, Research Paper
People use gender roles to obtain power. In my life experience this is always been true. I look at it in my everyday life at the workplace. I happen to work with people who have gotten where they are based purely on their sex alone. I am not talking about sex in terms of intercourse, rather than gender. However this does work both ways. It also works for different types of power.
To say that people use gender roles to obtain power is a very broad statement. One must define two things. First “people” must be defined. This is a rather simple definition. People, for the purpose of this paper, are nothing more than men and women. Now these people use who they are, men or women, to achieve power. They use it against one another (men vs. women) and against each other (men vs. men or women vs. women). The second part we must define is “power”. This is a little more complicated than the first definition. There are all kinds of power: Domestic, Social/Political and Personal. Domestic power to me is power over ones home and or family. Social/Political powers are over one government or community. The type of power of a tribal chief or a community leader. Personal power is one everybody wants. Power over our own personal lives. I am not sure that everyone can achieve this. We all try but only a few gets to behold this dream. We can catch a glimpse of it in small triumphs in our daily lives. Everyone uses gender to some degree to obtain something that we want.
I would have to say the men are the biggest examples of people who use their gender to gain power. Domestic power is the power that I am referring to. In this day and age we do not really have a lot of this going on, at least not from what I have seen. But back in the era of our grandparents this was common practice. It was the wife’s duty, as a woman, to worry about the home and the children. She typically did not work outside of the home. Her main duty was to take care of the husband. The husband was the family provider. He was the one who supported the family financially. I have read a few stories now, and I can see that this is a type of power that is played out by the male characters in those stories. In Rifaat’s “Another Evening at the Club,” this was one of the main themes. It was a husband’s job to worry about where they shall live, and how they should live. The woman is merely another piece of property. The culture that this story takes place in, it is commonplace that a dowry is required by the bride’s family from the groom. He is, in a way, buying his piece of property. “He earns a big salary and gets a fully furnished government house wherever he’s posted, which will save us the expense of setting up a house – and I don’t have to tell you what our situation is – …” (Rifaat, page 54). This shows the bride’s family class and the eagerness of the family to marry their daughter off to someone who is in a higher class.
Other ways men use their sex to gain Domestic power is to treat the woman as if she were a child. This oppression, if you will, is probably the worst way to obtain the power of the family. “Fine, go and tell her I want to speak to her. There’s no point in your saying anything but I think it would be as well if you were present when I talk to her,” (Rifaat, page 56). This is a fatherly thing to say. I want to talk with her in your presence, but I don’t want you to say a word. This kind of oppression is that just like a father scolding a child. It shows her how much he is in control of the affairs of what goes on in the house. “…he bent over her and with both hands gently patted her cheeks. It was a gesture that promised her continued security, that told her that this man who was her husband and the father of her child had also taken the place of her father, …” (Rifaat, page 57). This again demonstrates the feeling of superiority or power that this man has over his wife. He constantly refers to himself taking care of the little things that she need not worry herself over. That she is the woman and should be carefree.
Men do not only use their gender to gain Domestic power, but also a Social/Political power as well. In the stories we have read, it seems that men have all of the real power in the tribes or communities. Are these situations created out of custom or fear? The fear of losing control or any power prevents things from being change from the way that they are. This power is an important aspect in the life of these communities. “Although the people were given their own ploughing lands, they had no authority to plough them without the chief’s order,” (Head, “Deep River”, page 1). These people follow the instructions of one individual and one individual only. It was the leader or chief that gave these instructions. “Reap now, and come home,” (Head, “Deep River”, page 1). The people willingly gave in to these commands with out question. But men will fight other men for this prestigious power. “It was not the habit of Prophet Lebojang to notice the existence of Prophet Jacob…” (Head, “Jacob”, page 20). This is setting a tone that these two men do not get along and at least one of these men will fight for a share of any power, if not all of the power, that they can get their hands on.
