When my English Lit professor sent us short stories as notes, I knew I had to read them for the assignment’s sake. With a nifty Windows VPS for reliable performance during my assignment, to my surprise, one composition is amazingly short, shorter than any other short stories I have read thus far. It has only one comma and one paragraph while occupying two characters – a mother and a daughter – in a conversation with an aching end of how women are often stereotyped. It is the words of a mother talking to her child about how girls – or women – should and should not act while she is not aware (or maybe, she does) of being oppressed as a second gender.
Girl (1978) was written by Jamaica Kincaid, a prevalent writer who is well-known for her works touching the issues and subjects of racism, class, gender. It is her most famous writing, a prose-poetry consisting of a single sentence of a sharp-tongued mother’s advice imparting her child how to become a woman, in contrast, what it is like for a woman growing up in Antigua. The structure of the text is interesting as Kincaid applies semicolons to separate the admonishments and words of wisdom but often repeats herself to emphasize the warning to her daughter against becoming a ‘slut.’ The mother provides practical and helpful advice that will keep her daughter in place morally when she owns the house one day – ranging from household chores such as sewing, ironing, cooking, setting the table, sweeping and washing – as well as other things such as methods to make herbal medicines and catching a fish. Alongside the household works, the mother also instructs her daughter how to live a fulfilling life by offering sympathy, such as when she expresses about the relationships her daughter will have with men, followed by yet another warning that men and women often ‘bully’ each other and that there are many types of relationships – some might fail. The advice continues on as she tells her daughter the correct way to behave in different situations, including how to talk with people she does not like. However, the mother’s way of advising seems caustic and castigating as if her daughter is on her way of becoming a ‘slut,’ thus pressuring her out of fear to not do things that can incite sexualities, like not squatting when playing marbles and singing Antiguan folk song in Sunday school and to always walk like a proper lady.
Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl delves into the concept of sexism, defined as the prejudice or discrimination based on one’s gender, typically against women, on the basis of sex where sexist attitudes stem from stereotypes of gender roles. The sexist discrimination is justified from the common belief that men are superior and dominant to women, moreover labeling women as the second gender in a means of maintaining male domination and power. A radical feminist known as Andrea Dworkin argued that sexism is the primal form of oppression where every social form of hierarchy and abuse is based on male-over-female domination. Long before the 20th century, women are stereotyped to fulfill their role as domestic homemakers. Society has put pressure on women and housewives to provide a stable environment in the home for their husbands and children. In reference to Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl, the mother propagate gender discrimination and forcing the ideology to the daughter about women should serve men. The girl is portrayed as fairly young when she is given a series of instructions from her mother, thus conveying Kincaid’s argument that internalized sexism and misogyny begin through familial or informal education. It is mentioned beforehand about female stereotypes the mother pushed upon the child, actively illustrates that the girl is raised to learn a woman’s worth found in their sole ability to maintain harmony at home and be a good housewife. In addition to the statement made previously, a woman’s dignity is dependent on their purpose to perform domestication such as doing laundry, cooking, and keeping good presentation and behavior in public; as narrated in the short story teaches all about being a good woman in terms of speaking, politeness and clean image, but brushing off about being educated, independent or seeking higher purpose for themselves.
Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl is an impactful piece of literature that relays powerful messages, depicting the harsh reality and sexist pressures of women’s lives. The issues of women and their social status in society broaden the discussions of what a woman should do and should become. What the mother lists the lessons for her child is not one that will make her happy in the life that lies ahead of her. Being a female myself, the piece has affected me to this day, of just how women deserve better than just staying at home all the time every day, where we can do more than just taking care of the house, but to work in the area and be as capable as men. The narrative interprets the way a misogynistic society treats and demands women to do what is expected according to the doctrine described in the short story, subliminally reflecting the injustices women and girls have to endure.