Ms. Bogacka May 6, 2007 Gender Roles and the Identities of Women

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Nathalie Escobar


Ms. Bogacka

May 6, 2007

Gender Roles and the Identities of Women
During the late nineteenth century, there were many stereotypical attitudes regarding the roles of gender and the identity of women. Men were usually portrayed as the “breadwinners,” as well as the well-educated and the sole foundation of the family. Men had to show their masculinity by being the very upper-hand of the family. Women are portrayed as sensitive, sweet, caring, faithful, moody, naïve, etc. As a way to complete them as a whole, women needed men in their lives. However, women held the least power of the family and believed that they only had a purpose of being housewives. The ideal images of gender roles between men and women, and the identities of women can lead to stereotypes that are associated with Kate Chopin’s short story “Desiree’s Baby.”

In “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, gender played a big role in the life Desiree as well as Armand Aubigny. Desiree was described as “beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere— the idol of Valmonde” (1). Desiree was illustrated as if she was down to earth and had a very warm personality. At first she was nameless, like most women when they are first named by their primary families and renamed when they get married. Desiree nameless when she was first found by the Valmonde family, and then they took her in as their own and she adopted their family name. Desiree undergoes another name change when she later marries a wealthy man by the name of Armand and inherited the family name of Aubigny. Armand was most likely the “breadwinner.” He was the masculine type, a very strict slave owner, arrogant but still had a soft side. Armand fell in love with Desiree by “love at first sight”; he felt “as if struck by a pistol” (1). Armand described Desiree’s beauty in a violent illustration to express how beautiful she was; “… swept along like an avalanche, or like a prairie fire, or like anything that drives headlong over all obstacles” (1). However, Armand did not care of what origin she came from and he had portrayed her as “nameless”, as if Desiree was some kind of possession (1). An article that relates to the portrayal of gender roles of Armand and Desiree is “An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality” by Peter Glick and Susan T. Fiske. This article describes sexism and gender between men and women. It stereotypes women that an ideal woman needs to be protected, supported, adored, and etc. They also stated that women need men to complete them, make them feel loved, and to be controlled. Therefore, researchers state that women are weak and are well-matched for gender roles because men place women in their roles as of “cherishing” than of “restricting” them. This article associates to the short story of “Desiree’s Baby” by the topic of gender inequality. For example, “…characterizing women as pure creatures who ought to be protected, supported, and adored and whose love is necessary to make a man complete,” researchers believe that an ideal women is fragile and must have a man to have a masculine idol make them feel complete. Also, researchers illustrate that women are best suited for gender roles because of a general set “ideal woman personality.” When Desiree seemed like the typical naïve, fragile, caring woman, Armand who is strict and strong-willed made her feel complete. It shows he was breadwinner and wanted to be Desiree’s sole foundation but it showed that he was more controlling. Also, it showed that Desiree became weak when Armand disowned her and the baby when he noticed the baby was colored. Without having Armand in Desiree’s life, she became depressed and didn’t want to live.

In the story, Desiree is characterized as “the idol of Valmonde,” more like the typical woman, “beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere” (1). However, not all women are the same; they are unique in their own way. In an article entitled “Exposure to Benevolent Sexism and Complementary Gender Stereotypes: Consequences for Specific and Diffuse Forms of System Justifications” by John T. Jost and Aaron C. Kay, it is suggested that the different stereotypes can be justified. Based on most gender stereotypes, women are mostly portrayed as kind, caring, gentle, naïve, and etc. However, those beliefs can’t always be justified because tradition had always been the man having superiority over the woman. Except, not all men are superior because traditions now have modernized, therefore women have equal rights just as men. For example, "Men are generally stereotyped as competent, assertive, independent, and achievement oriented—and women are not, whereas women are generally stereotyped as warm, sociable, interdependent, and relationship oriented—and men are not." Researchers state the main fact of men and women, and their stereotypical gender roles. Of course, in the story of "Desiree's Baby," Desiree was portrayed as a gender stereotype for an ideal woman. She was described as one of those stereotypical women: beautiful, caring, kind, naïve, etc. However, women started off “nameless” as of Desiree, but she was treated as if she was a possession. She was stereotyped as being weak, and needed someone to make her feel complete but it can be justified because she is now a single parent and has no one to make her feel like whole. Eventually, when Desiree left Armand, she became very emotional the fact that she is incomplete without him. The story seems as if it is supporting the articles views on gender roles because it shows as a fact that women need men in their lives and they’re a number one priority to women physically, emotionally and socially.

