Gender is one of the concepts that have attracted the attention of scholars in the recent past. It is defined as the wide range of traits that create a distinction between femininity and masculinity. For instance, in their works, Messner (1999) and Kimmel (2009) think that the term ‘gender’ denotes a set of socially acceptable behaviors, roles, actions, and features. The attributes are considered by society to be ‘fit’ for males or females.
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The defined responsibilities lead to inequalities. Gender acts as one of the lenses through which one can study literature. Students are taught this subject to help them understand the feelings and experiences of others. As a result, humans can relate better with one another. Literature is studied through the lens of gender to help understand the conventional roles of men and women in a given text. Besides, the approach helps the reader to understand how males and females reject and try to change their responsibilities in society.
In this paper, the author will address the question of why people study literature from the perspective of gender. To achieve this objective, the author will use three reference books. The texts include Beloved by Toni Morrison, Bros before Hos: The Guy Code by Michael Kimmel, and Becoming 100% Straight by Michael Messner.
Analyzing the Three Texts from the Perspective of Gender
One of the books that enable the reader to understand the importance of studying literature through the lens of gender is Beloved by Toni Morrison. In the text, Morrison (2004) explores the plight of females in a male-dominated and biased society. The writer achieves this objective through the use of well-documented writings. Morrison (2004) writes about the lives of African American women who are struggling to put their lives together and reclaim a sense of ‘lost self’. The text documents the unique heritage of the African American culture. The tradition is made apparent through the use of historical facts and details of the past (Morrison, 2004).
By studying the text through the lens of gender, readers can get a clear picture of the sufferings experienced by women of African American descent in the U.S. Also, students of literature can understand the aspect of gender identity, oppression, slavery, and desire for freedom in the context of the African American women presented in the book. For example, Morrison (2004) observes that “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of the freed self was another” (95). Such statements help the reader to empathize with the female characters in the book. Their gender is impacting negatively on their status as ‘free’ agents in the post-slavery American society.
Approaching literature from the perspective of gender enables people to understand how and why men and women should relate with each other. It is noted that male and female members of the society use a set of socially defined codes to interact with one another. In Bros before Hos: The Guy Code, Kimmel (2009) makes the audience realize how modern society expects men to behave. Kimmel (2009) notes that “boys don’t cry, don’t get mad; get even, and just do it or ride or die” (609). In other words, boys are expected to ‘man up’. In this chapter, Kimmel (2009) defines what he refers to as ‘the guy code’. The sociologist defines it as the collection of attitudes, characteristics, and values that indicate what it means to be a man. The concept is made evident to the reader when the piece of work is analyzed from the perspective of gender.
A critical analysis of theories used in literature reveals that studying the subject in the context of gender serves as an eye-opener with regards to how masculinity and femininity play a role in ‘the convention’ of goals, values, and sexuality among males and females in the society (Messner, 1999).
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For example, in Becoming 100% Straight, Messner (1999) observes that “A self-identified heterosexual man studies up on heterosexuality, perceptions towards it, and how the discernments are affected by societal ideals” (230). What this means is that a heterosexual man approaches the issue of social roles differently compared to his gay counterpart. For the reader, studying the text through the lens of gender gives them a clear picture of how a heterosexual man is expected to act differently from a homosexual (Messner, 1999). Readers are also able to comprehend why gays and lesbians act in the way they do. In essence, the audience can ‘stand in the shoes’ of people that are different from them. Such empathy cannot be achieved in the absence of gender.
As a subject, gender continues to capture the attention and imagination of scholars from different walks of life. As a result, people have come up with varying definitions of the concept over the years. Such a move has informed the perceptions held by members of the society with regards to the differences between the roles played by men and women. Gender can be used by students of literature. To this end, studying the subject through the lens of gender makes people appreciate the distinctions between the traits and behaviors of men and women in the society. Such an approach was used in this paper to understand the arguments made by the authors in Bros before Hos, Becoming 100 Percent Straight, and Beloved.
Kimmel, M. (2009). “Bros before Hos”: The guy code. In M. Kimmel (Ed.), Guyland: The perilous world where boys become men (44-69). New York: Harper. Web.
Messner, M. (1999). Becoming 100 percent straight. In J. Coakley & P. Donnelly (Eds.), Inside sports (pp. 97-104). New York: Routledge. Web.
Morrison, T. (2004). Beloved. New York: Vintage. Web.