Gender Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird: Examples & Quotes

Gender Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird: Examples & Quotes
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  • 0:00 Scout Battles the Status Quo
  • 1:39 Playing with the Boys
  • 2:41 Southern Roles
  • 3:50 Scout Changes Her Tune
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, gender prejudice plays an important role. In addition, we look at the roles of women and the impact these roles have on the characters in the novel.

Scout Battles the Status Quo

Harper Lee
Harper Lee

Harper Lee puts the role of women and gender prejudice front and center in To Kill a Mockingbird, her novel set in the 1930s in Maycomb, Alabama. Gender prejudice is discriminating against people based on gender. In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, we are talking about assumptions that all females must behave one way while males must behave in a different way.

The protagonist and narrator, Scout Finch, is a young girl who would rather be anything than a girl. She associates women with frilly dresses, sitting in the background, and silence. As the novel begins, we understand that in Scout's mind, girls can't play boy's games, can't talk dirty, and in general can't have any fun. According to Scout, ''Maycomb is a place where 'ladies' bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.''

Scout wants no part of soft or sweet or being a girl. Scout is having a difficult time conforming to the rules of decorum prescribed for 'ladies' in Maycomb. Her Aunt Alexandra works tirelessly to help her make the leap from tomboy to woman. Scout resists. Aunt Alexandra would prefer that Scout play with small stoves and tea sets, but Scout puts up a fight every step of the way. Aunt Alexandra has moved in because, she says, ''We decided it best for you to have some feminine influence.''

Playing with the Boys

This feminine influence, of course, is the last thing Scout wants. She has grown up around Atticus Finch, her father, and Jem, her brother, and she wants to be like them. She thinks being called a girl is an insult. Jem constantly gives her a hard time for being a girl and insists she act like one, telling her, ''It's time you started bein' a girl and acting right!''

Atticus is fine with Scout being who she is, even if it means dressing in overalls and acting like a tomboy. He seems to hold the minority opinion. Their neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, for example, makes her displeasure known. ''What are you doing in those overalls? You should be in a dress and camisole, young lady!'' Harper Lee brings gender roles for young girls to light, providing voices on both sides of the argument. Atticus Finch believes she should be free to choose her path in life and that it will all work out as it should. Others in the town have different opinions and think that Scout should be forced to take on the gender role assigned to her.

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