the man’s fault because their wife should know better. It is a wife’s responsibility to uphold not only a pristine reputation for herself but for her husband too. It is an absurd concept to think a man does not know how to iron his own shirt, however, it is seen as the woman’s responsibility as a good wife to make sure her husband looks as best as possible.

Women, like the one in the story, are taught that a woman’s reputation and respectability directly determine the quality of their lives. The mother suggests that domestic knowledge will lead to respect from family and society. Everything the daughter needs to know about concealing sexuality and regular household duties is clearly outlined. If the daughter were to step out of these guidelines she would immediately be less respected. Household work in this case, keeps the women busy and away from temptation. Men, however, do not receive the same treatment. Men are free to live their lives how they please and women are taught to have their world revolve around one man, and one man only. The men go to work and come home, all that is needed to be a respectable member of society. Women have many more responsibilities and are judged much harder on every little detail of their lives. If a man was to sleep around, he would not be judged for it. However, if a woman has more than one sexual partner she is considered a “slut”. The mother reiterated many times a chore, like hemming a dress, followed by the words, “–to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming” (115). Seeming to suggest that even the smallest difference in how the girl dresses or walks could easily make someone view her as a slut. Her mother seems to worry that if she continues her life the way she has been living it will lead to a life of promiscuity. The mother seems to believe there are two types of women: respectable women and sluts. It appears the only way to gain respect is from withholding from sexual encounters and preforming household duties. Slut-shaming is still prevalent today, now more than ever. It is still commonly seen that a man can have many sexual partners and be held on a high pedestal, but if a woman were to do the same it is frowned upon and they are shunned for it. Women are held to much higher standards than men, for some unknown reason. Men are seemingly born with a God-given right to be respected and be treated like the superior sex. Although society has been making great strides towards changing this, it is an idea that may never change.

Gender inequality is an important idea to this story and the meaning behind it. Imagine the roles were reversed and all being said, was being told to a young boy. The absurdity behind that idea helps readers understand the point Kincaid is trying to make. Women in post Caribbean culture are supposed to be proper, modest, and pure the mother is attempting to keep her daughter’s sexuality under tight lock and key to prevent her from being anything less. This is an idea that is still seen today. The mother tells the daughter to “don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy you know” (Kincaid 115). The mother is essentially teaching her that men are allowed to do many things that females are not allowed to do. If she were to squat down she would be criticized for not being lady-like and proper.

From a psychological standpoint, being forced into this discrimination can be threatening to the woman. The stressors that women face as a result of bias, stereotyping, oppression, and discrimination can be particularly threatening especially when exposed at such a young age. Men are not shown such threats while growing up ultimately giving them more power throughout life. Women are taught to sit still and act pretty and be everything a man wants. When it comes to sexual relationships, daily life, career path, inequality, and more, women are taught that options are limited. It is clear that opportunities are much less available for women than men. As unfair as that sounds, it is a challenge that has been faced for decades and may never go away. Women are conditioned to believe they are the lesser gender and to accept it and act accordingly. “this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man” (Kincaid 115). This lends to the idea that women are expected to take whatever harsh treatment they are given and taught to believe they deserve it. We are taught to accept we are, and always will be lesser, and are not as deserving as respect. Respect your husband and love him no matter what. Be the supportive wife you were raised to be and nothing less.

In conclusion, Kincaid’s story highlights many issues related to gender inequality, stereotypes, slut-shaming, etc. all of which are still relevant in todays society. Looking at this through a feminist lens there are many critiques to be made about life during this time. Although since this time period many changes have been made in an effort to move in the right direction, many people today are still stuck in the mindset that women are lesser than men. It is almost a programed belief in both genders to see males as superior in nearly every aspect of life. Women have to work much harder to get the jobs they want; yet are qualified for. Men do not face the same prejudice and discrimination when it comes to domestic relationships and responsibilities.  

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"Girl" By Jamaica Kincaid (Analysis Essay). (2021, May 24). Retrieved November 28, 2022 , from
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