Feminism In Never Let Me Go By Kazuo Ishiguro And My Sister’s Keeper By Jodi Picoult

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

Feminism can mean a lot of things but what it mostly comes down to is gender equality, being able to control your own life and live the choices you make. It is not about hating men or thinking that women are superior. In this seminar paper I will try to connect the definition of feminism with Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. But, I won’t be talking only about women. Male participation in feminism is very important for achieving gender equality and that is why I will write about how both men and women are forced to act as the society wants them to act. There are double standards, but in the end we are all the same. These two pieces of literature I can relate to Kate Millets’s quote: “Because of our social circumstances, male and female are really two cultures and their life experiences are utterly different…”, and I will try to explain this theory throughout my seminar. As I have already mentioned, I will be talking about feminism but not about radical approach that states that women are better than men or as Valerie Solans said: “Every man, deep down, knows he’s a worthless piece of shit.”

“It made me wonder, thought, what would have happened if Kate had been healthy… Certainly, I would not be part of this family.” In this book, the younger sister, Anne Fitzgerald, was born specifically to be matched with her sick older sister; to help save Kate’s life. That poses the question of how far a family member should go to help another family member: “See, unlike the rest of the free world, I didn’t get here by accident. And if your parents have you for a reason, then that reason better exist. Because once it’s gone, so are you.” On the other hand, we have Never Let Me Go, a book where humans only exist to be available for body parts until they die: “Anyone who’s been deemed ‘unnatural’ in the face of reigning biological norms, anyone who’s experienced injustices wrought in the name of natural order, will realize that the glorification of ‘nature’ has nothing to offer us…“ The topics of these two book are very similar – the lack of rights to live. However, that is not the only similarity. The main characters in both novels portray qualities often associated with female characteristics in literature which brings me to my three question to which I will try to find an answer: what are the differences between the depiction of men and women, what is maculinity and femininity, and what does it mean to have control over your own body: “I think we won’t be able to understand the operations of trans-phobia, homophobia, if we don’t understand how certain kinds of links are forged between gender and sexuality in the minds of those who want masculinity to be absolutely separate from femininity…”

In Never Let Me Go, the three main characters conform in different ways to patriarchal gender roles, but Halisham is not patriarchal at all. The first time we get to see patriarchal gender roles is at the Cottages and at Halisham typical gender roles (except for example sports for boys) are avoided. All students are encouraged to express themselves in non-masculine ways, for example to create art. The Guardians are mostly women and they are parental figures for all students. At the Cottages, students are exposed to gender roles. On the other hand, Fitzgeralds’s house is not so patriarchal. The father, Brian Fitzgerald, is often the biggest supporter of his wife, Sara, but at the same time he is able to look at the situation from his children’s perspective. Sometimes he can be kinder than Sara, but Sara shows to be emotionally stronger of the two even though she “should be” weaker because she is a woman. As Anna said: “Normal, in our house, is like a blanket too short for a bed-sometimes it covers you just fine, and other times it leaves you cold and shaking; and worst of all, you never know which of the two it’s going to be.” The differences between men and women are much clearer in Kazuo Ishiguro’s book than in Picoult’s novel. Becoming a carer and a donor also contributes to the patriarchal gender roles but the roles are, according to Judith Butler, “not biologically fixed but socially constructed.”

Being a carer is a more feminine job and being a donor is a more masculine job. Being a provider is similar to being a provider in a houshold. “I wasn’t much good as a carer. Never learnt to drive even. I think that’s why the notice for my first came so early. I know it’s not supposed to work that way, but I reckon that’s what it was. Didn’t mind really. I’m a pretty good donor, but a lousy carer.“ Anger is used by men and women should be more open about their emotions, but at the same time must never show aggression, which is a bit contradictory: “… and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.” According to patriarchal gender roles, it is unusual for men to show that they are weak. Jesse, Anna’s and Kate’s older brother acts like a delinquent, but much of his beahviour stems from anger over his inability to save Kate and his feeling of being ignored his whole life. In Halisham, boys are punished for showing too much emotions, like crying. Tommy becomes an outcast because, unlike his peers, he lacks artistic ability which leads him to develop a violent temper which manifests itself, for example, in the acts of throwing tantrums and crying. He does not have a masculine figure at Halisham and after Halisham he continues to show a mixture of masculinuty and femininity. Judith Butler makes the point that when it comes to distinctions between ‘male’ and ‘female’ bodies and behaviour, we can’t assume that anything is ‘natural,’ or ‘just the way it is: “When we say gender is performed, we usually mean that we’ve taken on a role or we’re acting in some way and that our acting or our role playing is crucial to the gender that we are and the gender that we present to the world.”

