Gender roles – a set of societal norms dictating the types of behaviors which are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable based on their actual or perceived sex or sexuality. That is the clear cut definition of gender roles. In Chapter 3 of Elizabeth Spelman’s Repair, she addresses the use of gender roles in day to day life and the work force. In fact in several aspects of her book, Spelman confronts the topic of gender roles presenting different characters and their line of repair/restoring. Understanding these specified roles through the ways Spelman identifies them, is an important aspect of understanding Repair.
Gender roles have existed since the beginning of time. The women, should not, and therefore would not take on the same tasks as men, because well— they weren’t men. If the men’s job was to hunt and gather, it was the woman’s job to cook and create with the supplies she was given. A woman’s role was to create with what the men provided. Chapter 2 of Repair tends to demonstrate that theory pretty clearly, when looking at the role of Louise, Elizabeth, and Irene. The three of them do what is called invisible mending, which is when they take a painting with minimal damage and make small repairs, that are invisible to the naked eye. Louise, Elizabeth, and Irene, essentially take the work of others and make them look as though they never needed touching up. Women making do with the work and creativity of men. Although the role of the women is a very important aspect of the preservation of the paintings and works of art, it is an ironic insight into the idea that women’s work is usually behind the scenes, or is overshadowed by the more impressive or “showy” work of men.
Looking at Elizabeth Spelman’s take on gender roles through chapter three, from a female perspective allowed me to question or understand society’s gender configuration that I had never really noticed before.
The very existence of such books and their messages of “There’s no reason you can’t do this stuff too, ladies!” signal a history of women being considered unsuitable for such work on the grounds that it is too demanding, or is something that would compromise their claim to femininity. (pg 28)
As a female, hearing the words “A girl can do anything!” seems like the most empowering statement in the world. Yeah– I can do anything! The stereotypical connotations in connection to living as a female, overshadow our character and potential. How many times have we as humans, not just women heard the saying “You throw like a girl” or “You run like a girl”? The saying in itself puts a negative tone on the idea of being a female. But why? In what ways is the act of being a girl negative? In regards to the notion of repair, society’s outlook on gender is in my opinion in need of some fine tuning.
As a young girl, hearing someone tell you that you can do anything, opens up what feels like a path of endless possibilities. I know for me personally, seeing my mother getting up every morning at two thirty in the morning for her job, and work long and tiring hours in a position that she was and still is the only one to hold, gave me an outlook far from the idea that women were lesser viewed in society. I witnessed with my own eyes what it meant for a woman to work. Not just work, but be a hard and efficient worker at their craft and only expect the best from the outcome.
So why should we have to say girls can do anything in the first place? Is it because women were excluded from the work force for far too long? Is it because women did not gain the right to vote until the twentieth century? Whatever reason it may be, makes the statement ‘Girls can do anything’, far less empowering than it was as a young girl, when I was innocent to the reasons of which this goal was presented. Instead of it being, girls can do anything, it should be anyone can do anything! Because women are just as much a part of the fluidity of society as men.
In addition, Spelman focuses her take on gender roles through how it is presented in the household. According to Spelman, the role of women is to essentially repair the emotional aspect within the home, usually meaning the relationships presented in the household. Whereas on the other hand, the mens role is to use their masculinity to fix or repair the physical damage of the house such as a broken table or with his tool box in the garage. Masculinity versus femininity presented in the most stereotypical way. Physical and emotional.
Gender is no longer the black and white subject it used to be in society. Gender is both a specific and broad topic that effects everyone in a different way. Whether you see it as Spelman and how she presents her specific point of view in Repair, or you disagree completely, gender roles will always have their place — hopefully ever changing place — in society.