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Social Injustice of Gender Bias and Discrimination in the Handmaid’s Tale and in the Piano Lesson

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Gender is an inevitable thing that people cannot change about themselves making it impossible to escape the cruel injustices that we face on a daily basis. Gender bias and discrimination exists all over the world, not only in the United States. In the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, she writes about a dystopian society called the Gilead in which women are deprived of their rights and live under male domination simply because they are women, and therefore are only meant for a position with no opportunity or power. The play, The Piano Lesson by August Wilson, focuses on the lives of the Charles family who are African American and their heirloom with a family history under slavery. The main theme in this play is the conflict about the piano between the brother and sister. Boy Willie wants to sell the piano to be able to buy a land where his ancestors were slaves, but Bernice insists on keeping the piano in memory of their great grandmother and son whose faces are carved on the piano. Gender bias and discrimination refer to the socially constructed preference for one gender over the other. As a social problem, gender bias can appear in various contexts such as: the educational system, the work environment and economy, within families, and in religions. Research shows that gender bias and discrimination disproportionately affect women, mainly because of the patriarchal system embedded within the social structure of a given society. The cultural and social obstacles have impacted and shaped the characters in The Handmaid’s Tale and the play The Piano Lesson through the social injustices of gender bias and discrimination.

Gender Bias

Gender bias has consequences on certain social roles in society, depending upon who fills the role. For example, female dominant roles in nursing, childcare, or stay at home parenting are considered less masculine and are therefore viewed as less valuable in society. In the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, the society views women as less than men and society treated them as powerless. In the society of Gilead, men were equated with roles of power and women with domestic servitude. The consequence of gender bias is depicted within Gilead as men are named according to military rankings and women are used solely as tools of reproduction. According to the novel, “Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing” (Atwood 135). In the society of Gilead, men hold all the power and not women because they think women are useless and that they do not have the ability to hold any power. Likewise, “Where the missing Girl” of Explorations in Economic History explained the same issue. The consequences of gender bias impacted European societies in that parents seemed to have treated their sons and daughters differently throughout childhood. Research found that during the 19th century, the livings standards of girls, relative to boys, seemed to have deteriorated when they grew up, especially in economic conditions.

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Domestic chores also probably led to greater deprivation for older girls. Additionally, research shows that in Spain in 19th century, women faced severe discrimination in many amounts by being legally subordinated to their fathers and husbands; women were expected to remain within the domestic province. Gender bias also involves other kinds of mistreatment towards girls. According to research, “A glimpse of the existing son preference can be discerned from a popular proverb: ‘Wish I had a boy, even if he becomes a thief” (Beltran, Francisco, and Domingo 3). In a male oriented society, males receive more preferential attention than females. Additionally, it appears that boys being breastfed longer than girls might have resulted in a greater likelihood of girls falling ill. The influence of family intervention favoring male infants is important. Furthermore, gender bias can affect females in their daily lives. The resource “Women’s Inheritance, Household Allocation, and Gender Bias” shows how families avoid giving away their rightful land. This is because they believe that they saved this land for dowry payments when their daughter gets married or as an investment in education. However, the main issue is when parents realize that their children’s education quality is low or poor, they take their sons out of school to train them in farming or nonfarming related skills, thereby increasing their future earnings potential. On the other hand, parents keep their daughters at home to do house chores or train them for house parenting because parents believe that daughters should do house chores and sons should do outside work. Additionally, in India, the ancestral property passed down through generations, could only be inherited by sons (Bose and Das). Furthermore, research has found that Indian parents require money as a dowry for their they are close to a marriageable age. Thus, gender bias is a global societal problem, which impacts females. Another research, “Gender bias and the female brain drain”, shows that gender differences are the cause and consequences of female brain drain. They found that bias is a significant portion of the gap between male and female emigration rate. Researchers observed the outcomes of gender bias such as females getting less opportunities in the economic field than men even if women are highly skilled or have a higher education than men because of their gender. Additionally, they show how host countries have access to the legal work status of female immigrants than male immigrants because family visas have allowed more women to migrate by also forbidding them from working, leaving them to seek informal work in less-skilled occupations. Whereas, eliminating family visas would allow them to find a better job based on their ability, as well as increase incentives for families to invest in educating their daughters (Bang and Mitra). Indeed, in all societies, women have been impacted by social injustice through confronted gender bias, which makes them different.

Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination is still existing all around us. Gender discrimination is generally discussed as pertaining to women. There is an unfair imbalance between males and females; males have much more superiority than females as males are prone to be higher than females. There’s an inequality between genders because males have better opportunities within everyday life. It affects society negatively because it causes an imbalance for females, making them seem like they do not have the ability to do what males can do. However, the gender prejudice displayed in the play, The Piano Lesson by August Wilson, shows how a single mother, a character named Bernice, faced gender prejudice because society told her that she cannot be independent unless she has a man by her side. She is a thirty-five-year-old woman who was still in mourning for husband, Crawley. At this point, she refused to re-marry because she constantly thinks about her husband. She is running for her family and take cares and supports her daughter, but society says she is not because a woman cannot be independent by herself.

