We Need to Talk About Gender – Daniella Fa Group A

“We Need to Talk About Gender: Mothering and Masculinity in Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Emily Jerimiah in Textual Mothers: Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures – Edited by Elizabeth Podnieks, Andrea O’Reilly, (pp 169 – 181)


This essay depicts the images of motherhood and women becoming more masculine with regards to Shriver’s novel We Need to Talk about Kevin.

The essay firstly mentions the different feminist theories in relation to gender, such as de Beauvoir’s observation that gender is a construct: one is not born, but rather becomes a woman. There are norms associated with gender but these can be disrupted. This relates to the idea of maternity, for if parenting is a mode of cognition, then males can do it to the same extent as women. It asks the question: if we can accept the notion of men as “mothers”, why can’t we accept the notion of women as “fathers”?  Female masculinity threatens the institution of motherhood, as the ideologies of motherhood and femininity are interdependent. To disrupt one is to disrupt the other.
Motherhood is also a choice, a difference to previous times where women were expected to be only mothers and housewives. Before Eva chooses to become pregnant, she is a successful businesswoman who travels the world, which can be seen as “masculine”. Once she has the baby she is trapped in a boring life where her identity evaporates and her knowledge cannot be applied to motherhood. This backs up Freidan’s theory that women’s unhappiness comes about because they want more than just to be mothers and wives. In contrast, Eva’s mother is cloistered and fearful like the previous image of women as “mad”.  This shows the generational shift towards women being more masculine.
Eva seems to be feminist as she rejects the traditional ideals of women as being nurturing and caring, but her “masculine” individualism is not attractive. It could be dangerous to re inscribe women as guardians of morality. There are hints of maternal sadism in the novel, when Eva throws the six year old Kevin across the room, breaking his arm. This shows maternal power, and it shows the importance of a mother’s care and protection but it is no way for a mother to behave.
Eva would never reveal to anyone that childbirth did not make her feel anything which is closely linked to the ideologies of motherhood and femininity.


One response to this post.

  1. In Aftermath Cusk indicates that not only does she not accept her husband as ‘mother’ but a friend of hers, talking about her own relationship, ‘would no longer respect her husband if he became a wife.’ In this instance the notion of men as “mothers” is not accepted. Cusk feels that she is both ‘mother’ and ‘father’, ‘man’ and ‘woman’ but reveals that ‘over time the woman sickened’ so that she becomes neither ‘male’ or ‘female’. In this case then the seeming acceptance of a masculine identity leads to an identity without gender.


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