Although the main theme of To Kill a Mocking Bird is racial prejudice, there is a very strong feeling that even in the ‘white world’ women are second class to men. Also there is the sense that with Calpurnia she has to be even more careful about what she says and does, being African-American and a woman showing that the tie between racial prejudice and the prejudice against women is strong.
The theme of prejudice starts right at the being of the novel with Calpurnia’s comment about Mr Radley ‘the meanest man ever God blew breath into.’ This surprises the children at Calpurnia’s saying something, because it is significant that she should have commented on a white man. This is because in society African-Americans had a low status; it would have been out of place that she commented on the ways of a white man.
Miss Stephanie Crawford is perceived to be the neighbourhood gossip and she probably is. I think that she is one of the characters that has been sent up to show how women are presumed to act like. She does what ‘typical’ women do in that she is kind and caring (when letting Miss Maudie live with her when her house burnt down) but apparently she has second motive for everything whether to get a cake recipe or to get juicy gossip. I think that this shows that although Harper Lee is trying to point out the unjustness of people’s prejudices she does put in characters which are stereotypes and so add to the prejudices against women.
Miss Maudie is one of the characters that is nothing like the stereotypical woman therefore she is not prejudiced unlike many of the women in the book. She acts like Atticus in many ways and is unusually open-minded and liberal compared to most of Macomb’s residents. Unlike Miss Stephanie and Mrs Dubose, she is friendly and tolerant. She is a very important role model for Scout as she is a sort of mother figure in Scout’s and possibly Jem’s life.
She is accepted differently in Macomb society as she is not commented on for wearing overalls to garden in, even though Scout is constantly being reminded by Aunt Alexandra that she can’t possibly be a lady wearing overalls. This leaves the question is there in fact only a small amount of prejudice against women in society, but prejudice within classes, that because Scout is from a privileged back ground she is meant to be a ‘Lady’. On the other hand this could be because although she gardens on overalls she does dress up as a lady in ‘magisterial beauty’ for occasions when she is needed to.
Miss Maudie clearly shows her disapproval for ‘foot-washing Baptists’ who ‘think women are a sin by definition’. She hates prejudice of any kind. It is thought that Miss Maudie is the character that expresses most of Harper Lee’s own opinions.
In chapter 12 Scout finds it hard to relate to her brother who has never been bothered by her tom-boyishness, suddenly turns on her ‘It’s time you started bein’ a girl and acting right!’ It is the first time that she has ever had any open prejudice from Jem even though over the past couple of years he has singled her out on a couple of occasions on not being able to play with himself and Dill.
Scout attends a Missionary Society tea, and through her descriptions and observations we learn much about Sothern womanhood at this time. The women are all uniformly dressed in their ‘pastel prints’ and ‘smelled heavenly’. Scout appears to take an interest in them when she stated ‘I must soon enter this world’. the ladies at the missionary circle first discuss the plight of the poor Mrunas, a benighted African tribe being converted to Christianity, and then talk about how their own black servants have behaved badly ever since Tom Robinson’s trial. Miss Maudie shuts up their prattle with icy remarks. I think that the prejudice in this is that the women don’t really understand what they are talking about and are comment on things which they shouldn’t. Mrs Merriweather acts all high and mighty about the good which Christianity is doing, when in fact by being racist and prejudice she is going directly against something she believes in.
Aunt Alexandra is a complex character who is almost obsessed with Scout becoming a ‘Lady’, but as we get further into the book especially at the Missionary Tea she shows that she doesn’t hold the same prejudices as many of the other ladies of her class and understands many of the issues which the other ladies don’t.
In To Kill a Mocking Bird there are many cases of prejudice against women, they come from many of the people in the book all from different classes and backgrounds. I think that it is obvious that Harper Lee dislikes all forms of prejudice but she does leave you to choose your views for yourself.