As I have already mentioned, emotions are often associated with women. They are supposed to be nurturing and maternal, it is expected of them. Girls, from a very young age, see themselves as potential mothers and they try to fit into feminine gender roles just as Ruth did. Kathy is different, she has it in herself. These two characters can offer some insights into the way women are portrayed in the novel. Kathy often plays her favourite song titled Never Let Me Go and the refrain makes her think about a woman who has a baby. She is singing along and swaying her pillow like a baby. She has maternal instincts (or the society makes her have it), but she is just conforming to patriarchal standards. According to Juidth Butler, it would be incorrect to say that she “has” maternal instincts. Kathy does not have them because she is a woman: “Gender is not something that one is, it is something one does, an act… a doing rather than a being.” This part, which is at beginning of the novel, shows us how nurturing she is; especially towards Tommy. She never shows aggression, even towards Ruth, because that is reserved for men. The fact that she has been a carer for eleven years proves how much she cares about others. In addition, Anna says that she does not want to help her sister anymore because she wants to live her life to the fullest and have children in the future. At that time, she was only eleven years old: “It’s about a girl who is on the cusp of becoming someone… A girl who may not know what she wants right now, and she may not know who she is right now, but who deserves the chance to find out.”

For a better comparison of these two books, I also watched a movie with the same title as the book-My Sister’s Keeper and one thing was really interesting. As Kate is dying, she makes a book, as a gift for her mom, with all her memories and precious moments in it. One part of it was about her ex-boyfriend Taylor, who died, but also about boys in general. Two whole pages were covered with questions “What is masculine?” ,“What is feminine?” and the answers. Some of them for the first question were: dirty finger nails, football, short hair and black colour, and for the second question answers were: pink, tears and long hair. Kate lost all her hair because of chemotherapy and this idealistic image of women made her think that she is ugly now because she does not look like the rest of the world: “…don’t say it. Don’t tell me that nobody’s going to stare at me, because they will. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter, because it does. And don’t tell me I look fine because that’s a lie.” But what is masculinity and femininity? Patriarchal cultures have limiting forms of masculinity which are narrowing, not only men’s life choices, but also women’s: “It’s my view that gender is culturally formed, but it’s also a domain of agency or freedom and that it is most important to resist the violence that is imposed by ideal gender norms…”

Sometimes women are dominated by men and including cancer can make them feel even smaller in comparison to everything else; just like Kate felt while dealing with cancer and how Anna is controlled by her parents: “Although I am nine months pregnant, although I have had plenty of time to dream, I have not really considered the specifics of this child. I have thought of this daughter only in terms of what she will be able to do for the daughter I already have…Then again, my dreams for her are no less exalted; I plan for her to save her sister’s life.” What does it mean to have control over your own body? Feminism is not only about gender equality, but also about owning your own body and life. In feminist ideology, this is usually connected to the belief that a pregnant woman should have the freedom to choose an abortion if she wants to, but I won’t be talking about that. What I wanted to say is that any human being, no matter if it is a man or a woman, has the right to do with his/her body whatever he/she wants: “Freedom is not a given – and it’s certainly not given by anything ‘natural’. The construction of freedom involves not less but more alienation; alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction.”

In both books people lack that right and are unable to be the persons they want to be: “What I’m not sure about is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.” Is it ethical for clones to have to sacrifice their lives in order to save someone’s life? If they are considered humans, they should have the right to make decisions about their own body: “With my heart racing, I ran in the other direction; leaving the rest of this rescue to people who actually want to be heroes.”

To sum up, “Whatever the “real” differences between the sexes may be, we are not likely to know them until the sexes are treated differently, that is alike.” Men do cry and show their emotions. They do not have to play football, have strong arms or wear t-shirts in colours that are for boys in order to be more masculine. Women can have short hair and nails, love sports and they are not obliged to have or love children. Men and women need and balance each other. These two books showed me that feminism is actually everywhere. It is not a radical movement; it is about women who feel free enough to do whatever they want. But maybe it would be best if we all identified with the term humanist- a person that believes in the equality of all people. “A woman isn’t all that different from a bonfire. A fire’s a beautiful thing, right? Something you can’t take your eyes off, when it’s burning. If you can keep it contained, it’ll throw light and heat for you. It’s only when it gets out of control that you have to go on the offensive.”

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