Patriarchy in the Social Distance of Lutie Johnson

According to Lerner (239), Patriarchy is “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family as well as the extension of male dominance in society.” In The Street, Petry highlights the theme of Patriarchy by representing women characters as both black and female. The incorporation of gender in addition to race is meant to emphasize the oppressive dimension of sexism which, in addition to the debilitating economic and social conditions, afflicts the female residents of Harlem. In actual fact, Lutie Johnson, the protagonist, confronts the lesser sides of racism, capitalism, and sexism in her everyday life as a result of engaging with Junto, Jones, Mr. Croose, Boots Smith, Jim, Hedges, and the Chandlers. The latter are not only racist but sexist towards Lutie, whom they only view as a “domestic.” Her skin color and female status fueled the first instance of derision towards Lutie by the Chandlers. She was openly labeled as a sexual threat to female Chandlers.

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Apparently, it was an automatic reaction of White people-if a girl was colored and fairly young, why, it stood to reason she had to be a prostitute. If not that – at least sleeping with her would be just a simple matter, for all one had to do was make the request. In fact, White men wouldn’t even have to do the asking because the girl would ask them on sight. (Petry 45).

            Lutie’s female status also served as a criterion for the sexual stereotypes that she endured. At one point, she was questioned about her ‘encounters’ with white men. This makes the audience speculate hoe white men could like black women and dislike their kind. The cruelty of white men is also a center of controversy. Not only are they willing to sexually engage with black women, but also willing to advance their racial predispositions after their urges have been satisfied. The sexual objectification that Lutie withstands leads to mental agony. The paradox of her situation manifests more when the reader discovers the reluctance of white men to give jobs to black men despite their willingness to have sex with black women.

            Although the entire black community is subjected to endless suffering, it is the women who suffer the most. “To be Black and female” is considered double jeopardy. This is clearly evident when one considers what the black female endures in her own residence. In spite of their abused wives, black men gradually developed some kind of aversion to them. They began to see them as loose women who fancied extra sexual martial adventures. Seemingly, the stigma with which the black woman is attached, because of her slavery to the whites, receives sanction from the black man. Eventually, the black man sees the woman as her enemy and feels neglected sexually. In Petry’s account, Lutie receives a letter from her father, recounting how Jim is living with other women. The letter states, ‘ Dear Lutie: You better come home. Jim’s carrying on with another woman. Pop’ (Petry, 52). In this manner, the white man’s manipulation of the social circumstances escapes the attention of the black man.   

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Throughout The Street, the audience discovers the level of helplessness that women like Lutie undergo. Women are not only ‘deprived’ of their black men but also abused sexually by both whites and blacks. So the Black men were made slaves, and “women became sexual receptacles of men” (Petry 143). Their lack of security is observed in both white and black neighborhoods, implying their complete lack of security in society. The black woman’s objectification eventually materializes to her own destruction. She is seen as an ‘icon of evil’ rather than a human being who needs emancipation from male dominance.

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