ENG3UU2L3: Masculinity and Femininity

January 12, 2015:

This class covers the first section (p. 1-73) of The Color Purple. Last week, students had their first Book Club meeting (see here for details), where they discussed Language in the novel.

Today, we will consider the relationships in the novel. We will look closely at gender and how gender functions within the text.


The following definitions are from the TDSB's Gender-Based Violence Prevention Office:

Discrimination: prejudice plus the use of power. Discrimination can take many forms, including
ageism, racism, classism, heterosexism, Islamophobia, sexism, ableism, ethnocentrism,
etc. Many acts of discrimination build up over time, perpetuated against one relatively less
powerful social group by a more powerful social group, leading to a group of people being in a
state of oppression.
Femininity: refers to qualities and behaviours judged by a particular culture to be ideally and/or traditionally associated with or especially appropriate to women and girls.

Gender: is socially constructed and is based on societal expectations of how a person should behave based on their sex.

Gender conforming: abiding by society’s gender rules, e.g., a woman dressing, acting, relating to others and thinking of herself as feminine or as a woman.

Identity: how one thinks of oneself, as opposed to what others observe or think about one.
Masculinity: refers to qualities and behaviours judged by a particular culture to be ideally and/or traditionally associated with or especially appropriate to men and boys.
Oppression: the systematic control of a group of people by another group of people with access to social power. This results in benefits for one group over the other and is maintained by social beliefs and practices. Because oppression is institutionalized in our society, target group members often believe the messages and internalize the oppression.
Patriarchy: the traditionally dominant form of social organization or government, etc. in which man or men rule and descent is reckoned through the male line resulting in a disproportionately large share of power.
Prejudice: A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members. When the person holding the prejudice also has and uses the power to deny opportunities, resources or access to a person because of their group membership, there is discrimination.
Sex / Biological Sex: includes external genitalia, internal reproductive structures, chromosomes, hormone levels, and secondary sex characteristics such as breasts, facial and body hair, and fat distribution. These characteristics are objective in that they can be seen and measured (with appropriate technology). Sex is a scale that consists not just of two categories (male and female) but is actually a continuum, with most people existing somewhere near one end or the other. The space more in the middle is occupied by intersex persons.
Sexism: all attitudes, procedures and patterns – economic, social and cultural – whose effect, though not necessarily whose conscious intention, is to create, maintain and extend the power, influence and privilege of males and/or masculinity over females and/or femininity.
For more definitions/information, you can see the full list here.
In class, we will look closely at several key passages in the first section of the novel. The passages will be discussed in detail. As a class, we will consider the ways in which gender, especially masculinity and femininity, is expressed in the novel. How might these ideas of masculinity and femininity be oppressive? How might they lead to prejudice or discrimination? What are the consequences for the characters of not gender conforming?
Students will then complete the handout and consider the expectations for each gender. What characteristics do characters display that fall inside the "gender box"? What characteristics fall outside? What are the consequences of falling outside the "gender box"?
Students will then watch the video below:

Focusing more on masculinity, how might the constraints of the “man box” affect the relationship between fathers and sons? Between men and women? Between husbands and wives?

At the end of the reading, Harpo opens up his juke joint. Consider the role of music in the novel. 

Shug Avery sings Bessie Smith's "A Good Man is Hard to Find". Listen to the song and answer the questions on the handout in your notes.


Complete your Ticket of Admission for the second Book Club meeting. See here for details.