A Powerful Look At "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid

A Powerful Look At "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid

The author tackles deeper issues in her moving piece.
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Jamaica Kincaid is one of the prevalent writers of the twentieth/twenty-first century. Well known for tackling the subjects of racism, class, gender and how they are exploited, and culture and conveying them to a wide audience in a book. Her most remembered work is a prose-poetry called Girl, a child following the instruction of a sharp-tongued mother teaching her how to become a woman, in contrast, what it is like for a woman growing up in Antigua. Most importantly, how the theme of morality encompasses the detrimental measures of gender roles imposed upon young girls breaking into womanhood.

The Antiguan mother is immediately introduced into the story to establish her directions for morality in her daughters every decision. Seeing how she is narrating the setting by giving her daughter cisgender instruction on how to behave like a lady in public and in the private setting of her home. For example, differentiating clothes to wash by color and day, covering her head when it is sunny, soaking salt fish overnight, staying away from the homeless boys who she refers to as wharf-rats, how to smile, how to plant and so much more (Kincaid). Meanwhile, she is referring to her daughter as a “slut” as she is giving these instructions, even though, there is no sign of the daughter promiscuity, let alone her even realizing her sexuality.

Moving onto the daughter, here she carefully listens to her mothers’ forewarning on what she needs to do as a woman. Her mother, as I mentioned before, harshly instructs that when she buys cotton make sure it does not have gum on it, how to iron her fathers’ khaki shirt and pants so they would not have creases in them, how to sweep the yard and the house, sew, how to eat your food that is not appalling, not to squat and stop playing games that is associated with boys, not to pick other people's flowers, how to make pepper pot, how to wash up, grow okra etc. (Kincaid) It is any wonder if she was able to processes all these directions, something tells me not so. Afterwards, her mother says “squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh” only to reply what if the baker does not let me, showing signs of her immaturity of how sexuality is used in womanhood.

So it is pretty evident that this short-story took place in the twentieth century, it is only assumed that the setting is stationed in St. John's, Antigua. This happens to be Elaine Potter Richardson (Jamaica Kincaid’s real name) homeland before immigrating to America at the age of seventeen. Looking into Jamaica Kincaid's history she did not have a good relationship with her mother by the age of nine when she became a big sister to three younger siblings.

Until this day, Jamaica Kincaid has not given exclusive details on how she felt betrayed by her mother, however, she did say this on BBC "I don't know if having other children was the cause for our relationship changing—it might have changed as I entered adolescence, but her attention went elsewhere. But then I got more of things I didn't have, like a certain kind of cruelty and neglect." The parallels of her earlier life and the story Girl contrast each other heavily that it cannot be denied, especially not playing into the gender roles of her country as she got older.

Antigua itself has become a symbol of oppression for encompassing the western culture forced upon the British government, and the people who were brought against their will or natives of the land stripped away of their culture. In return, they repress each other by mimicking a custom that was not originally theirs, and set ground rules for the community to follow for day to day life. Women are still expected to follow the ‘norms’ of their position in the community. Even now it would seem as though nothing has changed for the progression of women in Antigua. UN Women have reported a high percentage of women in the state of poverty especially the ones who are disabled. If any woman is a subjected to abuse at the hands of any man, her going to the authorities would be in vain with the case being seen as a hindrance. Again, the damaging treatment of women has a long way before it prevails:

As social being who need support from each other, and knowing that achievements made in life are not based on individual efforts, the cry from women to have the support of other women in society is a cry for help and if attended to will foster an environment of growth, where one can flourish to their fullest potential. Assertive women felt shunned by other women who sometimes perceive them to be masculine while vulnerable women felt there was an absence of safe spaces for them to share, vent and get support to continue their journey. (UN Women: Antigua and Barbuda National Review, p.14)

Going back to the story, the mother teaches her daughter how she will be perceived in the eyes of her peers. So, what will happen if she does not? Being ostracized by one's culture is a heavy effect, but why do women submit to these abuses? More importantly, why do women tear each other down? According to Rosjke Hasseldine, an educator of women studies came to the conclusion that women tear each other down because women are internally misogynistic. Girls are taught by our mothers who were taught by their grandmothers and so forth what acceptable way of a woman is. To ignore it one would, again, risk being labeled as a ‘bad’ woman. She then says “internalising the language and beliefs of patriarchy was an economic necessity. After all, you cannot burn thousands and thousands of women as witches without it having an effect on women for generations after. It creates a ripple effect that invokes fear around being your own person.”

