How have conventional Western gender roles alienated Annie in Annie John?

Quick answer:

In Annie John, gender roles complicate Annie’s adolescence. Growing up, her mother taught her how to be an “ideal” woman, teaching her how to do things traditionally expected of women, like housework. But Annie’s mother ignores Annie’s sexual development and even calls her a “slut” for talking to boys. This makes Annie feel alienated from her mother. Ma Chess, a woman who rejects Western culture, is the one to heal Annie, suggesting that freedom from Western gender expectations is liberating.

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In Annie John, Western gender roles for women play a significant role in shaping Annie’s development. In particular Annie feels disconnected from the gendered social expectations put on her, which prompt her to retreat into isolation.

Consider how Annie changes when her mother tells her that things will be different as she becomes a young lady. As Annie grows more mature, her mother gradually stops explicitly showing her how to adhere to female expectations. For example, growing up, Annie’s mother modeled how to do housework such as cooking and cleaning. However, when Annie begins to become involved in romantic relationships, she expresses frustration that her mother does not seem to notice. This disconnect that emerges between Annie and her mother reflects idealized gender roles for women. In a way, it reflects how Western gender roles expect women to be productive caretakers for others yet not address romantic and sexual desires of their own.

The shaming of female sexual desire and romantic involvement is also significant in the scene where Annie’s mother calls her a slut. Annie was teased by boys on the street, and her mother calls her a slut for talking to them. This scene reflects gendered stereotypes that women who seek out relationships are promiscuous. Yet Annie was merely talking to boys who first came over and taunted her. This scene is thus representative of how expectations and judgments on women do not take into account the effects of male behavior. Annie’s experiences with her womanhood like this one contribute to isolation and her desires to leave her home.

The focus on Western gender roles in your question is interesting. It suggests that analysis of gender in this text is interconnected with a post-colonial reading. Annie is living on an island that has been colonized into Western culture. However, her maternal grandmother, Ma Chess, rejects this culture and represents Annie’s ancestral culture. It is Ma Chess who heals Annie during her sickness. It is as if Ma Chess represents the strength of women who are free from Western gender roles. The way that she helps bring Annie out of isolation suggests that by rejecting Western gender roles, Annie can be strong too.

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