Study Guide

Our Town Gender

By Thornton Wilder


Well, of course, it’s none of my business – but I think if a person starts out to be a teacher, she ought to stay one. (I.66)

The eleven-year-old Joe Crowell is disappointed when his schoolteacher leaves teaching for married life.

Well…I don’t have to tell you that we’re run here by a Board of Selectmen. – All males vote at the age of twenty-one. Women vote indirect. We’re lower middle class: sprinkling of professional men… ten per cent illiterate laborers. Politically, we’re eight-six per cent Republicans; six per cent Democrats; four per cent Socialists; rest, indifferent. Religiously, we’re eighty-five per cent Protestants; twelve per cent Catholics; rest, indifferent. (I.224-5)

Women aren’t allowed to vote!

It was your mother chopping wood. There you see your mother – getting up early; cooking meals all day long; washing and ironing; – and still she has to go out in the back yard and chop wood. I suppose she just got tired of asking you. She just gave up and decided it was easier to do it herself. And you eat her meals, and put on the clothes she keeps nice for you, and you run off and play baseball, – like she’s some hired girl we keep around the house but that we don’t like very much. Well, I knew all I had to do was call your attention to it. (I.353)

Mrs. Gibbs is a hard worker; Mr. Gibbs has to remind their son not to treat her like a servant!

Well, you see, - on her wedding morning a girl’s head’s apt to be full of…clothes and one thing and another. Don’t you think that’s probably it?…A girl’s apt to be a mite nervous on her wedding day. (II.136, 138)

Mr. Webb speculates about his daughter’s thoughts, chalking her nerves up to superficial worries.

Every man that’s ever lived has felt that way about it, George; but it hasn’t been any use. It’s the womenfolk who’ve built up weddings, my boy. For a while now the women have it all their own. A man looks pretty small at a wedding, George. All those good women standing shoulder to shoulder making sure that the knot’s tied in a mighty public way. (II.141)

Mr. Webb argues that weddings are for female benefit.

Charles, he said, Charles, start out early showing who’s boss, he said. Best thing to do is to give an order, even if it don’t make sense; just so she’ll learn to obey. And he said: if anything about your wife irritates you – her conversation, or anything – just get up and leave the house. That’ll make it clear to her, he said. And, oh, yes! he said never, never let your wife know how much money you have, never. (II.150)

Different men have different thoughts on gender roles.

I always expect a man to be perfect and I think he should be…Well, my father is, and as far as I can see your father is. There’s no reason on earth why you shouldn’t be, too. (II.205, 207)

Emily expects all men to be perfect and will not accept anything less from a potential boyfriend.

Well, I feel it’s the other way round. That men aren’t naturally good; but girls are. (II.208)

George argues that women are naturally good.

Well, you might as well know right now that I’m not perfect. It’s not as easy for a girl to be perfect as a man, because we girls are more – more – nervous. (II.209)

Emily claims girls are more nervous than boys and so cannot be expected to be perfect.

And there’s Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb come down to make breakfast, just as though it were an ordinary day. I don’t have to point out to the women in my audience that those ladies they see before them, both of those ladies cooked three meals a day – one of ‘em for twenty years, the other for forty – and no summer vacation. They brought up two children apiece, washed, cleaned the house, - and never a nervous breakdown. (II.25)

The Stage Manager points out that Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs work much, much harder than women today.

Don’t you remember that you used to say, - all the time you used to say – all the time: that I was your girl! There must be lots of places we can go to. I’ll work for you. I could keep house. (II.347)

Scared to belong to another man, Emily begs for her father to keep possession of her, suggesting that husbands and father are possessors whereas wives and daughters are possessions.