Next is the discussion of benna music and why the mother forbids her daughter from listening to it. Following the nineteen sixties, benna was taking a new height amongst the public and drifting somewhat away from its conservative values. It was the polar opposite of being a call-and-response type of music seeing how it featured the subject of gossip, sex, violence and raunchy words. Being that this was the decade of redefining the subject sex and how it played its part in society it did not sit well with most, and one would think it would not to sit well with women either.

Music artist in this genre write derogatory things about women, making objectifying remarks about their bodies and place emphases on abuse. So why is it symbolic? Years after being ‘told’ what to do by your community someone is bound to rebel against effects of sexual repression, in this case, it was done through music which is presently popular in carnival fairs in the West Indies. The mother put a stop to this not because it was slut-shaming but was not seen appropriate for a woman to listen to music of that nature.

The first line in the story of Girl reads “wash the white clothes” the mother then scolds her daughter for singing benna at Sunday school. Antigua has been a Christian state since it has been colonized, and one of Christianities symbolic features is the color white. Michael R. Morris, a writer for LDS, and Henry Dreyfus a Japanese artist both stated that the color represents cleanliness and purity, which is contradicting because throughout this whole piece the mother is verbally abusing her daughter into following these unwritten rules of womanhood. How can she be seen as holy if she is a slut so to speak? The daughter clearly has no understanding of the sexual undertones her mother refers to, or as to why she has to do things a certain way nearly because the mother says so. Ignorant, yes but is she that sinful in the eyes of her mom or did the mother see a mirroring reflection of her daughter?

Lastly is the symbolism of the bread mentioned in this story when the mother says “always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh.” Anyone who is not reading the prose critically would assume that she is referring to her daughter knowing how to make bread. Wrong. Another contradictory on behalf of the mother and her ‘morals’ is that bread in the Christian faith is supposed to symbolize the body of Christ, him dying for the sins of others yet in this context ‘bread’ is being used as a sexual undertone.

Although the mothers approach could be seen as bullying, she is preparing her daughter not only for wifely duties but to look appealing for the opposite sex, grooming her if you well. Because when her daughter naively asks if the baker would let her feel her mother replies “after all you are really going to be the kind of women who the baker won’t let near the bread?” It is pretty clear of the intentions the mother has for her child. So the intent on the mothers tactic is for her daughter to be a proper lady not only through her eyes but amongst the peers as well, and a future husband.

Reading the story the first was comical, but analyzing it broadens the perspective of reading this piece. Teaching young girls that it is okay to bow down to patriarchy by shaming her into following these rules of hypocrisy is pure insanity. Telling girls through the media what is considered beautiful, what will get the boys attention, and what not to do or else you will be called a slut or a bitch for being out-spoken. This is why we need feminism so it can teach our girls to love themselves and not fall victim to the oppression or our peers.

Cover Image Credit: Keturah Ariel

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I Might Have Aborted My Fetus When I Was 18, But Looking Back, I Saved A Child’s Life

It may have been one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't had done it.

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Due to recent political strife happening in the world today, I have decided to write on a very touchy, difficult subject for me that only a handful of people truly know.

When I was 18 years old, I had an abortion.

I was fresh out of high school, and deferring college for a year or two — I wanted to get all of my immature fun out so I was prepared to focus and work in the future. I was going through my hardcore party stage, and I had a boyfriend at the time that truly was a work of art (I mean truly).

Needless to say, I was extremely misinformed on sex education, and I never really thought it could happen to me. I actually thought I was invincible to getting pregnant, and it never really registered to me that if I had unprotected sex, I could actually get pregnant (I was 18, I never said I was smart).

I remember being at my desk job and for weeks, I just felt so nauseous and overly tired. I was late for my period, but it never really registered to me something could be wrong besides just getting the flu — it was November, which is the peak of flu season.

The first person I told was my best friend, and she came with me to get three pregnancy tests at Target. The first one came negative, however, the second two came positive.

I truly believe this was when my anxiety disorder started because I haven't been the same ever since.

Growing up in a conservative, Catholic Italian household, teen pregnancy and especially abortion is 150% frowned upon. So when I went to Planned Parenthood and got the actual lab test done that came out positive, I was heartbroken.

I felt like I was stuck between two roads: Follow how I was raised and have the child, or terminate it and ultimately save myself AND the child from a hard future.

My boyfriend at the time and I were beyond not ready. That same week, I found out he had cheated on me with his ex and finances weren't looking so great, and I was starting to go through the hardest depression of my life. Because of our relationship, I had lost so many friends and family, that I was left to decide the fate of both myself and this fetus. I could barely take care of myself — I was drinking, overcoming drug addictions, slightly suicidal and living with a man who didn't love me.