According to Bernice, “You trying to tell me a woman can’t nothing without a man. But you alright, huh? You can just walk out of here without me- without a woman- and still be a man. That’s alright. Aren’t nobody going to ask you, “Avery, who you got to love you?” That’s alright for you” (Wilson CH. 25). At this point, the female character faced gender discrimination in that society makes her dependent on men. Gender discrimination can affect a person physically and mentally. Research shows that “perceived gender discrimination is related to women’s poor mental health outcomes” (Kim and Hansol 1). Additionally, gender discrimination is one of the social stressors of being a woman that negatively impacts mental health such as higher lifetime prevalence of anxiety and mood disorders. Researchers tested a moderated mediational model involving married Korean working women’s perceived gender discrimination, self-esteem, believed just world, and depression. The study showed two hypotheses. First, married working women who perceive higher levels of identified discrimination reported lower self-esteem and this was significant only when the level of believed just world-self was high. Second, self-esteem meditated the relationship between perceived gender discrimination and depression at high levels of believed just world. The Women’s Studies International Forum states that, “In particular, the finding regarding the indirect effects of self-esteem provides support to racism-related stress model in that stress related to perceived discrimination has negative effects on mental health outcomes through low self-esteem” (Kim and Hansol 145). Research has found that the harmful effects of felt discrimination on psychological well-being and low self-esteem is a negative consequence of identified discrimination. However, in the face of discrimination, it would be tough to maintain high self-esteem. This is because of sociometer, which emphasizes the social nature of self-esteem or an internal gage of others’ evaluation of the individual. For example, gender discrimination could damage females’ self-esteem when conceptualized as social devaluation and disapproval messages against females. Society thinks males are capable to do things in everyday life than females, which negatively affects the lives of females. Atwood spoke in her novel that in the society of Gilead, women are forbidden and are self-restricted as women cannot hold a job, bank account, own property or their own identities, read, or write. The society cracked down on women’s rights because they think women cannot do outside work and they believed that women are only able to do house chores and produce children.

However, they treated them unequally to make them useless by breaking their rights. In the society, all people should be treated equally, but the Gilead is treated by differently. The narrator states that, “It’s strange now, to think about having job. It’s a funny word. It’s a job for a man” (Atwood 173). She also states that, when her bank account froze, “But I’ve got two thousand dollars in the bank, I said, as if my own account was the only one that mattered. Women can’t hold property anymore, she said. It’s a new law” (Atwood 178). In this situation, the narrator remembers losing her job and how her debit card suddenly stopped working. All of a sudden, women were second class citizens. However, when the Gilead took control of society, all women were eliminated from opportunity. At that time, it does not matter if these women are highly educated or not in this society. This same issue came up in the research, “Gender bias and the availability of business loans”. “Gender bias and the availability of business loans” by Michael Fay and Williams Lesley, their experiment shows how women are confronted with gender bias when two experiments were carried out with significant differences in response to female and male applicants who were observed in both experiments. In experiment one, both sexes were equally likely to obtain a loan, but education was considered a more important factor for the female applicant than for the male. In experiment two, the female applicant was less likely to obtain a loan than the male applicant. The author of this journal said, “The results support the widely held perception that women can experience gender discrimination when seeking start-up capital” (Fay and Lesley). The social construction of differential gender roles in western culture makes it more likely that discrimination is unconscious. Thus, in both positions, women were confronted in gender discrimination that impacted them in their career. In the novel, the society cracked down their rights by eliminating them from job positions and freezing their own bank accounts likewise, in the experiments, women were not able to obtain a loan even if they were more educated than men. In both societies, women are viewed as less than men, which creates differences between males and females. Furthermore, in the novel, the author shows that women are not only less than men, but society also categorized all women based on their societal standard.


The novel and the play show that women are confronted with gender bias and discrimination, which can impact the women of both societies. Society sees women by their gender and defines who they are and how they are treated in both societies even they do not have any choices or any rights. Social injustice and obstacles have impacted gender bias and prejudice where women are object to lower class in all around the world, which is associated with low self-esteem and negatively impacts a woman’s career. These social obstacles are a global crisis and people cannot control their gender as that is something unchangeable.

Work Cited

  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. N.p.: Anchor, a Division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2017. Print
  • Bang, James T, and Aniruddha Mitra. “Gender Bias and the Female Brain Drain.” Applied Economics Letters, vol. 18, no. 9, 2011, pp. 829–833.
  • Beltran Tapia, Francisco J, and Domingo Gallego-Martínez. “Where Are the Missing Girls? Gender Discrimination in 19th-Century Spain.” Explorations in Economic History, vol. 66, 2017, pp. 117–126.
  • Bose, Nayana, and Das, Shreya see. “Women’s Inheritance Rights, Household Allocation, and Gender Bias.” The American Economic Review, vol. 107, no. 5, 2017, pp. 150–153.
  • Fay, Michael, and Lesley Williams. ‘Gender bias and the availability of business loans.’ Journal of Business Venturing8.4 (1993): 363-376.
  • Khera, Rohan, et al. ‘Gender bias in childcare and child health: global patterns.’ Archives of disease in childhood 99.4 (2014): 369-374.
  • Kim, Eunha, and Hansol Park. “Perceived Gender Discrimination, Belief in a Just World, Self-
  • Esteem, and Depression in Korean Working Women: A Moderated Mediation Model.” Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 69, 2018, pp. 143–150.
  • Wilson, August. The Piano Lesson. Plume, 1990.


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