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James Oceguera

Professor Ditch

English 115

October 29, 2017

To Be or Not to Be ?

Being and presenting oneself as a woman these days is more complex than one might

think. Even more so, presenting oneself in a way that goes against the social pressures of gender

norms is even more difficult. However not nearly as difficult as it must have been for women in

the past, when gender norms were more heavily enforced. In Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel

Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, two characters stand out as excellent

examples of a healthy level of resilience and conformity to their societys standards, Juliet and

Kit. Both are unique examples of irregular gender performances of post-World War society.

Juliet neither gives in to the pre instructed guidelines of appropriate femininity, nor does she

completely ignore them, and when young Kit shows both characteristics associated with

masculine and feminine, Juliet doesnt applaud or discourage either.

Juliet although radical in many ways, still shows mannerisms that are associated with the

common woman. The most obvious example being the ways she dresses and her anxiety

associated with her personal image. That is why she reacts so strongly when preparing for a night

out, Cambridges oh yes I have heard of Cambridges - and then spent the next three days

fretting about my hair. Its lucky I have my lovely new dress so I didnt have to waste precious

fretting time on my clothes (Shaffer). Society doesnt just tell Juliet what she should do to

appear attractive, but also what she should be attracted to, Then Markham V. Reynolds stepped
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forward and a bubble popped. Hes dazzling honestly Sophie, Ive never seen anything like him.

Not even the furnace man can compare. Tan with blazing blue eyes. Ravishing leather shoes,

elegant wool suit, blinding white handkerchief in breast pocket. Of course being American he is

tall and he has one of those alarming American smiles, all gleaming teeth and good humor

(Shaffer). The type of man that Juliet is describing to Sophie in her letter has all the stereotypical

traits that are told to be desired in a man. He is tall, tan, and a sharp dresser, the American man

trifecta. Whether she is aware of it or not, Juliets laws of attraction are not her own, but instead

those lectured to her by society that she has mimicked and accepted as her own.

However, one thing that is her own is Juliets communication skills. All throughout the

novel Juliet writes letters to the Potato Peel Pie Society , and in those letters she is always one

hundred percent herself. Juliet writes from a place that is genuine, which allows her to form deep

connections with the people of Guernsey, so much so that she decides to travel there and meet

them in person. Juliet is very stern and straight forward, while still being polite and friendly.

Aaron Devor mentions in his article, Becoming Members of Society: The Social Meaning of

Gender, gender identities act as cognitive filtering devices, guiding people to attend to and learn

gender role behaviors appropriate to their statuses As we move through our lives, society

demands different gender performances from us and rewards, tolerates, or punishes us differently

from conformity to, or digression from social norms (Devor). The great thing about Juliet is that

none of this seems to matter to her when it comes to her letters. Yes she refines herself for the

sake of being polite, but does not do it because she thinks it is lady like. She does it because

she knows that she can get her point across and doesnt need the identity crutch of gender

norms. This is the radical side of Juliet, because she doesnt let social norms dictate her
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personality, which is what makes her such a likeable character, because she refuses conformity.

She governs herself directly, not through the social norm filter.

Similar inferences can be made of Kit. Although the young four year old is too little to

make an in depth analysis on, as she will continue to grow and change drastically over the years.

One can already begin to see in Kits playful interests, the foundation of a gender norm free

individual in the making, Kit has taken to spending some of her mornings here. She brings

rocks or shells and sits quietly, well moderately quietly on the floor and plays with them while I

work. When I am finished we take a picnic lunch down to the beach. If it is too foggy we play

indoors, either beauty parlor brushing each others hair until it crackles, or Dead Bride

(Shaffer). This is such a surprising choice of games to play with a four year old girl. The two

examples beauty parlor and dead bride are polar opposites when it comes to appropriate

gender performances, which means that young Kit is not sticking to only feminine traits. This is

an excellent example of when one is not pressured by societal norms they are more likely to

develop a more authentic character with interests on both sides naturally. The problem is going

against them comes with its own set of consequences. Societal gender norms are what comes to

be expected of us based on our patterns, every norm begins as a pattern. The pattern then gets

repeated so often that it becomes second nature to us, it was as if the pattern was always there

(Gandio), but it is important to remember that these norms werent always there. These patterns

are not set in stone, and they are definitely not one hundred percent accurate, and yet we think

gender defines us, but it shouldnt.

In fact, according to Ruth Hubbard's article Rethinking Womens Biology, there are enormous

overlaps between women and men for all traits that are not directly involved with procreation

(Hubbard). Meaning that not everything is black and white, there is a gray area for one's personal
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interests, women can like rock and roll, and men can like ballroom dancing. However when you

are kids, a boy playing with barbies or a girl playing with legos, can often stir up controversy in

adults, Some psychologists argue that this helps to explain why certain professions are so male

dominated (BBC magazine) However, it is more than the toys colors schemes that differ, Dr.

Heather Williams, a medical physicist and co-director of campaign group Science Grrl, says toy

shops often have a girls section devoted to dolls, crafts, and cleaning old fashioned way of

thinking, giving little girls toys related to the tools they would need for cooking and cleaning. By

teaching them that this is whats to be expected of them really limits their own idea of what they

are capable of (Castella). Luckily for Kit this wont be the case. Having Juliet as a legal

guardian will be really good for her in the long run, and she will most likely grow up a strong

independent woman and a activist. Activists are full time communicators constantly working

toward sociopolitical achievements (Gandio), so hopefully Kit will grow up to be one of the

defining women who redefine what it means to be a woman, and aid in the social achievement of

gender equality.

Not only was her mother, Elizabeth, a radical women, meaning that it is in her blood, but

Juliet will be able to raise her in a way that is at Kits advantage, Childrens relationships with

same gendered and different gendered care takers structure their self-identifications and

personalities through cognitive development children extract and apply to their own gender

(Lorber). This is why Juliet is such a crucial role model to Kit, and an outstanding one at that.

She doesnt tell Kit how she should or shouldnt be nor what she should like, I knew that all

children were gruesome but I dont know whether I am supposed to encourage them in it. I am

afraid to ask Sophie if Dead Bride is too morbid of a game for a four year old. If she says yes

well have to stop playing, and I dont want to stop I love Dead Bride (Shaffer). This further
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supports the claim that even a fully grown woman like Juliet can enjoy masculine activities and

that is normal to have gender overlaps.

Every woman is faced with a choice that will shape both herself and the rest of her life,

but it doesnt have to be such a drastic choice, it doesnt have to be choosing one side or the

other. We as a society are so scared of the undefinable, we feel the need to categorize and give

everyone and everything a title, before we feel comfortable around them. Even worse, we tell

that person how they should act, what they should wear, and ultimately what they should want

out of life. If they disagree then we ridicule and punish then for not following the rules. It is time

for a social change, if society pressures such as gender normalities were to cease to exist, or at

the very least lessen, then we would truly be living our lives as our own. Free to dress how we

want, act how we want, and be who we want.


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Works Cited

Gender Specific Toys BBC magazine August 16 2017. Accessed November 4, 2017

Castella, Tom. How Did Lego Become a Gender Battleground BBC News. August 6, 2014.

Accessed November 1, 2017

Devor, Aron Becoming members of society Composing Gender. 2014 Accessed 2017

Gardio, Jason Rhetoric for Radicals. New Society publishers 2008 Accessed 2017

Hubbard, Ruth Night To His Day Composing Gender. 2014 Accessed 2017

Shaffer, Anne, Marry / Barrows, Annie The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 2008

Read 2017