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Issues of Gender Roles and Feminism in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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“Somebody got to think for women and chillum and chickens and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves.” a Feminist reading from Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel written by Zora Neale Hurston about a black woman named Janie Crawford who is on a journey to find true love despite being oppressed by a male dominated society. Being in three relationships, Janie was often silenced, objectified and even physically abused. Feminism is a movement that advocates for the rights of women and is based on the theory that men and women are equal. Patriarchy is a social system where the father in the family has dominance over the children and wives and that they have a larger share of power than women. This implies that this society is male-dominated and that men suppress women. Throughout the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston proves that feminism cannot denounce the patriarchal mindset and ultimately fails because women believe in a social construct that men are biologically the dominant gender, men and women pass on patriarchy from generation to generation, and women are not willing to question gender roles.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, feminism cannot end the patriarchal mindset and ultimately fails because women believe in the idea that men are biologically the dominant gender. In the beginning of the book when Nanny insists that Janie marry Logan Killicks, Janie begs and refuses to get married to him and Nanny replies: “Taint Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have, baby, it’s protection. Ah ain’t getting’ ole, honey. Ah’m done ole. One mornin’ soon, de angel wid de sword is gointuh stop by here… Mah daily prayer now is to let dese golden moments rolls on a few days longer til Ah see you safe in life”(Hurston 15). Nanny wants Janie to get married to Logan Killicks because she is getting old and believes that in order for Janie to be safe she needs to marry Logan Killicks, since he is a wealthy farmer and owns land. Nanny believes that women need to be married in order to have protection and be financially stable. Even when Janie begs not to marry Logan Killicks simply because she doesn’t love him, Nanny forces the idea that Janie is unable to live without a man. Nanny believes that men are biologically the stronger gender because men are the ones that provide protection and financial support. When Nanny believes in this idea, feminism fails because if women genuinely think that men are more superior than women then, women will continue to be seen as weak and unable to provide for themselves. Nanny accepts that men are more powerful than women and that men control their society. She feels as though women are more dependent on men than men are to women. When women believe in the idea that men are biologically the stronger gender, this idea passes through generations.

Throughout Their Eyes Were Watching God, when men and women pass on patriarchy through generations, feminism ultimately fails. After Nanny catches Janie kissing Johnny Taylor, she tells Janie to sit on her lap and says:

Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.

Nanny explains to Janie her role as a black woman in society. She says that Janie will probably live a tough life and would be forced to do work that no white person would ever be called to do. Nanny grew up believing that women are supposed to be submissive to men and the white man rules the world. She implies the white men are at the top of the hierarchy and look down on black men and the black men pass that burden onto women. Nanny is saying that in this society black women are treated like animals. She tells this to Janie so that Janie does not become the “mule of the world”. Nanny hopes that Janie’s life would be better than hers so she insists that she marries Logan Killicks. Nanny teaches Janie that men rule the world and that black women are at the bottom. Nanny passes on the idea that the men rule the world to Janie. Feminism can not end male-dominated societies because women already believe that they are at the bottom since they have been exposed to this idea from an early age.When men and women pass on patriarchy through generations, women will not question gender roles.

Feminism cannot reject patriarchy because women simply are not willing to question gender roles in Their Eyes Were Watching God. When Joe is made the mayor of Eatonville, Tony asks Janie to give a speech, but Joe says: ‘Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in the home.” Joe believes that Janie is incapable of making a speech. He is jealous and implies that Janie is not supposed to be in the public but rather at home. Joe does not give Janie a chance to speak showing that he does not see Janie as an equal. Janie loses her freedom to speech without interfering in that moment. He believes in the traditional gender roles where women are supposed to be housewives while men are the sole providers of the family. Men feel the need to be superior and dominant towards women.

Janie does not question Joe’s decision but instead moves. Feminism will eventually fail because Janie did not speak out for herself.

Within Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston proves that feminism cannot condemn the patriarchal mindset and will eventually fail because women believe in the idea that men are biologically the more powerful gender, men and women pass on patriarchy through generation, and women are not willing to question gender roles. Others may say that feminism is the way people feel and not vocally expressed because feminism is when an individual believes in themselves internally. This means that when women believe in themselves they are empowering themselves. However, feminism is something that has to happen vocally otherwise women will continue to be suppressed by men. Janie was beaten down, controlled, and suppressed because she never outwardly expressed her issues out loud until the middle of the novel. Individuals assume that male supremacy is a natural state in society. In order for feminism to denounce the patriarchal mindset people must speak out and advocate for women rights, while also addressing the challenging stereotypes and the imbalance in power. If not, feminism eventually fails and will never stop the patriarchal mindset in the minds of many individuals.

Works Cited 

  • Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. HapperCollins Publishers, Inc, 2000. 

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Issues Of Gender Roles And Feminism In Their Eyes Were Watching God. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/issues-of-gender-roles-and-feminism-in-their-eyes-were-watching-god/
“Issues Of Gender Roles And Feminism In Their Eyes Were Watching God.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/issues-of-gender-roles-and-feminism-in-their-eyes-were-watching-god/
Issues Of Gender Roles And Feminism In Their Eyes Were Watching God. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/issues-of-gender-roles-and-feminism-in-their-eyes-were-watching-god/> [Accessed 23 Sept. 2022].
Issues Of Gender Roles And Feminism In Their Eyes Were Watching God [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 16 [cited 2022 Sept 23]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/issues-of-gender-roles-and-feminism-in-their-eyes-were-watching-god/
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