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Gender Roles in The Help

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Connie Hamilton

on 9 September 2013

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Transcript of Gender Roles in The Help

To what extent and purpose are the gender roles of 1960s America included in the novel The Help?

A focus on the roles and relationships of the white women of Jackson
The Background and Setting
Jackson, Mississippi
Economic situation
Gender roles

How women had a 'duty' to their husbands to have children
How a woman's worth was judged on her skill as a mother
The responsibility of fathers
Education and Work
Background information
Social Duties
Importance of 'The League' in the book
Historical realities
Hilly Holbrook & Elizabeth Leefolt
The reader's judgement of the characters
How they are viewed in the society
Why were their roles as mothers included in the novel?
Celia Foote
"We got married cause I was pregnant,"
"...Johnny wants kids now[... ]What's he going to do with me?"

Oh, we're gonna have some kids. […] I mean, kids is the only thing worth living for.
Her self worth depends on being able to have children
She feels she needs to have a baby to please her husband
Reasons women in The Help went to college
“Four years my daughter goes off to college and what does she come home with?”
“A diploma?”
“A pretty piece of paper,” Mother says.
The Feminine Mystique
Characters who go to college to find a husband
How Skeeter is different

The Workplace
Pay equality and women in the workplace in America
Skeeter's mother encouraging her to work to meet a man
Skeeter's ambitions
How Hilly Holbrook is seen as the ideal woman
Celia's determination to join the League
Skeeter's exclusion from the social activities
Examples in The Help
Public Appearances
Charlotte Phelan hiding her cancer to keep up appearances
Her fixation on Skeeter's appearance
Elizabeth Leefolt trying to hide her poorness so she fits in
Lou Anne hiding her depression
“Lou Anne, you poor thing, in those long sleeves in this heat. Is it the eczema again?” Elizabeth asks because Lou Anne’s wearing a gray wool dress in the heat of summer.
Lou Anne looks at her lap, clearly embarrassed. “Yes, it’s getting worse.”

The Importance of Finding a Husband
Women going to college or working for the purpose of finding a husband
Skeeter’s mother being fixated on marrying her off

“Mama,” I say, just wanting to end this conversation, “would it really be so terrible if I never met a husband?”
Mother clutches her bare arms as if made cold by the thought.
Why was getting a husband so important to women in Jackson’s society?
Importance of Tradition
How relationships were conservative and Christian
Elizabeth would be mortified by the thought of sharing a room with a man before she was married, Hilly would tell me I was stupid to even consider it. They’d held onto their virginity with the fierceness of children refusing to share their toys. And yet, I consider it.

Views on homosexuality
"Are you…do you…find men attractive? Are you having unnatural thoughts about…[…] girls or women? […] Because it says in this article there's a cure, a special root tea —"

I wish to God I'd told John Dudley Green he ain't going to hell. That he ain't no sideshow freak cause he like boys. God I wish I'd fill his ear with good things like I'm trying to do with Mae Mobley.
Skeeter's Relationship with Stuart Whitworth
Did she actually want to marry him, or did she agree due to the social pressures on her?

Did Skeeter and Stuart have compatible ideas about gender roles in marriage and want the same things from the relationship?

Changing Times
Changing attitudes towards race
The connection between progressive society and Skeeter
Gender roles
Skeeter's views about gender roles
Changing ideas about sex
It’s 1963… They’ve invented a pill so married women don’t have to get pregnant.
Conclusion: Why Kathryn Stockett included scenes and storylines illustrating the gender roles in 1960s America:
To show Skeeter's and the changing society's rejection of the way things were
The realistic portrayal of the time period and setting of early '60s Mississippi
An intersectional look at and acknowlegdement of the different forms of oppression in the society
Full transcript