Gender Inequality in The Quiet American
Gender Inequality in The Quiet American
The book The Quiet American focuses on a poor, war-struck, and undeveloped country - Vietnam. In this type of environment, many social problems are accepted, particularly gender inequality. Throughout The Quiet American gender inequality is mostly practiced by men, however it carried out by women as well. Proving that women are unequal to men and woman.
Phuong, Fowler’s lover is a specific example of gender inequality. Firstly, Fowler treats her as if she is the stereotypical housewife and servant. Phuong acts as the stereotypical housewife in three ways. She stays home most of the time, waiting for Fowler to return. When she is out of the house then she is out “haggling for he price of fish over in third street” (pg. 26) because she’s obliged to cook for Fowler. Whenever Fowler comes home every night he has Phuong “Make me another pipe” (pg. 73) or “make me a brandy-and-soda” (pg. 117). He treats her as his servant and she accepts the inequality “she did at once what I asked…just so she would have made love if I asked her too, straight away, peeling off her trousers without question” (pg. 116). Secondly, Fowler uses her more as an object for sex and avoiding loneliness than (“my biggest fear” pg. 57) his lover or girlfriend. Throughout the story they are never seen together doing things that couples would normally do together such as going for walks together and going to the movies. Pyle at one point asked him if he could “live without her” (pg. 77). He replies “That’s too emotional, not quite true either” (pg. 77). He only uses her to fulfill his sexual desires. He does not “care that for her interests. You can have her interests. I only want her body. I want her in bed with me.” (pg. 59) He would much “rather ruin her and sleep” (pg. 59) than “look after her damned interests” (pg. 59). Altogether, he treats her as his sex slave “she did not change; she cooked for me, she made my pipes, she gently and sweetly laid out her body for my pleasure” (pg. 140). Finally, the way Fowler speaks to her is as if he is more superior to her - he speaks down to her. In the quote above (pg. 140), the manner of how he describes how he used the words “laid out” and “for my pleasure” has this greedy superior style. The way he has spoken them sounds as if he is the man in charge and is commanding her. When he asks her to do things it is not a question, it is an order. “Kiss me Phuong” (pg. 116), “You had better stay here tonight” (pg. 22), “Wait in the street” (pg. 21). However, Phuong and Fowler are just one example of gender inequality.
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Phuong is not the only female victim of gender inequality. Throughout the book women continue to suffer from gender inequality. Firstly, there is this motif of men referring women to different objects. In the beginning of the story Granger seems to refer to women as if they are animals. When he saw Phuong for the first time he asked, “Where did you find her? Didn’t know you had a whistle in you” (pg. 34) as if she was found off the street like stray dog. He continues to refer to women’s animal characteristics “let’s go find a girl. You’ve got a piece of tail. I want a piece of tail too”(pg. 35). By objectifying women as animals he is saying that they possess the same low standards and competency as a stray animal. Towards the end of the story, Fowler went dive-bombing with a French pilot name Tourin. Tourin’s squadron fly B.26 bombers. They refer to them as “French Prostitutes” because they have a “short wing-span” and “no visible means of support” (pg. 148). This is another example of how men objectify women using different things. Secondly, women are targeted for certain stereotypical gender roles. When Fowler was explaining to Miss Hei (Phuong’s sister) what Pyle does for a living “He belongs to the American Economic Mission, you know the kind of thing – electrical sewing machines for starving seamstresses” (pg. 41). When Miss Hei asks “are there any?” he replies “I don’t know" (pg. 41). When he is describing a charity example he automatically uses women as an example, inferring that they are the ones who are weak. He also associates the women with sewing machines and working as seamstresses. Both are stereotypical jobs for women. Finally, the House of Five Hundred Girls was treated as a detested place. Many of them labeled it as the derogatory word “Whorehouse” (150). As the women desperately swarmed Granger, Fowler treated these women’s desperation as a game, “I had learnt a technique – divide and conquer”. He used a woman more as a shield than a real person as he plowed through the “scrimmage” (pg. 39). Granger seemed to be proud of what he was. He took “this demonstration as a tribute to his manhood” (pg. 38). He took pleasure out of these women begging all around him. The way Graham Greene describes him as “flushed and triumphant” shows that he thinks he is superior to these women, as if he is a god. In spite of how people think men treat women unequal there is evidence that women treat women with gender inequality as well.
Through the duration of the book it has seemed that it’s the men that act towards inequality of women. However in the case of Miss Hei and Phuong, it is different. It provides a contrast to the customariness of inequality. Firstly, Miss Hei seems to be always trying to setup Pyle and Phuong together. Miss Hei has assumed the role of the “father” in the family, trying to sell off his (in this case her) daughter to the wealthiest man “she loves children…how olds your father…old people love children”. Even though it is now a women in the position of the mans job she is still enforcing gender inequality. It isn’t gender inequality from Miss Hei’s position, but from Phuong’s. She is selling Phuong off to forced marriage like a product. Phuong is not given the right to choose for herself she “must do the right thing” (pg. 156). In the beginning, She was asking a lot of questions about his wealth “he looks like a reliable man”, “What does he do?”, “Is your father a business man?”. After she finished she started to boast about her sister “She is the most beautiful girl in Saigon”. Not only men can practice inequality but women can too.
The Quiet American is a concise example of how men practice gender inequality. By using the male characters such as Granger and Fowler from the story, Graham Greene shows how they practice inequality towards Phuong and the Vietnamese women. However, The Quiet American is also a rare example of how gender inequality is practiced by women. Miss Hei enforces gender inequality on Phuong by trying to sell her off to marriage, proving that The Quiet American gender inequality is mostly practiced by men, however it is carried out by women as well.