In this novel, a lot of the traditional Igbo life is the way it is because of the organized gender roles. Basically, all of Igbo lifestyle is dependent on genders, like the characterization of crimes, and the different crops that women and men grow. Men, in this culture, are the stronger sex. Women are seen as weak beings, but are respected for certain things they do, such as bearing children. (Shmoop)
The role of a man is to be able to provide for his family to live and to be skillful and strong in battle. The role of a woman is to be purely a bride, to be an obedient wife, and to have many children. They are responsible for household duties, and for being submissive to their husbands. (Shmoop) Women are emotional, while men are controlling and aggressive. Okonkwo, the protagonist, “ruled his household with a heavy hand” and “his wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children” (13) (Baskaran).
When the elders got together to hear about Okonkwo’s mission, “… they decided, as everybody knew they would, that the girl should go to Ogbuefi Udo to replace his murdered wife. As for the boy, he belonged to the clan as a whole, and there was no hurry to decide his fate” (12). This shows how replaceable every woman is. They don’t view women as human beings, but as identical objects who all have the same duties. The boy’s fate isn’t decided yet, while she has to give up her life for a crime she didn’t commit.
“Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was _agbala_. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that _agbala_ was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken title” (13). Being called an ‘agbala’ is shameful because women are weaker than men in this culture. Okonkwo is insulted that someone might associate him with ‘agbala’.
Boys are raised to think they are better than women. Boys grow up thinking they are stronger and more important than women are. Fathers raise their sons to be courageous and to fear nothing. Women raise their daughters to be weak and gentle. They are taught to view themselves as accessories for men. Okonkwo said, “I will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan” (24). Men and women alike accept how they are supposed to act. They know what is expected of them. Women don’t object to washing the dishes, cooking food, and keeping the house clean. Men grow yam and cut wood for fires. Women are to plant melons, beans, and corn, and men plant yams, as “yam stood for manliness.” (Ozumba)
When a mother gives birth to a boy, the parents are happier. A son brings joy to his father because the son will take on his duties when his father dies. A son brings joy to his mother because that means she will finally have her husband’s approval, and will be good enough for him. If the child born is a girl, it’s like “tending other people’s vineyards while your own is unkempt”. (Ozumba)
Okonkwo is afraid of having any characteristics that are relatable to women and similar to feminism. He hates anything feminine, and wants to be only extremely masculine. (Shmoop) He wants the same for his sons. Okonkwo would tell his sons masculine stories about blood and battle. His daughters heard stories from his wives about how to win the approval of men, and how to carry themselves in order to please their husbands. Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, “somehow still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell… stories of tortoise and his wily ways… But he knew that they were for foolish women and children, and he knew that his father wanted him to be a man. And so he feigned that he no longer cared for women’s stories. And when he did this he saw that his father was pleased and no longer rebuked him or beat him” (38). (Ozumba)
In this culture, gender roles are very intertwined into every day life. Daily chores, your personal value, your personality, and many other things depend on your gender. Your gender determines how others will view you. Your duty as a member of a family depends on your gender. Your gender defines how you will be treated and what your life will generally be.
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