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Summary: the Theme of Femininity in the Novel To Kill a Mockingbird

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To Kill a Mockingbird is apart of the few classics that are genuinely entertaining. It’s themes of justice, prejudice and femininity are presented in a way that is new yet familiar. The topic of femininity is not talked about as much as the other topics; and if you’re not aware of Scout’s reactions towards being called a girl, you might miss the topic completely. As a girl, it was easy to spot the resentment Scout had to the word. The implications it had and how those influenced her not want to associate herself with being feminine. Scout refuses to play a traditionally feminine role, and that may make the men who are reading the novel confused. She’s a girl, why isn’t she acting like one? Well, it all comes down to something as simple as this: men are stronger than women. And if this is the kind of societal standard Scout is being taught, of course, she’d hate being a girl. The novel’s representation of femininity is how it affects women when a man is telling them how to act.

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People of an older generation especially love to push this kind of expectations on their kids. But people with common sense know that the simple “men are stronger than women” narrative is damaging to our way of thinking. Yet, being a girl in the 1930’s you don’t know any better. In Scout’s eyes, femininity is weakness and limiting. You can only do so much when you’re a girl during that time, available options being housewives or factory workers. Her acting more masculine makes her feel accepted by her brother, who was her only friend for most of her life. In one scene, she visits the Finch’s Landing for Christmas, and she fights her cousin Francis  “I split my knuckle to the bone on his front teeth”) for calling Atticus an N***** lover. Later in the book, Aunt Alexandra comes to Maycomb saying “we decided that it would be best for you to have some feminine influence.” Scout doesn’t find anything wrong in acting masculine and she’s right, there isn’t anything wrong with it. In fact, acting like a boy has only benefited her. But look at how Scout thinks that having a more feminine influence is a bad thing. Scout thinks that her aunt is trying to change who she is and turn her into something she isn’t. Once again going back to the femininity that is limiting. This is the type that traps women into a prison of inferiority and submission. Some would call this toxic femininity, a woman’s equivalent of toxic masculinity. But, the major difference is toxic masculinity is inflicted by other men. Toxic femininity is branched from the problematic stereotype that a woman should always be in submission, for the sake of a man’s ego. It’s a direct result of the patriarchy.

Scout’s growth with her femininity is almost painfully slow. There isn’t a big revelation about feminism or the importance of women empowerment. It feels like she’s stuck in a limbo of feminine and masculine. She’s rejected by both genders for acting too masculine or too feminine when she just wants to be herself. Scout wants to be accepted by her brother but he treats her like a girl, on the flip side Aunt Alexandra shames her for doing typically masculine things (like playing outside or fighting.) But in one chapter Scout decides to embrace her feminine side. In chapter 24 Aunt Alexandra invites over the women from her missionary circle to have tea with her. Scout, bored because Jem and Dill have gone swimming, joins her. Scout actually wears a dress and helps Calpurnia bring in the tea. This scene is overshadowed by the news of Tom Robinson’s death, but it’s such a big moment for Scout. She’s wearing a dress, sitting with other ladies, sipping tea and actually kind of enjoying herself. This is character development! Growth! Improvement! Scout is slowly but surely learning that acting feminine isn’t degrading or superficial. What’s even better is that her Aunt is encouraging her, when so far all she’s done is to make Scout feel bad about herself. It’s the little things that count that make her journey with her femininity relatable. Nothing is outright talked about but hidden in layers of subtext and implication. Women with similar experiences as Scout might be the only ones who even take notice of these small victories.

In one of the last developments with her femininity, it’s not about Scout learning to accept but her Aunt. Chapter 28 tells the intense scene of Scout and Jem getting attacked by Bob Ewell. The suspense of ‘what’s happening?’ because of Scout’s limited vision make the alternate all the more haunting of ‘what could have happened?’ It’s noted that when Scout reaches home safely, Alexandra pulls her out of her costume and brings her overalls. A thing Alexandra despised and hated whenever Scout wore it. Why is it so significant to be brought up at this moment, right after the attack? It’s because her Aunt realizes that Scout could have died. It doesn’t matter if she’s a proper lady or a tomboy with issues with her femininity, it’s Scout! And that’s all that matters! Aunt Alexandra bringing Scout’s overalls to her instead of a dress symbolizes her realization that her niece could have died. It doesn’t matter if she wants to wear a dress or overalls, what matters is that she is safe and alive.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s representation of the theme femininity is slow and is kind of treated as an afterthought. As the audience sees Scout grow throughout the novel, we see little bits and pieces of her maturity with her feminine side as well as her sense of right and wrong. She never gets to the big question of ‘why am I weak based on a part of me I didn’t have a choice over?’ because her story isn’t over. Even though this novel is half a century old by now, it’s themes of femininity are still relatable and experienced in 2019. Men still tell women how to act, but women don’t have to listen to men anymore.

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