“Good girls do not fight!” “Good boys do not cry!” Since the moment of birth, everyone of every sort has been surrounded by a plethora of gender stereotypes teaching girls to do what a girl is expected to do and instructing boys to do what a boy is supposed to do. Scientifically, these ‘good-girls-like’ and ‘good-boys-like’ deeds and modes of conduct are respectively termed as femininity and masculinity. Femininity is defined as a set of qualities traditionally ascribed to females, whereas masculinity is interpreted as a group of characteristics conventionally attributed to males. The article “Gender role behaviors and attitudes” by Aaron Devor examines the both notions, depicts their traits, analyses their essence, speculates on their universally accepted natural origin and arrives at the conclusion that the current perception of femininity and masculinity might be an outcome of secular gender inequalities. Nowadays, since both women and men happen to struggle to put the best foot forward and strive for power and leadership, femininity tends to be evaluated as something second-rate, despite the fact that the concept proves to contain the traits which today’s world with its aggressiveness appears to lack. First, overall androgyny is asserted to result in increased volume of violence and cruelty. Second, qualities like sensitivity, tenderness, and sympathy cannot be considered as servile and shameful. Third, femininity and masculinity prove to be characterized by both positive and negative features.
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Depreciation of the function of femininity is frequently promulgated in various types of the media, in different kinds of art, and in day-to-day life. The message sounds like “be strong, or lose” and it requires from everyone to acquire masculine traits whatever it might cost. Devor states that there is a tendency to “view feminine persons as “born losers” and to consider masculinity as “innately” valuable,” which is acknowledged to “magnify the hierarchical dominance of masculinity.” Hence, one of the peculiarities of the modern society is that it is believed to consist of masculine winners and feminine losers. However, it is a matter of attitude and social structure. Taken solely and out of any context, feminine qualities are likely to be considered as virtues, but, unfortunately, they do not work when it comes to action in society. Thus, the idea of femininity happens to be admirably romantic, although in the chase for success the traits associated with it proves to be worthless.
People say, “Boys will be boys, girls will be girls,” which might have a grain of truth and be reasonable if considered from a habitual viewpoint. Written in 1978 by an Antiguan-American writer Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl” is a short story which, in fact, presents a what-to-do list to become a woman of a good reputation and, thus, supplies a powerful message of the role of femininity in the society: being a true – feminine – woman manages to help open many doors. In spite of some old-fashioned realities (for it was written almost forty years ago), this is excellent two-page guidance narrated by the mother to her daughter. Being organized as one sentence, it creates the idea of continuity: as the instruction goes on, it feels like that the girl grows up and becomes more mature while the advice gets more sophisticated. As if planned to support Devor’s ideas that “the goals of femininity and, by implication, of all biological females are presumed to revolve round heterosexuality and maternity” and that women should “dress, move, speak, and act in ways that men will find attractive,” the guidance touches upon various aspects of girls’ day-to-day life. They are conduct: “this is how to behave in the presence of men you don’t know very well,” appearance: “this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down so to prevent yourself from looking like a slut,” chores: “this is how you sweep a whole house,” routines: “this is how to make the ends meet,” and relationships: “this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all.” At the same time, due to its literary value, the story tends to appear sort of exaggerated and might seem even tactless since it gives away certain extremely intimate secrets which an adult woman shares with a young girl: “this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child,” “this is how to bully a man,” “and this is how to love a man.” Despite this, it does teach the girl to preserve feminine qualities, to develop good will and to become a woman of a decent reputation “who the baker will let near the bread.”
Another insight into the story is its symbolic interpretation from the viewpoint of the use of power. It takes readers back to the times when the author’s country of origin Antigua used to be a colony under England’s rule. Hence, the instructive mother enacts England, and the obedient daughter represents Antigua. In Devor’s words and as depicted by Kincaid, England has “masculine thirst for power, which can, but need not, lead to aggression,” whereas Antigua endeavors “feminine quest for harmony and communal well-being, which can, but need not, result in passivity and dependence.” England intervenes into the local culture with its “don’t sing benna” and “this is how to make a bread pudding” in the context of aboriginal Antiguan cultural peculiarities described in the story. The intention of good will is absent from such understanding of the text, as it portrays the aggressor’s strict administration and the conquest’s dutiful submissiveness.
In conclusion, it is necessary to admit that femininity and masculinity are two sides of the same medal, and neither should be neglected. It would have been impossible to reflect on one of them without dwelling upon the other. Both concepts have positive qualities and drawbacks. In his article, Devor culminates that this is gender discrimination that has resulted in the situation where the balance between the two notions in question happens to have turned unequal and unfair. It might be reasonable to go further and to claim that overall masculinity of the world has evidently been entraining aggressiveness, cruelty, and violence, whereas the general femininity of the world, be it the ruling concept, might have brought about sensitivity, tenderness, and sympathy. Ideally, it could have been an opposition of the world of war and the world of love. However, the first one is the case, whereas the other one is a utopia. The idea that “good boys don’t cry” is ultimately masculine and, in fact, might cause psychological trouble, as it involves reserving emotions, which is not considered healthy. Being emotional should not be shameful for either men or women. Possibly old-fashioned and probably conservative, the idea that “good girls don’t fight” is not, actually, evil, as it appeals to peace and conveys the image of a woman who does not acquire those masculine characteristics which are alien to her. Hence, in spite of being depreciated, femininity is necessary, and the goals to be reached are a balance between the concepts and an avoidance of any prejudices.