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Taliah Cofer
Ms. Wright
British Literature
26 March 2016
Understanding Complexities of Gender Roles in Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
When you grow up as a girl, it is like there are faint chalk lines traced
approximately three inches around your entire body at all times, drawn by
society and often religion and family and particularly other women, who
somehow feel invested in.how you behave, as if your actions reflect
directly on all womanhood, -M.E. Thomas.

Annie's changing body, Annie's friendships romances and romantic friendships, her relationship
to her teachers (who are all women), at every turn, this novel asks questions about what it is to be
a woman, what women should do, who women should love, and how women should act. Ugh,
it's.exhausting! No wonder Annie John ran away from it all. That growing up female stuff is
hard.
After a long school day, Annie often met up with her friends within the churchyard near
their school and sit and sing bad songs, use forbidden words, and, of course, show each other
various parts of. [their] bodies (Kincaid 80). Sooner or later, every child is going to get curious,
that is how children are. Kincaid used Annie John to exemplify this. Instead of putting barring
restrains of the naturalities of the female body or teaching young girls what is appropriate and
inappropriate about themselves is unfair and strictly biased. Kincaid takes the time to assure
there are very clear moments of emphasis on the colonial effect of religion to alter the culture of

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a place. Such destruction of culture is what lead the flame.of gender roles, and is why embers of
said flame can even be picked up within the household. Why is it that we find it harder to let our
little girl go play in the mud, as our little boys do with much less than a second thought?
In Jamaica Kincaids Annie John, not only does Annie John experience first-hand the
impact of gender discrimination, she is.victimized by her own mother. The word 'slut' was
repeated over and over, until suddenly I felt as if I were drowning in a well but instead of the
well being filled with water it was filled with the word 'slut,' and it was pouring in through my
eyes, my ears, my nostrils, my mouth. As if to save myself, I turned to her and said, 'Well, like
father like son, like mother.like daughter (Kincaid 102). The excerpt describes a scenario in
which Annie was found taking part in trivialities that are deemed inappropriate for a girl, and
downright slut-shamed for it. This incident makes a.preeminent statement within Kincaids
message of the book. Such is an example of the struggle young women face when maturing
into.a society where the definition of someone growing up and becoming an adult, is already
predefined almost by subliminal law.
As previously stated, a large part of.colonizing was establishing religion, and teaching
these standards which unfairly give men the advantage as it relates to social standing, politics,
and positions of power in general. This gender system has a light and a dark side that depict
relations, and beings in relation as deeply different.and thus as calling for very different patterns
of violent abuse. Annie John is the daughter of two Caribbean parents. One is her mother who
was once loving and caring, but has suddenly taken a change around the same time Annie is
experiencing puberty. The second is her father, who, although takes care of them.through work,
has been known to free-lance with women as her pleases. For Annie to experience a man

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proceeding with volatile business, as if it is a norm, is a clear example of how colonial


systematics established gender roles, and the need for terms such as housewife.
Discrimination based on gender (or sex) is a common.civil rights violation that takes many
forms, including sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and unequal pay for women who
do the same jobs as men. Such.is the definition of gender bias, which has plagued women of
many societies throughout history. Author Jamaica Kincaid displays the story of a young girl,
raised in the colonial Caribbean, and the many issues that are present, and still present
concerning the coming of age or adulthood in many females.
Gender discrimination.does much more that restrict the human liberties of women, but
also pose a threat of trauma which Kincaid also manages.to cover within the plot of the story.
Upon her coming of age, Annie is in search of her identity and is quite frankly disappointed with
who she is and why she cannot.seem to fit into the mold of a codified colonial girl.
Growing up a male in a colonial society means many of the following in a variety of
different circumstances: As children, boys would have learned what it meant to be a man from
the example of their fathers; they would be raised to follow the codes of law and be the socially
connected piece of the household; once they were apprenticed, boys were expected to learn and
perform the duties of adult tradesmen. What it meant to.be a man in a colonial society as
established by gender roles is even more interesting. Mens roles are structured as follows: to
have social power, to be educated, to contribute to the community, to participate in government,
to own property, and to maintain a family.
The contrast between feminine and masculine roles are drastic. Girls learned their gender
roles from the example of their mothers. They were expected to remain ladylike, be a perfect

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wife, and follow rules and tidiness. By the.age of thirteen, girls were expected.to share in all the
tasks of adult women. Specific.roles include: to maintain household order, to encourage faith and
moral development, and to be subordinate to men. Far less social roles, far less power, and worst
of all its as if women were put.on earth to solely be the support of a man. Which isnt true, but is
deemed true in various colonized cultures throughout the world. Jamaica Kincaids Annie John
is full of scenarios depicting the effects.of colonialism and how its terms of sociality are
misconstrued. For example, the girls dress in a formal British style and they are.discouraged
from engaging in local activities, such as calypso dancing in the playground, which instead of
being looked at as taboo, should rather be thought of as a vital piece to culture. But such is the
price of colonization.
Women who stepped.outside of the traditional gender roles were especially dangerous.
They represented a world turned upside down; a world in which.men simply were unable to
make sense of their position. Men had been.socialized from birth to be in control.of their families
and society. Their collective.insecurity about their social place contributed.to their harsh
treatment of women who stepped outside the traditional gender roles of Colonial life. Damage to
the ideal of free-lance human beings tied down to no role, can be seen in parts of Africa as well.
Colonial rule reinforced the.portrayal of women as being substandard.and subservient, and
depicted.images of purity and propensity for child-rearing that.did not have as much prominence
prior to the influx of colonizers. Such exploitative gender relations were imposed during colonial
rule with.unfavorable outcomes for women. Unfortunately, many.of the prejudices have been
maintained after decolonization, resulting in the discrimination of women in nationalist
movements and in modern African institutions.

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Various approaches used to analyze.African colonial politics, economies, societies, and


cultures are often gender-blind, tending to ignore women's.experiences, contributions, voices,
perceptions, representations, and struggles. This started to change following the rise of feminist
movements, which emerged out of.both localized and intellectual and political struggles. While
the struggles to.mainstream women and gender have been gathering pace, African women have
become increasingly more.noticeable in histories of colonialism, which has disrupted the
chronologies that tend to frame colonialism in Africa.
In Judith Butlers book Gender Trouble, she introduces the idea that sex and gender are
not linked. Sex is the biological difference in maleness or femaleness while gender is a socially
and culturally-constructed and maintained set of ideals and standards, that are performed to
define the status of maleness or femaleness. However, she also refutes the.fact of sex as well due
to their need to be distinguished on the.falsely gendered terms of male and female. Therefore,
Butler has theorized that both sex and gender are constructed and therefore characteristics of
bodies are not able to be classified by the cultural binary as it exists. Power.and autonomy is a
sense of volition and influence over the relationships and behaviors of the persons in a system. If
the system is simply self-determination.and the ability to promote decisive changes, then those
are characteristics of power.

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Works Cited
"Edges of Empire." Edges of Empire. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
"Colonialism - Africa - The Feminist Intervention." - Women, Gender, African, and Relations.
Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Raftery, Deirdre, and Maryann Gialanella Valiulis. Gender Balance and Gender Bias in
Education: International Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2011. Print.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997. Print.
Fisher, Jerilyn, and Ellen S. Silber. Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender.
Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003. Print.