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Sexism: Same Experience Leads to Different Lives

Simple and charming, Anne Frank writes in her diary: "I have made up my mind now to lead a different life from other girls and, later on, different from ordinary housewives" (Frank 55). The phrase "ordinary housewives" shows that Anne is conscious of the sexism that takes place around her. Unlike girls at her age, Anne's consciousness of sexism allows her to think differently. Anne shows that she wants to get away from the traditional women roles and to be someone better than a housewife. Anne also writes in her diary that "All children must look after their own upbringing...[p]arents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hand" (Frank 58). Anne believes that parents only play a minor role in her childhood. However, it is entirely up to her to grow up the way she wants her life to be. She's the one, not her parents, to decide her future. A similar type of logic exists in My Antonia-Antonia, Lena, and Frances all desire to move away from societal conformity. They all dream to lead different lives from other girls by getting away from the sexism they experience in their homes. All three characters grow up in sexist homes that value men above women. However, unlike Lena and Frances, Antonia is unable to ultimately to escape the sexism she experiences as a child.

Lena indirectly experiences sexism as she's growing up. When Lena talks about coming to town, she mentions: "mother's never very well...she has too much to do...she'd get away from the farm, too, if she could...she was willing for me to come" (127). The phrase "she'd get away from the farm, too, if she could" suggests that Lena's mother is a victim of sexism. It shows that Lena's mother is reluctant to do the works that she does. She does the farm works because she has to, not because she wants to do it. Chris, Lena's brother, asks her: "Sister, you know mother last name is Berthe. I don't know if I ought to get B for Berthe, or M for Mother" and Lena replies: "I'd get the B, Chrissy. It will please her for you to think about her name. No body ever calls her by it now" (135). This shows that Lena is conscious of the sexism that takes place in her home. Lena places a great emphasis over the fact that everyone knows or calls her mother as "Mother" but not her real name to show that her role as a mother overwhelms her own identity. The children call her "Mother," suggesting the care and the love she needs to have for them. Her husband calls her "Mother," suggesting the domestic expectation that he has from her. Thus, to be called "Mother" is to be a housewife; it shows that Lena's mother undergoes sexism in her own role. Therefore, as a victim, Lena's mother doesn't want her children, especially her daughters to go through the same injustice that she has gone through. Or even perhaps, her mother is very reasonable and she knows that having Lena work in the field or help with the household chores isn't going to help her future.

Lena's consciousness of the indirect experience with sexism through her mother pushes her away from being a housewife. During her conversation with Frances, Lena said: "I've seen a good deal of married life, and I don't care for it...and not have to ask life of anybody" (128). Perhaps, Lena's view of a family is affected by the fact that she has grown up in a family where sexism is acted upon her mother. She's probably afraid that she'll become her mother once she marries. When Jim questions her about marriage, she tells him: "Why, I'm not going to marry anybody. Didn't you know that?" and she also says: "Men are all right for friends, but as soon as you marry them, they turn into cranky old fathers, even the wild one...tell you what's sensible and what's foolish...want you to stick at home all the time...I prefer to be foolish when I feel like it, and be accountable to nobody" (217-18). Her reaction shows that she's really independent and confident in herself. She doesn't want people to control her life and she doesn't want to be involved with the sexism that would take place between husband and wife. Due to the consciousness of the indirect experience with sexism that she experiences, Lena is able to escape sexism to become an independent woman instead of a housewife.

Frances also indirectly experiences sexism in her home. Cather mentions that "Mr. Harling not only demanded a quiet house, he demanded all his wife's attention...his wife made coffee for him at any hour of the night he happened to want it" and "[he] walked, talked, put on his gloves, shook hands, like a man who felt that he had power" (125). This emphasizes that Mr. Harling is the man of the house. He's a businessman who makes money for the family while his wife is just a woman who stays home to watch the kids and to serve his needs. According to Cather, the house is never quiet unless "the father [is] at home" (125). The quietness maintains in the Harling's home implies that Mrs. Harling and Frances are conscious of the sexism that is created by Mr. Harling's presence. What does this tell one about the relationship between Mr. Harling, his wife? Perhaps, Mr. Harling thinks it's not worth his time to pay her any attention because she's a woman. As a victim, Mrs. Harling understands the feeling of being left alone while Mr. Harling is away. Thus, she spends more time with her daughters both to give the love that she has and to get the love that she lacks. She doesn't want her daughters to lack the love that they're supposed to have just because they're girls.

Since Frances consciously experiences the indirect sexism in her home, she chooses to be skilled at office work instead of housework. According to Cather, "She was her father's chief clerk and virtually managed his Black Hawk office during his frequent absences" and "she and Mr. Harling used to walk home together in the evening, talking about grain-cars and cattle, like two men" (119). Frances takes a role of a man when it comes to business with her father. It's possibly that she takes a man's role because she doesn't want to become dependent like her mother; she wants to get back at her father for his sexist point of view. Through this role, she's able to escape the traditional responsibilities that most women like her mother has gone through. Also, she wants to show her father that she has the ability to do work just like



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