Gender Identity Crisis in Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls”
Identity is a complex term that defines the unique attributes which distinguish an individual or a group of people, the defining attributes include; sexuality, nationality, gender or any other attribute that is unique to the person. Identity, in other words, is the things that define and explain who somebody is. On the other hand, crisis is described sociologically as the obstacle or huddles that hinder somebody from achieving what they require, further, the hurdle cannot be solved by the ordinary traditional problem solving techniques and therefore require sophisticated ideas. Identity crisis is a scenario that comes up due to existence of a feeling of being misplaced on the reason and purpose of existing. Identity crisis may arise in the gender affairs when a person’s identity is perceived to be closely affiliated to the opposite gender.
In the story, Boys and Girls, the author Alice Murno narrates the tale of a young lady who is locked between activities of both genders and therefore fights to find her identity. This is a story of identity crisis and the existence of gender disparities where the female gender is perceived to be the lesser dominant sex. The protagonist in the story is a girl living in a farm house with her family consisting of her father, mother and Laird- her younger brother, the family is portrayed as a traditional family with chores specifically divided according to gender.
In the story, the main character, whose name is not mentioned, seems to enjoy doing duties that are suited for male although she is female. This is clear from the manner in which her mother reacts to her involvement in outdoor duties instead of being in the house doing female duties. The girl however, despises the indoor duties which she described as ‘endless, dreary and peculiarly depressing’. This is a sign of identity crisis where the girl wants to break the perspective that female are weaker gender who are required to be indoors for litter house chores. The outdoor duties are believed to require masculinity and are therefore, preserved for the male gender which is considered the stronger gender. However, the girl enjoys helping her father in the outdoor duties and other tough jobs which the society at that time excluded female from doing. This is aimed at proving that the female gender is not a weak gender but they are capable of doing every duty that the male gender can perform. The girl describes doing the outdoor duties as being ‘ritualistically important’; this is the identity crisis that the main character in the story seeks to address.
The crisis is worsened by the practices and expectations of the community, which has a predetermined mentality that women are required to remain in the kitchen doing house chores while the male are breads winners. Additionally, the family setup puts the father as the sole controller of the affairs of the family and the bread winner of the family; this is one of the crises and disparities that the author addresses in the story Boys and Girls. The girl’s father does all the hard work that earns the family what they use for their survival. Further, the book that the girl’s father reads is an indication of the general setup and the division of labor that exists. The mother, on the other hand, remains indoors and only comes out to do ordinary duties that do not earn income but only substitute food security of the family. This is the perspective that the main character struggles to overturn in her association of herself to male dominated duties.
The society continues to play a big role in promoting identity crisis according to the story. The protagonist discovers the disparities that exist and is forced to make a conclusion that is disturbing. She acknowledges that, ‘a girl was not, as I had supposed, simply what I was; it was what I had to become’. This is promoted by the scenario where a salesman visits the farm and finds the girl doing the outdoor chores; the salesman is shocked and asks the father of her identity. Her father responds by referring to her as ‘my new hired hand’. This is a clear identity of the position that women and girls were given in the community and the boundaries that were set. The salesman laughed it out sarcastically before saying that he thought ‘it was only a girl’, a term that undermined the ability of the protagonist.
Family and relatives also play a big role in gender crisis due to the environment they set up as children grow. In the case of Boys and Girls, Alice Murno portrays the narrator’s family as one that plays a big role in promoting gender inequality. The narrators name is not mentioned in the entire story, this is an indication of how less important the society takes women and therefore treating them as second class citizen. Conversely, the girl’s younger brother is named Laird, this is a name that is synonymous to Lord at that time and is meant to show how the male gender was regarded then. When the father describes the narrator as ‘his new hired hand’, the mother is offended and responds by telling him to wait for Laird to grow older so that he can get better hands. Further, the mother complains that she does not stay in the house and wonders if there is a girl in that house This further confirms the fact that the girl loves outdoor duties as compared to the indoor chores.
The attention given to the two children is also an indication of gender disparities that exists in the family and the society. The narrator lures Laird to commit a mistake so that she can see how her parents react to it. She therefore, lures him to climb on to the roof and leaves him there hoping that he will be punished for the mistake. Unexpectedly, when their parents arrive they are furious and blame her for not taking care of her brother. The manner in which Laird is rescued too show the disparities The mother holds the ladder as she cries while the father climbs the ladder carefully and gets him down very consciously. Additionally, the role of family in promoting gender disparities is evident from the conversation of the girls’ grandmother who lay out the expectations that are required of girls and women. Among the expectations is that she should be very disciplined and even slamming the door is a crime, her sitting posture is also of importance, and that girls should not ask question in case they require clarification on some issues since it is not their business.
Despite these numeroushurdles, the narrator believes that freedom is soon to come though she understands that it is not an easy task. This is reveled when Flora their female horse it to be slaughtered to provide meat for foxes, the horse fought back and overpowered the protagonist’s father. Flora gains her freedom though it is short-lived and runs in to the woods so as to be free from being killed. The narrator opens the door for the horse to run instead of locking the door, an indication that she too is in dire need of freedom and independence, to choose what she believes is right for her to do and not what the society has set.
The story of Boys and Girls is a story of identity crisis and gender disparities that is created by the community and the family. Identity crisis in the book is what makes the narrator to stand up and fight for a position in a society that is dominated by men. This is not an easy task since the mind-set of members of the community and even family members view the women as second class citizens. The protagonist represents many women who were being oppressed and were in need of freedom at time the story was narrated; likewise, it is a story of community perception on gender issue. However, the story gives hope on the ability to get freedom and move out of oppression as indicated by Flora, the female horse that overpowered the protagonist’s father.