Examinaning Gender Roles
What roles do men and women play in Umuofian society? How are expectations of husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, different from each other? In this lesson, students will examine gender roles and expectations in Umuofian society.
- Read the lesson and student content.
- Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
Section 1: Expectations by Gender
- This Quick Write will prepare students to think about gender roles and expectations, an important aspect of Umuofian society and a driver of many of Okonkwo’s actions.
- If you think your class would respond well, you might consider dividing them into a male group and a female group to brainstorm; this way, they will see what the overlap or difference is between the perspectives of the two genders.
- Part of what students should be looking for is whether characters follow or defy gender expectations. Okonkwo, for example, feels very strongly about presenting a masculine image, but fears that his son Nwoye is too feminine. He wishes his daughter Ezinma had been a boy, in part because she seems to have some qualities he considers male. Students should understand that just because expectations exist doesn’t mean that the majority of people follow them.
- ELL: Be sensitive to cultural differences. Expectations of roles for men and women vary widely from country to country. Consider whether it is necessary to explain that before starting this activity.
Complete a Quick Write.
- Create two quick lists: one of expectations of boys and men in our culture, and one of expectations of girls and women. It’s fine if there is some overlap between the two lists (i.e., there are things that are expected of both men and women).
Share your list.
Then discuss with your classmates:
- What do you notice about the lists?
- Where is there overlap, and where do there seem to be distinct spheres of expectations?
- Do you think people really follow these expectations, or do most people follow their own paths?
Section 2: Clues About Gender Roles
- Read aloud a short selection from Chapter 5 or Chapter 6, modeling your thought process as you notice examples of gender expectations.
- Possible annotations from the beginning of Chapter 5:
- ✓ “Okonkwo’s wives had scrubbed the walls and the huts with red earth until they reflected light. They had then drawn patterns on them in white, yellow and dark green. They then set about painting themselves with cam wood and drawing beautiful black patterns on their stomachs and on their backs”: The women are responsible for making their surroundings and themselves beautiful.
- ✓ “The three women talked excitedly about the relations who had been invited, and the children reveled in the thought of being spoiled by these visitors from the motherland”: This shows that women are separated from their home and family when married, and that children grow up in the land of their father, though with a special connection to their mother’s people.
- ✓ “Without further argument Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her only daughter weeping. Neither of the other wives dared to interfere beyond an occasional and tentative, ‘It is enough, Okonkwo,’ pleaded from a reasonable distance”: This shows that men were the head of the household—even when they were wrong—and that violence against their wives was tolerated.
- You could also allow students to take notes on sticky notes.
As your teacher reads aloud from Things Fall Apart, look for clues about gender roles and take notes on the following.
- Clues that show expectations about masculinity
- Clues that show expectations about femininity
- Examples of people acting against these expectations
Section 3: Things Fall Apart, Chapters 5 and 6
- Students will be working in their character groups.
- Circulate as groups work. Try to check in with groups to get a sense of how the students understand and interpret gender roles in Umuofian society.
- Most students will need to make inferences about how their characters would react to gender roles and expectations; encourage them to think about what they know about their characters and figure out how their characters might feel about the details they’ve observed in the book.
With your group, continue looking in Chapters 5 and 6 of Things Fall Apart for clues about gender roles in Umuofian society. You may want to follow these steps in your group.
- Review and summarize the chapters you read for homework. Make sure everyone understands the basic events.
- Clarify any parts of the reading that were confusing and answer any questions that anyone had.
- Split up the reading and look for quotations that reveal key details about gender expectations in Umuofia. Continue the note taking pattern you began with your teacher, listing clues that show expectations about masculinity, clues that show expectations about femininity, and examples of people acting against these expectations.
- Create a Dialectical Journal #3 in your notebook.
- Each member of the group is responsible for a Dialectical Journal entry about gender roles in Umuofian society. Find and analyze at least three quotations.
- Discuss your findings together, sharing what you found and coming up with an overall summary of your understanding of gender roles and expectations in Umuofia.
- What would (or does) your character think of these expectations? As a group, choose at least two quotations that help you understand how your character would see gender expectations.
Section 4: Character Journal Entry
- Remind students to use evidence from the novel to support their points. They should use direct quotations and analyze them from their characters’ point of view.
- If time is too short, you may consider assigning this character journal entry for homework.
- Try to hear from each group: you may want to move through the reading sequentially, asking one group to share one observation from each section of reading, to get a shared sense of the chapters.
- SWD: Be sure to encourage SWDs to share. If you feel they need to be supported before sharing, try to find time to allow them to share with a partner first, and then with the whole group (if logistics for this wouldn’t be too complicated).
Complete the following character journal entry and share it with your community group. Write from your character’s perspective: what would he or she say in response to the following prompt?
- Men/Women [choose one] are more valuable to Umuofian society because __.
Be sure to use quotations from the text to support your analysis. Remember, this is your character’s opinion, not your opinion.
Share your work with your classmates.
Section 5: Umuofian Society and Our Own
- If time allows, hear a few responses. If time is too short to complete this Quick Write, you might consider simply posing the question to the class for a quick discussion.
- Encourage students to explore the similarities and differences between the gender roles in our society versus Umuofia.
Complete a Quick Write.
- So far, what similarities and differences do you see between Umuofian society and our own? Find at least one quotation that highlights a similarity or difference.
Section 6: Personal Journal - Entry #7 and Things Fall Apart
- Remind the class that you are reading and responding to the entries.
- ELL: Allow some additional time for ELLs to discuss with a partner before writing, to help them organize their thoughts. Allow ELLs who share the same primary language to discuss in that language if they so wish, and to use a dictionary (or dictionaries).
Complete another personal journal entry.
- What is your reaction to gender roles in our society? Do you tend to follow expectations or resist them? Explain.
Return to your community group’s entries and read through those from this lesson. Continue the conversation, commenting on at least one other entry or reply.
Read Chapters 7 and 8 of Things Fall Apart. Add to your Personal Glossary as you read.