In Malarky, Anakana Schofield shows how sexual norms are rooted in society and tradition, and she emphasizes the danger of this as Our Woman goes insane with Grief. Our Woman’s repressive marriage as well as her association of household chores with non-marital sex emphasize this societal problem. Schofield’s depiction of sexuality thus emphasizes its fluidity and its lack of inherent structure.
Our Woman’s urge to explore her sexuality is contrasted by the traditional gender roles that govern her town. Our Woman lives in an orthodox society; deviation from regularity is nothing to boast about. Women and men have distinct social roles, and sexual peculiarity is suppressed. As is traditional of woman and men, Our Woman is devoted to the household and Himself toils the field. At home, Jimmy does not speak openly about his homosexuality. Our Woman is dedicated to her traditional role as a homemaker, but her sexual exploration with Halim provides an escape from these traditional gender constructions that surround her. Our Woman deals with this cultural expectation by exploring her sexuality. The simultaneous pressure, to both conform to society and explore her desire is what drives Our Woman mad.
Our Woman is not happy in her traditional marriage to Himself: she is dominated by her husband. Trapped in the submissive role of a housewife, she requires an escape from the society that reinforces this role of a housewife. Correspondingly, the affair she has with Halim is would be considered taboo by the locals: he is a much younger man and is of a different background. It is precisely this unusualness that satisfies Our Woman’s desire, however. She is rebelling against female repression in Irish-Catholic society by pursuing a culturally transgressive relationship. Because of the traditional female subversion she is accustomed to, Our Woman seeks control in sex. This fact doesn’t go unnoticed, for instance, “Jimmy thought she should have overthrown his father.” (82) Jimmy himself has also chosen to reject the traditional structure imposed on sexuality, which perhaps is what motivates Our Woman to do the same. For instance, for Our Woman, sex in her marriage is about Himself, “too much participation from her unsettles Himself.” (87) She seeks sexual pleasure from Halim, who, in contrast to Himself, is unusually interested in female sensuality. Halim offers a sexual escape route from the repressive sexual customs of Our Woman’s town.
Our Woman is conflicted between tradition and liberation. She starts an affair with Halim to explore her sexuality, but she still associates sex with household chores. She feels compelled to maintain the household; yet, she also needs to escape this rigidly constructed structure that’s projected by society on sexuality. Likening strange sexual experiences to everyday household tasks provides a compromise. She parts Halim’s legs “the same way she would divide bread dough” (95), and she notes before sex that Halim’s underwear is “so identical to her husband’s that she could easily mix them up in the wash.” (95) When Halim declares after sex, “a woman has never done that to me before” (115), Our Woman compensates the edginess of her desire by thinking “it’s the kind of compliment she’s received about her baking.” (115) When marital infidelity with Halim does result in sexual excitement, Our Woman’s mind is still on her chores. Even though she takes risks, Our Woman speaks in the language of the household, showing how deeply entrenched we all are in traditional gender roles.
This contrast between sexual tradition and the need to escape repression contributes to Our Woman’s craziness. While she desires new sexual experiences, there is still pressure to adhere to society’s conception of normal. As a result, she agonizes over “how to divide her desire between what she wants to do with her husband and her new, more unusual desires of what she must do with Halim. Overwhelmed by the disparity, I am reckless, I am now reckless, she thinks.”(100) When forced to reconcile social custom and personal desire, Our Woman despairs and turns to Grief for help. Grief understands both tradition and the need to escape it. She offers rationalization for Our Woman’s unorthodox action. To the locals, confusion is “the local term for possessed” (126), but Grief is not like the rest of society. She’s characterized as a kind lady who comforts Our Woman and is the only character to do so. She embodies Our Woman’s insanity and “wants the full extent of her confusion.” (120)