As selfish as you may think this was, I terminated the fetus and had the abortion.

I knew that if I had the child, I would be continuing the cycle in which my family has created. My goal since I was young was to break the cycle and breakaway from the toxicity in how generations of children in my family were raised. If I had this child, I can assure you my life would be far from how it is now.

If I had carried to term, I would have had a six-year old, and God knows where I would've been.

Now, I am fulfilling my future by getting a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, having several student leadership roles, and looking into law schools for the future.

Although it still haunts me, and the thought of having another abortion truly upsets me, it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I get asked constantly "Do you think it's just to kill a valuable future of a child?" and my response to that is this:

It's in the hands of the woman. She is giving away her valuable future to an unwanted pregnancy, which then resentment could cause horror to both the child and the woman.

As horrible as it was for me in my personal experience, I would not be where I am today: a strong woman, who had overcome addiction, her partying stage, and ultimately got her life in order. If I would have had the child, I can assure you that I would have followed the footsteps of my own childhood, and the child would not have had an easy life.

Because of this, I saved both my life and the child's life.

And if you don't agree or you dislike this decision, tough stuff because this is my body, my decision, my choice — no one else.

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Abortion Bans Are Only A Small Part Of The Republican War On Women

These bans expose the Republican Party for what it truly is.

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This week, several states passed laws that ban abortion after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, before most women even know that they're pregnant. The most egregious of these is Alabama — the state has banned abortion except for in cases of danger to the mother. Exceptions in the cases of rape and incest were actively voted against by the state legislature. Under the new law, any doctor who is caught giving an abortion would be sentenced to 99 years in prison, and the woman would be charged with murder.

Apart from the fact that this explicitly violates the decision of Roe v. Wade (which is the point), this is only a small part of the slow but steady degradation of women's rights by Republicans in the United States. To anyone who believes that this is simply about people being "pro-life" or "saving the children," then tell them to look at what happens after the fetus is carried to term.

Republicans oppose forcing fathers to be involved in the lives of their children that were forcibly carried to term, desires to cut food stamps and make it more difficult to feed said child, cut funding for affordable housing to make it more difficult for them to find homes, cut spending to public education so these children can't move up the social ladder, and refuse to offer the woman or her child health insurance to keep them both healthy. What about efforts to prevent pregnancy? Republicans also oppose funding birth control and contraception, as well as opposing comprehensive sexual education. To them, the only feasible solution is to simply keep your legs shut. They oppose all of these things because it is, in their eyes, a violation of individual rights to force people to do something. The bill also makes women who get abortions felons, and felons can't vote. I'll let you finish putting those two together.

If you view it from this framework, it would seem like Republicans are being extremely hypocritical by violating the personal freedoms of pregnant women, but if you look at it from the view of restricting social mobility for women, then it makes perfect sense. The Republican dogma of "individual rights" and "personal responsibility" is a socially acceptable facade that they use to cover up their true intentions of protecting the status quo and protect those in power. About any Republican policy, ask yourself: does this disperse power or consolidate it? Whether it be education, healthcare, the environment, or the economy, Republicans love to keep power away from the average citizen and give it to the small number of people that they deem "deserving" of it because of their race, gender, wealth, or power. This is the case with abortion as well; Power is being taken from women, and being given back to men in a reversal of the Feminist Movement of the 1970s.

Republicans don't believe in systemic issues. They believe that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed regardless of what point they started. This is why they love capitalism so much. It acts as some sort of great filter in which only those who deserve power can make it to the top. It's also why they hate social policies; they think that helping people who can't help themselves changes the hierarchy in a negative way by giving people who don't "deserve" power, power. Of course, we know that just because you have money and power doesn't mean you earned it fair and square, and even if Republicans believe it, it wouldn't change anything because it wouldn't change how they want to distribute power.

In short, Republican policies, including abortion, leave the average American with less money, less protection, less education, worse health, less opportunity, fewer rights, and less freedom. This is NOT a side effect. This is the point. Regardless of what Republicans will tell you about "inalienable rights" and how everyone is equal, in reality, they believe that some people and groups are more deserving of rights than others, and the group that deserves rights the most are the ones "that will do the best with them." To Republicans, this group consists of the wealthy, the powerful, and the white — the mega-rich, the CEOs of large companies, gun owners and Christians.

So, who do Republicans think deserve power and give it to? People who look and think like them. This, however, begs the question: Who do they want to take it from?

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