While reading Hau’ofa’s novel I couldn’t help but notice the gender roles in society. I found the female gender roles to be quite substantial in this book, while the male roles seemed to be lesser. Even though the book is based around Oilei’s pain, it is interesting to see how much of a role the female characters around him play is trying to help him, especially his wife role. When we first meet Oilei’s wife, Makarita she does not come off as the typical subservient wife as we have seen in the past novels we have read this semester. Instead she essentially seems to be unafraid of her husband. This is proven by her back sass and teasing when he lashes out at her. She comes off as an independent woman, one who is not to be trifled with; even at times Oilei knows to steer clear of her. We see her independence through her constant leavings of him and through her confidence and tough demeanor. A great example of this is when Butako comes to force her to return to Oilei. He threatens her with blackmail, yet she does not seem to be frightened by his masculine authoritative role. Instead she stands up for herself saying “Don’t threaten me. Do you by any chance have a warrant? No? Why don’t you piss off and get one? (5)” Butako then leaves for the time being defeated.
Through looking at Makarita’s character, she often times seems to emasculate the men around her. Her husband, who is established in society as a very important man seems to hold no control over her. Instead we see Oilei can’t even at times keep up with Makarita’s witty teasing and harsh remarks. He often ends up cussing her out in a very barbaric and uncivilized manner. Furthering this emasculation theme Makarita’s remarks towards Oilei’s complaints always seems to refer to feminine qualities or even gay ones. When Oilei first complains about his pain, Rita teases “Ha ha. So we’ve got AIDS, have we? (2)” Considering the fact that the pain is in his arse and Rita’s reference to AIDS, it could be speculated that she was teasing him about having sex with a man. Essentially in his position Oilei would be the one taking on the submissive role to another man, therefore surrendering his role as alpha male. Another example of this is when Oilei is bleeding after Losana tries to heal him. Losana’s process alone emasculates Oilei, but Rita seems to take it a bit further when she teases, “Good heavens! Are we menstruating or what? “(37), after he begs her to help him. She associates a feminine bodily function with his weakened state.
Yet though it seems Makarita is this all powerful woman who “wears the pants” in the family, we do see her love for her husband sporadically appear throughout the novel. Her devotion and care for her husband show a compassionate side to her femininity rather than a submissive or devious one. She chooses to help him because she feels pain when she sees him in agony. Hau’ofa even writes “He looked so rested and relaxed for the first time in many days that Makarita, in the age-old tradition of Tipotan women quickly forgiving the manifold infidelities of their men, broke down sobbing with relief” (36). This break down is the first insight we get into seeing Makarita’s true femininity and wifely love for her husband. It’s seems that perhaps Hau’ofa is either suggesting that tradition is a hard habit to break or that women even in their most confident and powerful states still feel compassion for the ones they love.