Acceptable for Women

Oct 2, 2019

Credit Wikimedia Commons

This is Nicole English coming to you from Fort Hays State University for HPPR's BookBytes. This is a discussion of the book, Educated: A Memoir.

The book describes Tara Westover's memories growing up in a very conservative, survivalist family in rural Idaho. 

Her memoir is a wrenching, yet inspiring story of her journey from rugged, rural life to her attaining her PhD, and studying at Oxford. 

For this segment, I would like to focus on the dynamics of gender roles.

In stoic, straight-forward prose, Westover describes the various gender roles that were considered as "acceptable" for women to assume, and what was not acceptable for women to do.

For example, "approved" female activities were those that could be done at home, in the domestic space, and characterized as "nurturing".... 

These "approved" female activities would include house-keeping, cleaning, child-care, teaching children, singing, choir, cooking, sewing, gardening, growing herbs, herbal medicine, nursing, healing, and midwifery ...

Since the family avoided hospitals, authority-figures, and doctors, the women of the family were expected to the healers of the group, including childbirth, burns, broken limbs, and other serious, life-threatening injuries...  which was a daunting responsibility....

Male activities included construction work, scrapping, mechanic, hauling, hunting, horsemanship, animal husbandry, driving, trucking, and large-scale farming....

Paradoxically, these gender roles are re-interpreted, or modified, when a need was identified....  such as when Westover is pressed into service with her father and brothers to do scrapping, normally a male job, when the family finances run thin. She was expected to pull her weight, and do as much work, take the same life-threatening risks, and bring in as much income as her brothers. 

Ironically, Westover's mother submitted to the family patriarchy, despite the fact that her own home enterprises, midwifery and her herbal business brought in more income than the male income of scrapping and construction.  Eventually, her mother's herbal business became the "family business" that enabled them to rise out of poverty into a comfortable lifestyle. 

Westover's family memories are an interesting exploration of the dynamics of gender roles...  not only of how restrictive they can be, but also of how they can mediate or recast to suit the needs of the family....  as dictated by the family patriarch. 

Enjoy reading.  Again, this is Nicole English from Fort Hays State University wishing you happy Book-Bytes!