Gender Roles In Tillie Olsen's I Stand Here Ironing

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The emotional bond that a mother and daughter share is unique. There are many factors that influence a strong parental bond and many other obstacles that interfere with the possibility to develop one. In Tillie Olsen’s story “I Stand Here Ironing”, the mother struggles to develop an emotional connection with her daughter Emily. The naïve 19 year old young mother often seeks help from an unnamed authority figure when deciding the best course of action for her daughter. Emily experiences a rough childhood, and subsequently her mother is forced to send her away because, she cannot provide for her financially. When Emily turns 19, she is at a much different place in life than her mother. She is reserved, resentful, and “vulnerable” (Olsen 587). …show more content…
The narrator often compares Emily and Susan focusing on the difference in their emotional development. Susan is portrayed as the ideal child and Emily is considered a child of unfortunate circumstances. The narrator clear difference in the gender roles between the two girls is first seen in their physical appearance, Susan is described as “golden- and curly-haired” (Olsen 587) while Emily is depicted negatively as “thin, and dark, and foreign-looking” (Olsen 586). Emily had a “slightly rejecting caretaker” (Bohlin and Hagekull 593) and as a result of her mother’s neglectful tendencies she is emotionally unstable and insecure. The mother is expected to automatically know everything about Emily simply because, she is her mother. The unknown authority figure looks at the mother as a “key” (Olsen 584) to helping Emily but, she is as much help as the authority figure herself. The mother’s role in society was to nourish Emily so that eventually Emily would become the mother society expected her to be as well. The mother’s failed attempts to nourish Emily to society’s expectation lead the mother to believe she was not the best mother she could be. The gender roles in this society failed to recognize unique circumstance in each …show more content…
She was set to fail before she could even try. It is impossible for the mother to stay at home and nurture Emily and still be able to provide financially. She had no money other than the money she works for. The mother’s poverty forced her to send Emily away on numerous occasions. She is pressured to help Emily become a certain women yet; she is financially restricted. The mother is told that Emily has a gift. An ideal mother would be ecstatic and overjoyed knowing their daughter had a unique characteristic which set them apart from everyone else but, Emily’s mother is sad knowing she can’t do much about it. Jennifer Baxter and Michael Alexander claim that “the interplay between the work and home environments is crucial” (196) it is important for the mother to balance work life and home life. The mother’s limitations make it nearly impossible for her to balance the needs of her daughter and the need to

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