Brothers too will fight each other for this Social/Political power. When a question arises of who should succeed the present leader, things get headed pretty quickly. “That matter settled, the next challenge came from the two junior brothers, Ntema and Mosemme. If Sebembele were claiming the child, Makobi, as his son, they said, it meant that the young child displaced them in seniority,” (Head, “Deep River”, page 3). Power is a force that can get people killed and is not to be taken lightly. If you interrupt a social order, you open yourself up for a fight to keep things as normal as possible. In a community where all commands come from one man, the battle between his successors may lead to drastic measures taken by the successors to ensure that they keep their spot in line if not move up. This sort of feud for power divides families and communities. “His brothers were forcing him to leave the tribe,” (Head, “Deep River”, page 5). “But the people were still in two camps.” (Head, “Deep River”, page 5). The tribe itself is affected, by the power struggle. In communities where decisions are made for you, one’s life is in array when you don’t know who to listen to. Not only does this concern the community, but the new leader. If the tribe doesn’t know who to take commands from, doesn’t that compromise one’s power?
Women too, can gain Social/Political power from their gender. In the stories they have no true power, but can be held in high standings with in a tribe or community. A woman’s role and be perceived as powerful or weak. “From eight-thirty until nearly nine o’clock we waited for Geula. At five to nine Etkin said that he could not imagine what had happened; he could not recall her ever having missed a meeting or been late before; at all events, we must now begin the meeting and turn to the business on the agenda,” (Oz, page 88). This was the angle of one of the characters in this story. From that quote she sounds to be very powerful in this community. But the character has a different perception later to defy the thought he had earlier. “Geula had not arrived, and that was why there was no one there to cool down the temper of the meeting. And no coffee,” (Oz, page 89). He is re-thinking his own thoughts of her power in this community. He sees that this woman is important to the meeting to cool down any flaring tempers. Does he see this as a position of power? Or does this fall in line of men behave better in the presence of a lady? But he added the line, “And no coffee,” to his thought. This to me only ratifies that she has no power at all.
Women also battle men for Personal power over their relationships. “You may or may not be surprised that I call this a love letter, since in our relationship we have never mentioned the word love,” (Saadawi, page 59). She clearly has not defined this relationship with this man. Perhaps she has defined it within herself, making it a battle between her mind and heart. For this is a struggle that is commonplace in today’s society. As women gain more Social/Political power, they have to compromise Personal power. For instance, women are holding higher jobs and are more educated. They have to be careful not to let their guard down; for fear that this will affect all of the hard work that they have accomplished. Women struggle to show their independence from the typical male dominance and long to just be a woman all at the same time. “This involuntary side of my relationship with you arouses rebellion in me, for I value my freedom. That’s why I rebel against you,” (Saadawi, page 62).
This theory of the battle for Personal power can be found between women and other women too. Women compete with other women. I shouldn’t say compete, as they often envy what others have. “But you, you seemed above all of this – somehow you had something inside you that I did not have,” (Ngugi, page 82). But this envy travels in both directions. Another character from that same story, “She saw in every girl a rival and adopted a sullen attitude… She saw her in the girl she would have liked to be, a girl who was both totally immersed in and yet completely above the underworld of bar violence and sex,” (Ngugi, page 72).
In writing this paper I have learned a lot about myself. My beliefs and my approach to life were molded in the creation of this paper. I hate to admit that my view of the world was that naive. I would have been content to think that this power struggle didn’t exist but in the different cultures that we have read about so far. As I engaged my own thought processes, I realized that this was not just in other parts of the world. I also stated earlier that this was more commonplace in the era of our grandparents. Not so. This power struggle occurs in all walks of life. In all social classes today there is some sort of struggle for power. In the upper class, battles ensue mostly over the Social/Political powers. They fight for power in the work place and within the community. In the middle class, the forces of the Domestic powers are present. Here husbands and wives fight to be the breadwinner of the family. Personal power is overwhelming in the lower classes. Living in the ghetto, life is about fighting to make yourself a better person. This is not to say that in each of the classes all three battles arise. We all go to battle for Domestic, Social/Political and Personal power everyday. True, most of us do not have to battle like the characters in the stories, but we still dig in and do battle for what we believe in. The outcome, sad to say, do still depend on what sex we are.