Table of contents
1. Introduction - a survey of family and female life in the American society of the 1960s
2. Gender and sexuality in R. M. Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle
2.1. Role-model housewife and mother
2.1.2. Other examples
2.2. Molly – a self-made woman?
2.2.1. Molly and the role model
2.2.2. Molly – a self-made woman?
1. Introduction – a survey of family and female life in the American society of the 1960s
From its beginnings, American society has been a system based on certain values such as Christianity. These values were affected by events like war, waves of immigration and fluctuations of economy and therefore changed constantly.
In changing times, the family was meant to be a fixed value in society. Talcott Parsons suggests
[...] that the basic and irreducible functions of the family are two: first, the primary socialization of children so that they can truly become members of the society into which they have been born; second, the stabilization of the adult personalities of the population. (PARSONS, p.16)
In the 20th century, these functions were at risk: families started to disintegrate, especially referring to the feminine role model. During World War II, women had to work in the industries to keep American economy going, but
as the men returned home [...], the women were forced back into the home and the prescribed roles of wife and mother. […] Unlike the men, women were expected to stay in the home until marriage; rather than moving out to experience life on her own. (LOVE, p.7)
This led to the development of the feminine role model in American society that was effective in the 1960s and is still prevalent today. According to figures from the 1960s, I will give a short overview of the social position of women, touching the fields of education, marriage, childbirth and employment.
In 1960, the share of women in higher education was low. Although more than half of all women graduated from high school, only about a third studied on for a Bachelor’s degree and even less succeeded in gaining a Master’s or doctorate.
Far more women decided to marry and care for their families: two thirds of all women were married. In this respect, 1960 was a peak year; after 1960, the percentage of married women declined steadily. In the 1950s and 60s the brides also were the youngest with an average age of 20 years.
In that time, most children were born to married couples. Only 5% of the children were born by unwed mothers but this figure doubled by 1970 and has kept on rising until today.
When considering working life, almost half of all single women were working in 1960 whereas only about a third of all married women were employed. Only about a quarter of the married, working women had children, most of them older than six years old.
According to these data, the typical American woman of the 1960s can be described as a homemaker and mother. When her husband earned enough, she did not have to work and could concentrate on caring for the children, keeping house and getting involved in the community.
The roles were clearly distributed. The distribution comes close to Parsons’ model of the “nuclear family” (1955) which proposes a strict division of roles: men and women get an education that prepares them for their gender-specific role in life. Only men gain professional qualifications because they will have to provide for their families (cf. “The American Family”) while the individual development of women is oppressed by social and cultural influences:
Instead of the women seeking to develop fully as individuals, to decide for themselves who they are and what they will be, the culture persuaded women, according to [Betty] Friedan, that they should understand themselves not as ‘persons’, but as ‘women’. (JOHNSON, p.1)
Parsons proposes a patriarchal family structure, in which the man has the right to make all decisions and his wife has to accept them (cf. “Gender Role”, Wikipedia). He discerns the feminine role as expressive and aiming at the inside of the family, while the male role is instrumental, aiming at the world outside his family.
2. Gender and sexuality in Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle
Rubyfruit Jungle is a story about homosexuality and the role of women in 1950s and 1960s society. In this paper, I will focus on the feminine role model and its effect on the characters of the novel.
Rubyfruit Jungle presents several types of women. Some of them fulfil the expectations society imposes on them, like Molly’s (adoptive) mother Carrie Bolt and her first love Leota, but the protagonist herself, a tomboyish girl who was born a bastard and grew up to be a Lesbian, tries to overcome the role model and become a self-made woman.
2.1. Role model housewife and mother
Carrie Bolt fulfils the expectations society puts on her. She meets the role model of housewife and mother, even if she is not the perfect example.
While her husband Carl is working, she stays at home and does the chores. She also cares for their only child, Molly. But is she a good mother? In her essay “Mothers”, Kimberley Reynolds gives the following definition:
The ‘good’ mother is endlessly patient, forgiving, nurturing and most of all, unfailing in her love. She meets her children’s needs and fulfils their desires. (MADOC-JONES, p.41)
This idea of a mother is shown in many novels, especially in older ones like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) . There, the mother is shown as the “Angel of the house” (MADOC-JONES, p.50).
If we compare Carrie’s behaviour to the definition, she is far from being an angel. Superficially, her life seems an idyll but it is disturbed because Molly is not her real daughter. Normally, it is not important to her but when Molly makes a mistake she stirs the old story of her illegitimate origin up again. This way she distances herself from responsibility for her daughter’s actions.
I’m not her mother. […] She didn’t come from my body. Florence had babies come from her body, and she tells me it’s not the same. […] I’ll never know what it’s like to be a real mother. (p.40)
Presumably, in the eyes of her family, Carrie is not a real woman: a woman’s worth seems to be defined by her being a mother. This particularly applies to mothers of daughters. It is the mother’s responsibility to raise her daughter according to the values of society. She is supposed to make sure that the girl settles into the feminine role (cf. LOPATA, p.383). Helena Lopata claims that
 This introduction is based on:
Crouse, J.S. “Gaining Ground.” Beverly LaHaye Institute. 2001 „Gender role.“Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2005 Parsons, Talcott. “The American Family: Its Relations to Personality and to the Social Structure.” Family, Socialization and Interaction Process. 1955.
 Parsons, Talcott: US-sociologist of the 50s who tried to systemize social systems considering aspects like stratification, gender roles and moral evalutation.
 All quotations if not marked otherwise, have been taken from: Brown, Rita Mae. Rubyfruit Jungle. 1973.
- Quote paper
- BA, MA Kathrin Gerbe (Author), 2005, Abandoning the role model - Gender and sexuality in Rita Mae Brown's "Rubyfruit Jungle", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/45943