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Lexi Gregorash
Mr. Newman
English 101: Rhetoric
13 November 2014
The Prevalence of Patriarchal Women, Even After the 1950s
The 1960s brought upon a cultural revolution that led to a new perspective for literary
critics. Some views of this feminist criticism vary from the extreme liberation of women, to the
more conservative, yet equal roles they possess. One view I find particularly interesting is that of
a patriarchal woman, coined by Lois Tyson, a notable critical theorist (especially of the
feminist sort), and author of Critical Theory Today. She defines a patriarchal woman as, a
woman who has internalized the norms and values of patriarchy, which can be defined, as any
culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles (83). This idea comes to light
in Toni Morrisons short story, Recitatif, where she portrays the two main characters of her
story, Twyla and Roberta, as patriarchal women based on their subconscious acceptance of
their traditional gender roles.
A girl emerges into a patriarchal woman beginning at a very young age. The role
society plays is a crucial one, in which young girls are expected to fail, as males are the dominant
force. In school, boys are seen as better mathematicians, while girls go through school believing,
and accepting that notion, as noted by Lois Tyson (85). Thus, it is instilled in girls to view
themselves as inferior to boys. Roberta and Twyla are no exception to this. In the orphanage
where they grew up, the girls received Fs in three of their classes because Twyla couldnt

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remember what she read, and Roberta was unable to read. Their instructor, expressed her
disappointment in the girls, but never encouraged them (Morrison 1). In addition, Twyla was
never directed to pay attention or work to remember her studies, while Roberta was never taught
to read. Although this does not specifically refer to math, the idea of low expectation is there.
Since neither girl was condemned for their behavior, they continued it and were unable to
improve upon their studies. Thus, Twyla and Roberta established that patriarchal woman
persona at a young age; they were neither encouraged, nor directed, to change their behavior.
Therefore, they fell into the role society anticipated for them.
Mother-daughter relationships also play a role in the establishment of patriarchal
women. As paved by Tyson, a stronger maternal relationship creates thinking that is different
from patriarchal modes ofthinking (92). What I perceive from this view is mother-daughter
relationships are supposed to create stronger ideas of feminism, while weaker relationships result
in traditional roles of women. This is in part because women may feel unsure of how to act if
they have not had a motherly influence to guide them. Thus they fall into their expected gender
role. In the story, it is obvious neither girl has a strong relationship with their mother. Twylas
mother Mary, left her at the orphanage because she dances all night long. In addition to her
mother being a dancer, she behaves inappropriately. When she goes to visit Twyla, she is rude
during church, and forgot to bring lunch for her and her daughter, where various times Twyla
responds to these instances with, I could have killed her. Obviously, Twyla has resentment and
other issues with her mother, though Roberta does as well. Although, her mother is nurturing by
bringing Roberta food on visiting day, she is rude towards Twylas mother, which seems to
bother Roberta, since afterwards Roberta tried to reconcile with Twyla by giving her grahams.

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Robertas relationship with her mother is also a tense, but in a different way than Twylas. When
her mother comes to pick Roberta up, she says that she is sort of glad and sort of not (Morrison
3). It is apparent that neither girl has a strong bond with either of their mothers, considering
Twyla said she could have killed her mother, and Roberta did not want to leave with hers. A
mother that is a professional exotic dancer, or disrespectful to others on a first meeting, does not
provide a positive view of women for their daughters. Since Roberta and Twyla did not have
strong, influential women to look up to, they were not guided, nor taught; hence the
credulousness that led them into their roles as patriarchal women.
The traditional roles that have been set up by society have created the patriarchal
woman, as expressed throughout. Tyson says these traditional roles cast men as rational,
strong, protective, and decisive; they cast women as emotional (irrational), weak, nurturing, and
submissive (83). One way Morrison portrays the emotional/irrational aspect of traditional
gender roles is during the protest. Twyla comes across Roberta protesting over the boundary
changes, where Twyla asks what she is doing, since she is ignorant to the situation. This is turn
upsets Roberta, and they argue, while bringing up the past (Morrison 9-10). This dispute began
Twyla had asked a simple question. Here the author depicts the two as patriarchal women
because they become very emotional over the issue as opposed to discussing it civilly. Therefore,
the two women by nature react as a traditional woman would (irrationally), whereas
comparatively men may handle a similar situation differently. Twyla at one point mentions how
her understanding of the protesting was vague, and she had gone to her husband to explain it to
her. He wasnt any help, however; she was unable to decide what to make of the situation on
her own (Morrison 9). By Twyla looking to her husband to dictate an answer for her, she

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embodies a patriarchal woman because he had a concise answer, while she remained frazzled
in looking for an answer.
Furthermore, the women embrace their traditional gender role by being the housekeepers
and depending on their husbands financially. Twyla describes her husband as comfortable as a
house slipper, and how they got along because he liked her cooking and his big family appealed
to her. She mentions at one point how she feels guilty for spending his money foolishly at the
grocery store. Accordingly, Roberta is married to an IBM executive, where she raises his kids,
and takes care of the family (Morrison 5). These instances reflect on the two womens
dependence on their husbands to support them fiscally. According to the traditional gender roles,
the males are supposed to provide economically, while the women take care of the housing
duties. With Twyla and Roberta caring for their families and doing so at their husbands
expenses, Morrison paints them in the roles of traditional women.
Toni Morrison wrote this piece in 1983. At this point in time, most women had adopted
more feminist lifestyles; such as being elected into public office as well, as implementing sexual
harassment laws in the work place. However, this short story depicts women contrastingly to this
time period. Morrison emphasizes Lois Tysons idea of a patriarchal woman, and applies it to
both of her main characters. The women are created to fill the traditional roles set forth by
society, portraying an unanticipated and striking outlook on feminist criticism.