At many points, Kira notes that her society is strictly divided along gender lines. Women can only perform certain jobs and go certain places. Many of them work by gathering food for the village, and others spend their time weaving. Men, on the other hand, hunt for food for the village. On the day of a hunt, they brag and argue and fight with each other. This isn’t a case of “separate but equal”; clearly the men have more power and freedom than the women of the village. We can see this when Vandara and Kira go to court before the Council of Guardians. There seem to be no women on the Council (whereas there are at least three men on it, including the chief guardian), and Vandara learns from the chief guardian that she has no rights, presumably because she’s a woman. It’s also mentioned many times that women aren’t allowed to learn how to read.
For the most part, Lowry doesn’t suggest that there are any innate behavioral differences between the sexes. (On the few occasions when she does suggest this, she’s being humorous—for instance, in the scene where Kira gets irritated at Thomas for being too interested in the construction work, and thinks that all men are the same). Men and women aren’t born wanting to hunt or weave, respectively—the village teaches them to want to do these things. Matt’s behavior in the second half of Gathering Blue suggests how the village tells men and women how to behave. Matt is a wild, rambunctious boy who, like most of his peers, wants to be a hunter. At one point, he finds himself a spear and joins the men as they prepare to hunt, observing and imitating all the typical behavior of men: fighting, bragging, etc. It’s only because Kira and Thomas stop him that he doesn’t participate in the hunt. Later, Matt shows that he’s moved past the desire to hunt and fight. He brings Kira a gift—a blue cloth—and volunteers to take Kira’s father, Christopher, back to his home.
For the most part, masculinity as it’s practiced in the village is a case of “monkey see, monkey do”—boys learn how to be men by imitating men. Nothing says that boys must grow up to be hunters and fighters—with the right guidance and education, their character can be more compassionate and mature. Perhaps the best way to fight gender roles while remaining in the village is to become an artist. As a weaver for the Council of Guardians, Kira has much more contact with men—Jamison, Thomas—than she has previously. Moreover, her contribution to the Gathering, the robe, isn’t seen as inferior to Thomas’s contribution, the staff. The only criterion for art is its quality—the gender of the artist doesn’t matter.
In the village of Gathering Blue, men are arrogant, violent, and controlling, while women are weaker and less educated. With education and art, this unfair, arbitrary arrangement can be changed. It’s worth remembering that Lowry herself didn’t begin her career as a writer until the age of 40, after she’d raised four children and completed a college degree and a Master’s degree—she can testify firsthand to the importance of art and education for women.
Men, Women, and Gender Roles ThemeTracker
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Quotes in Gathering Blue
When he read the word hollyhock aloud with his finger on the word, she saw that it was long, with many lines like tall stems. She turned her eyes away quickly so that she would not learn it, would not be guilty of something clearly forbidden to her. But it made her smile, to see it, to see how the pen formed the shapes and the shapes told a story of a name.
Kira had not been much in the world of men. They led very separate lives from those of women. She had never envied them. Now, as she found herself jostled by their thick, sweat-smelling bodies, as she heard their muttered angry comments and their shouts, she found herself both frightened and annoyed. But she realized that this was hunt behavior, a time for flaunting and boasting, a time for testing each other. No wonder Matt, with his childish swagger, wanted to be part of it.