Gender Performances and the Dynamics of Identity Construction in Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other
AbstractThe purpose of this study is to examine how the performance of gender roles in Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other shape women’s identities and determine their position of power within the private sphere. The analyses in this study are based on Judith Butler’s theory on gender performativity developed in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Butler argues that identity, particularly gender identity, are constituted in time through gender performances. This study assumes that O’Brien and Evaristo’s selected novels portray characters who are assertive in their social performances, despite social expectations and norms that seek to constrain them within socially defined positions and roles. From the analysis of the selected novels, we realized that postmodern characters live in societies with diverse family models. These include the traditional family model, the dual-earner family model, the single-parent family model and the same-sex family model. We also found that gender performances shifted with the changes in the family structure. Characters in traditional family models tend to be more concerned about performing traditional gender roles and are, therefore, more ready to conform to social expectations. This means that their identities are, to a greater extent, socially defined. Most of the female characters who choose to conform to traditional gender expectations live in societies where failing to comply results in serious social sanctions. On the other hand, most postmodern female characters are deeply dissatisfied with traditional gender roles and are often involved in activities outside the home. We realised that changes in the structure of the family are hardly ever followed by men’s change of attitude towards house-care activities. Therefore, many female characters adopt the role of the breadwinner only as an additional workload, since they still carry the full responsibility of the housekeeper. However, the analysis revealed that younger characters, especially those in advanced societies, are getting more conscious of the dynamics of gender roles and are insisting on a balanced division of labour, both in and out of the home. This study also brought us to the surprising realisation that female oppression is also possible in all-female relationships especially when one partner seeks to occupy the position of power while imposing her will on the economically or physically less privileged partner. Thus, lesbianism is not a solution to female oppression.
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