Desiree faced many hardships of gender roles with Armand, but she also faced an identity crisis. An article that can be similar to the role of women and their identity is “Womanist Identity and Mental Health” by Robert T. Carter and Elizabeth E. Parks. This describes women on how they function mentally and psychologically by observations. Researchers believe that might be the reason to why women would respond differently is where they were brought up, not only environmentally but identity development as well. The mental health of women consists of their attitudes towards others, their experience of identity crisis, racial identity, and etc. However, their state of health is not only related to mental health but psychological factors take part. Desiree in the short story “Desiree’s Baby,” she faced many experiences in order to develop her identity, from where she was brought up and to how she would have adapted to her own identity. For example, the researchers in this article state about identities of women and their mental health is that “One dimension that may differentiate among women is the area of identity development.” As for Desiree, when she was being taken care of by the Valmonde family, she grew an identity of being “the idol of the Valmonde.” Desiree also had another identity development when she married and renamed by Armand Aubigny. Another statement by researchers is the fact of “Traditional sex roles are accepted without question, and the woman behaves in ways that devalue women and favor men.” This article portrays the image of women being weak as of Desiree, and that women are willing to do anything for men like Armand. Not only this statement shows stereotypical attitudes towards men and women, but the fact that these researchers believe everyone accepts “Traditional sex roles.” During the nineteenth century, traditional gender roles were important to everyone because men were given the image of being masculine and being head of the family where as women were idols being housewives. Still in modern day time, traditional gender role play role in our lives because of various religion and culture in the environment we live in.

In the nineteenth century, gender roles took a major part between men and women. Men were superior over women during that century of time because certain rights weren’t established for women in order to have equal rights as men. An example of gender roles was already explained between the relationship of Armand and Desiree. Armand was the “breadwinner” and Desiree became the adoring housewife of the family. In the article “A Breadwinner Rethinks Gender Roles,” by M.P. Dunleavey, it describes that even modern day people still take into value of traditional gender inequalities. It describes a woman that has a family, and is the sole foundation of the family. However, she tries to figure out how to afford bills with two flowing incomes. She doesn’t feel like she’s a breadwinner because she wants more of equality between her and her husband even if she had a higher income than her husband. She would feel more comfortable with her husband to be more of the breadwinner because of traditions in many cultures. A co-author with Jerry A. Jacobs of “The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality,” Kathleen Gerson states, “We are all quite comfortable with the dual-earner household. It's become a cultural template, but for some reason we hit a roadblock when it comes to single-income households where the single earner is a woman.” This statement describes that in modern day reality, it doesn’t matter who is the “breadwinner” of the family. As long as the family could strive to survive and can afford to pay bills, etc. However, this statement illustrates a stereotype where as if the woman is the leading earner of single-income households, researchers believe that it would be a different story or a “roadblock.” Gender inequalities still plays a traditional role in families and women still want men to be their foundation of the family.

During the late nineteenth century, there were many stereotypical attitudes regarding the roles of gender and the identity of women which are illustrated in “Desiree’s Baby.” However, stereotypes still continue as society slowly becomes modernized. Many people still strongly believe and still follow the traditional values of men and women in society of the nineteenth century. Even if society may change through the years, the general concept of the man as the sole foundation of the family and the wife being supported, still exists within many relationships and the values of other cultures.


Carter, Robert T. , Parks, Elizabeth E. “Womanist Identity and Mental Health.”

Journal of Counseling & Development. May/June 1996. Vol. 74 Issue 5, p484-489.




Dunleavey, M.P. “A Breadwinner Rethinks Gender Roles.” The New York Times 27

January 2007, Section C 1:1. []



Glick, Peter , Fiske, Susan T. “An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as

complementary justifications for gender inequality.” American Psychologist.

Feb. 2001. Vol. 56(2), p109-118. []



Jost, John T. , Kay, Aaron C. “Exposure to Benevolent Sexism and Complementary Gender

Stereotypes: Consequences for Specific and Diffuse Forms of System Justification.”

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Mar. 2005. Vol. 88(3), p498-509.




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