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Essay: Book review essay: The Help

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
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  • Published: 30 September 2015*
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  • Words: 1,162 (approx)
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As a society, there are typically strict ideas and beliefs associated with specific genders. Society believes men and boys should always be the masculine, He-men, knight-in-shining-armor types, and the media has often used movies and television shows to have spread the propaganda to enforce this in the minds of people. Women and girls are taught, both by their mothers and by society’s expectations, to feel like the weaker, softer, more emotional sex, needing to be saved. This can be seen every time a girl struggles to open a pickle jar in a movie, when along comes the big, strong man. These roles are often unrealistic to the many variations in people. Sometimes, a boy wants to play with a doll, and a girl wants to dress up as a superhero other than Wonder Woman. In The Help, set during a time when both racial and women’s rights were in an upheaval, three women itch under society’s pressure to ‘know their place’ and strike out, barely regarding the consequences. Within The Help, there are many examples of Masculinity vs. Femininity, Patriarchy vs. Matriarchy, and Gender Roles.
With a book where the three main characters are women, the reader tends to see more examples of femininity than masculinity. The reader takes a look at the roles women were supposed to play at that time. The older maid, Aibileen, is a courteous woman, with respectable manners and strong piety. But even she has her moments of dropping her decorum when she’s in her own home and imagines, ‘My man Clyde flash me his white-toothed smile and say Honey, you want you a drink’? (26). Aibileen may seem feminine to the eye of the public, but her daydreams at home show a more masculine mindset. And she could never voice these thoughts aloud because society shames women for thinking things generally meant for men. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mrs. Celia Foote, Minny’s boss. She’s the epitome of what men consider feminine. She’s quiet, has a body men double take at, and does all of the silly, girly things. But there’s also the pressures that come with being a coveted woman, and she voices a small pressure to Minny when she says, ”Oh, we’re gonna have kids.’ She clears her throat, 13fidgets. ‘I mean, kids is the only thing worth living for” (40). Celia may actually wants kids, but the tone in the reading portrays her as awkward, nervous. It’s somewhat inferred that the one putting the pressure with the baby issue is her husband, making the reader think that Johnny Foote expects his wife to give him his children. While feminine and masculine traits play a huge 10 role in The Help, its not the only concept that divides men from women.
Today, most homes and marriages are closer to a partnership between husband and wife. But back in the 60’s, most homes were still patriarch run, meaning the man’s word was law with his wife and children, and it was his right to punish disobedience as he saw fit. Early in the book, readers think they know what kind of man Johnny Foote is to his wife while she’s in the process of hiring Minny. ‘My chin drops down to my chest. ‘What you mean he don’t know”?I am not telling Johnny.’ Her blue eyes are big, like she’s scared to death of him’ (43). It’s easy from this quote to come to the conclusion that Johnny is a wife beater, though there’s no proof. It’s a slightly different case with Minny. In her home, Minny is the only one who really raises the kids, and they may fear her temper but not as much as they fear their father’s hand. ‘But Leroy smacks his hand on the table. ‘Nobody’s getting in that mess! Y’all hear me’? And he stares his children down’ (259). It’s understandable that Leroy doesn’t want his kids to get caught up in the integration movement, but there are better ways of reprimanding them than threatening them with physical harm. Patriarchy plays a huge role for women during the 60’s, but there’s one other construct that the women chafe against.
One thing under huge debate even today is the social and gender construct of gender roles. For the most part of the 60’s, there was still the mindset that the man should go and work, smoke cigars and drink whiskey. His wife should stay home, clean, raise the kids, and cook, not to mention have sex when he wanted it. Most richer white women, instead of doing the cooking, cleaning, and child care by themselves, chose to pay black women to do it for them. But with the 60’s also came a slight shift in ideologies. More women went to college and got jobs, even though they didn’t pay half as much as the men got. Women started finding their strength. Aibileen mentions the strength she often sees in Minny as she thinks to herself, ‘She always been a strong woman, always fighting. After Treelore died, she carry supper over to me ever night for 1st person three months straight’ (32). When we think about somebody being strong, we think male. But Aibileen admires her younger friend for her strength of will. Minny doesn’t often follow the gender role society says she should, because she’s practically a single mother. On the opposite side is Mrs. Celia Foote again, who embraces her gender wholeheartedly.
She’s probably ten or fifteen years younger than me, twenty-two, twenty-three, and she’s real pretty, but why’s she wearing all that goo on her face? I’ll bet she’s got on double the makeup the other white ladies wear. She’s got a lot more bosom to her, too. In fact, she’s almost as big as me except she’s skinny in all those places I ain’t (37-38).
Celia often tries too hard to seem like a woman, constantly trying to impress the high society ladies, and failing miserably in the end. She’s always too overdone for their tastes, and comes off as cheap. With all this said, The Help wouldn’t be complete if all three constructs didn’t work in unison.
All three constructs play a vital role in the story of three women in the 60’s. The femininity of the women, or lack thereof, shows how the times were changing. While most families were still run by the man of the family, the women are the true backbone of the household. And the ideas of specific gender roles are slowly blurring, leaving room for women to be who they are, without becoming e outcasts for doing what it takes to survive. The Help would be a much different book without the important uses of the gender concepts. constructs talked about in this essay.

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