Kaffir Boy: Gender Inequality

By: Shreyomi


The unfair inequality between males and females is another dominant theme in Kaffir Boy. According to tribal customs, a man pays lobola (a bride price) to “purchase” a bride. This custom leads men to treat their wives and daughters more like property than human beings. Because Mark’s father purchased his mother, she is trapped in the marriage and cannot escape his abuse.

Big image

Quote #1

The next day, as I nursed my wounds, while my father was at work, I told my mother that I hated him and promised her I would kill him when I grew up.

"Don't say that!" my mother reprimanded me.

"I will," I said stoutly, "if he won't leave me alone."

"He's your father, you know."

"He's not my father."

"Shut that bad mouth of yours!" My mother threatened to smack me.

"Why does he beat me, then?" I protested. "Other fathers don't beat their children." My friends always boasted that their fathers never laid a hand on them.

"He's trying to discipline you. He wants you to grow up to be like him."

"What! Me! Never!" I shook with indignation. "I'm never going to be like him! Why should I?" (5.13-20)

In this quote, Mark's mother is defending his father even though she doesn't support his abusive nature. It is common in gender separated societies for the woman to be somewhat subordinate to the man and to support him.

Quote #2

"My mother explained that my father's relatives would not allow us to move in with any of her relatives because according to tribal marriage customs we were my father's property – her, myself, my brother and my sister; therefore, as long as my father was alive, regardless of his being in prison, we had to stay put in his kaya (house), awaiting his eventual return" (7.2-5)

In this quote, the idea that the family members are like the father's property is prevalent. The father is like the leader of the house and the other members have to stay under his roof until his death.

Reflect on Your Own Life!

1) Have there been instances where you've been treated differently merely because of gender? Explain.

2) Although gender inequality is most often viewed negatively, are there certain situations in which it can be a positive thing?

Quote #3

"But we have to eat, Mama," I protested. I thought that regardless of the size of my father's debt, he should still borrow more. I don't know why I thought that. Maybe hunger made me. "We are his children, aren't we?" I repeated, implying that it was a father's duty to provide for his children no matter what" (10.40-43)

In this quote, the children of this society already know that a mother and father have different duties in a household and that it is the father's duty to provide for his children.

Quote #4

"Soon after George was weaned my father began teaching him, as he had been teaching me, tribal ways of life. My father belonged to a loosely knit group of black families in the neighbourhood to whom tribal traditions were a way of life, and who sought to bring up their offspring according to its laws. He believed that feeding us a steady diet of tribal beliefs, values and rituals was one way of ensuring our normal growth, so that in the event of our returning to the tribal reserve, something he insistently believed would happen soon, we would blend in perfectly."

Often times, what the father believed was pushed on the the family itself and they had to follow his rules regardless of others. This includes following his old tribal traditions even though the new traditions, especially religious customs brought by the evangelists, offered prosperity.

Quote #5

"My mother thought that her inability to find jobs in the white world was not only due to her papers not being in order, but also because some neighbour out there simply did not want her to better her lot."

In this quote, it shows that a mere gender difference can prevent opportunities in life, creating a disadvantage for women during this time period.

Quote #6

"My father would retort: 'Take those bastards with you, I don't care! I sometimes wonder if they're my children the way they disobey my laws!'" (10.40-43)

In this quote, the father's claim on "his laws" shows that he is the head of the family and the other members have to obey him.

Discussion Questions

1. Could gender inequality be beneficial to society? How so?

2. What causes gender inequality in a society?

3. Where did gender inequality have the most effect on the plot?

4. How did gender inequality contribute to the struggles that Mathabane faced during Apartheid?

5. Was there any part of the story in which gender inequality was overcome?

In Conclusion

  • Gender inequality has been prevalent in all societies at some point in time
  • More common in less developed countries today
  • Often leads to segregation, and even extremes such as Apartheid in South Africa
  • Also during industrial revolution as gender roles were specialized


What do you see as the pattern in societies that have/had gender inequality? What causes this and how can it be overcome? What is common about all of these societies? Is there usually one leader who takes initiative to overcome this or is it usually a group?