About Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Feminism is concerned with the political, societal, and economic differences that exist between men and women in a world where men are more dominant than women. Men in society prefer to manipulate and influence women in whatever way they wish because they believe they are superior to men. The text seeks to highlight certain inequalities in the positions they play in society. In this book, the protagonist has no voice-over men, only men decide to the woman whatever they want. Women in society are forced to marry and have children. This is a conventional position for women, with stereotypical expectations that women prioritize the needs of their families over their own. Women are mistreated by men through insults. Men are the only people expected to talk in the house and if a woman speaks they do not listen because they do not respect her opinions. A woman follows all the orders given by man. The novel demonstrates instances that show that women are more than men are more powerful.

Women roles and responsibilities

In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston demonstrates the subject of gender roles and their importance in African American culture. In chapter six the novel portrays that men expect women to perform different roles from men and men express their superiority to their female by forcing them into a role of subservience. Jane wants to do the activities done by a white women everyday which is to sit on their high chairs on the porches of their home and relax.

Joe wants Jane to do what all other women do including staying at home, cooking food and looking after the children. Women were having fun at the mule-baiting but Jane does not take part in this because Joe forbids her to participate in such activities (Houston, 56). This shows that Joe is powerful than Jane and that is why he demands she should appear as if she is living the white women’s dream of actin civilized and sitting at home. Her gender aspire to fulfill the women of this time just stay at home while the men go out to work

When a man makes her wife stay at home, he was regarded as a responsible man and Joe, being a leader wanted to prove himself in his town. Janie opposes these roles by stating that, “Tain’t nothin’ so important Ah got tuh do tuhday, Jody. How come Ah can’t go long wid you tug de draggin’-out?” (60) Indicating that she is tired of the predetermined gender roles of women during the 1930’s. She wants to be free and do what makes her happy since according to her, her happiness cannot be found in the traditional roles that a woman of her time is supposed to assume.

Joe was forcing Janie to assume the gender roles “Here he was just pouring honor all over her; building a high chair for her to sit in and overlook the world and she here pouting over it! (62)”. He did not realize that these did not make her happy, he did it because that was what the society expected women to do. Thus, men with higher gender role conflict are likely to endorse ideologies which maintain male power over women (McDermott 99).

Women must submit to their husbands

Janie’s grandmother, Logan, and Joe try to make Janie a submissive and silent wife. In the society, a woman is not only regarded the weaker sex but also fundamentally defined by her relationship to man. This makes marriage a big deal to Janie because she believes that she can only acquire power when she marries a powerful or an ambitious man. It, therefore, makes them submit to their husbands by following all his demands. Men enforce these principles on women by limiting their actions with ideas of propriety, silencing their voices and insulting their sexuality and appearances. Men feel that women are ignorant and therefore they should receive orders on what to do every time. Janie protests, “You sho loves to tell me whut to do, but Ah can’t tell you nothin’ Ah see!” “Dat’s ‘cause you need tellin’, It would be pitiful if Ah didn’t. Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves” (71).

In this case Joe feels that women should recognize their role as inferior mate, and abuses them statin that their brainpower is equal to that of chicken or an inept cow. “De nigger woman is de mule uhn de world. […] Ah been prayin’ fuh it tuh be different wid you. (Houston, p.19). This is a dehumanizing statement when a woman is compared to a mule as an indication that she should always serve and submit to her husband.

A woman who shows male characteristics such as intelligence, ambition, and authority is regarded as unattractive and is beaten by his husband to make her submissive. “Men are always expected to be dominant” (Taylor’s 56). Male characters prove to their friends that they are powerful by making their wives submissive. Because of this, women are limited by men to positions of pleading, domesticity, passivity, and as objects of desire.

Domestic violence to prove men are powerful.

Domestic violence occurs when someone wants control over the victim, and the offender goal makes the victim afraid of him so that he/she can cooperate. Janie experienced domestic violence throughout her life for instance when she is sixteen; she married Loan who verbally abuses her nearly every day calling her useless, and ugly, spoiled and treats her like a mule when she refused to do the farm work.

Joe Starks, her second husband seemed charming, but he eventually begins to physically abuse Janie, serves him as a slave and compelled her to cover her hair. “He [Joe] wanted her submission, and he’d keep on fighting until he felt he had it” (Houston, 188)

Janie’s marriage to TeaCake is also as disastrous as the first two, since he threatens her life, and then beats her badly. “The batterer uses violence and behaviors, including but not limited to, intimidation, threats, psychological abuse, and isolation to coerce to control the person” (Clark 44). Joe frequently abuses Janie to make her feel inferior “[Joe:] “Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none their selves.” He continues, “Ah knows uh few things, and womenfolks sometimes thinks too!”

“Aw naw they don’t. They just think they’s thinkin’. When Ah see one thing Ah understands ten. You see ten things and don’t understand one.” (Houston 180-182)”

Women objectification where men are treats women as objects of their possession.

Women are treated as men’s objects to make them happy and use them the way they want. Loan is mad because Janie refuses to do farm work since he married her to help him with the farm work. Joe makes Janie manage his stores although he is jealous that other men are attracted to her. He then claims that she does not know anything when he is the mayor of the town “Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments,” he tells the audience, “but mah wife don’t know nothing’ ‘bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home” (Hurston 40-1)

He makes her tie her hair claiming that it was a way of keeping the store clean. “A woman can still do a number of things considered “masculine” and retain her femininity. Many women, for instance, who play sports are still feminine” (Umber 3). Joe’s feelings that women are to be objects of male ownership are demonstrated when he sees other men desiring after his wife. “Her hair was NOT going to show in the store” (55). “She was there in the store for him to look at, not those others” (55). Joe clearly exemplifies that his wife is to serve the aim of pleasing him and only and she will do as much as demand that she wear her hair in certain ways so as not to distract any of the daily customers. He is threatened by the fact that his wife is still a beautiful woman while he is aging rapidly and therefore he wants her to remain his object of control and obey him (Houston, 58).

Works cited

McDermott, Ryon C., et al. “College men’s and women’s masculine gender role strain and dating violence acceptance attitudes: Testing sex as a moderator.” Psychology of Men & Masculinity 18.2 (2017): 99.

Anthea Taylor’s (2011): Single Women in Popular Culture: Tax Limits of Postfeminism.

Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Philadelphia: Lippincott Company, 1937. Print.

Dilbeck, Keiko. “Symbolic Representation of Identity in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The Explicator 66.2 (2010): 102-104. Web. 29 April 2014

Umber pawlink. Femininity is defined as the woman who embraces, loves and relishes the fact that she is a woman http://www.amberpawlik.com/Gender.html web 2017

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