A Mothers View in Society

Table of Contents

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic downfall that began during the late 1920s and lasted until the early 1930s. On October 1929, the stock market crashed, which in turn, caused many to panic and millions to lose their investments. Over the course of many years, consumer confidence and people willing to invest dropped. Consequentially, industrial output was at an all-time high. Over-product occurred in the factories, and, as a result, companies were forced to terminate employees. By 1933, an estimated amount of 15 million Americans was unemployed and nearly all banks had failed, in the country. From Tillie Olsen’s 1961 Collection of Stories, I Stand Here Ironing, is based on the precarious relationship of a mother and her daughter named, Emily, during the Great Depression Era. During this time, many who didn’t work, were now forced to, in order to provide for their families. When looking through the Feminist Critical lens, one must ask themselves, how societal expectations of women relate to I Stand Here Ironing by Tillie Olsen. As society often reminds us, an infant is a pure canvas for parents to shape into a better version of themselves, but often, this mindset can cause more harm than good. When an infant is born, the first few years are crucial to its social, mental and physical development. It is during this time that they learn to trust, and brain activity is at an all-time high. As a result, the children must get the essential nourishment that they need. In response to this, many say that breastfeeding is more beneficial, than powdered formula. To support this statement, according to the Journal of Community Health Nursing, breastfeeding offers many advantages such as, psychological, social, economic and immunological benefits to both mother and child. In I Stand Here Ironing, the mother states, “I nursed her. They feel that’s important nowadays, I nursed all the children, but with her, with all the fierce rigidity of first motherhood, I did like the books then said” (Schilb, Clifford 315). In the quote, she specifically mentions a “they”, but who, specifically? As one can deduce, the only logical answer can be Pediatricians, but also those who advocate for a natural, no preservatives lifestyle. During the 1930s, single, unwed mothers were fiercely stigmatized against. They had to experience isolation from peers and family and forced removal. At this point, many viewed them as “impure” and a stain on their family name and virtue. In response to this, pregnant, unwed women were often encouraged, and at times forced to attend religious, “Maternity Homes.” The “Maternity Homes” were marketed as, a place to learn skills pertaining to motherhood and to provide support for both, mother and child. Years later, documentation showed that mothers who opted for adoption received, “better and fuller services” (Heikkaila 5). They were viewed to be emotionally and economically unstable by many experts. To show evidence of this, on page 314, Mother states, “But it came to where I had to bring her to his family and leave her.”Throughout the course of many individual’s lifetime, society will often express their views of how one should look. Throughout the short story, I stand Here Ironing, we see firsthand how it affects the relationship between Emily and her younger sister, Susan. In the book, the mother states, “…Emily toward Susan that corroding resentment” (Schilb, Clifford 317). By this statement, one can only assume that Emily feels inferior toward Susan, who was, “…golden- and curly- haired and chubby, quick and articulate and assured, everything in appearance and manner Emily was not” (Schilb, Clifford 317). The also mother states, “I have edged away from it, that poisonous feeling between them, that terrible balancing of hurts and needs I had to do between the two, and did so badly, these earlier years” (Schilb, Cliffford 317). All in all, though, from the evidence displayed, many must weep at what society has produced and damaged. From the writer’s viewpoint, societal pressures from the outside world, often causes children to view themselves in a negative way. In the short story, it is mentioned, in passing, that Emily, often, “fretted about her appearance, thin and dark and foreign-looking at a time when every little girl was supposed to look or thought she should look like a chubby blonde replica of Shirley Temple” (Schilb, Clifford 316). By this statement being made, one can deduce that Emily, possibly, developed anxiety, due to constantly comparing herself to others. According to RAMH, women are twice as likely than men to experience anxiety. Society plants images of what one should be, with no regard to reality or individualism. In their eyes, there is only one standard of beauty. As a result, many develop body issues and have little-to-no self-esteem.For most parents, they want their children to succeed in life, and hopefully, avoid making the same mistakes as they did, Emily’s mother is no different. She desires for her daughter to follow her dreams and reach the self-fulfillment, only she can touch. On page 318, Mother states, “Sometimes, to make me laugh, or out of her despair, she would imitate happenings or types at school. I think I said once: Why don’t you do something like this in the school amateur show”? These statements alone, gives insight to what Emily is, a comedian. When Emily took that crucial step towards expressing herself, outside the comforts of her home, she truly gained control over her life. On the same page, Emily calls to tell her mother, the news tearfully: “Mother, I did it, I won; they gave me first prize; they clapped and clapped and wouldn’t let me go”. With this, Emily came to the conclusion that she empowered herself and that she was “Somebody”. In conclusion, societal expectations for women greatly affects their mental and relationship building process. From the evidence collected, I Stand Here Ironing by Tillie Olsen offers firsthand accounts, to how viewing yourself causes turmoil and dissatisfaction, in one’s life. Also, the short story contains a plethora of examples to demonstrate how women experience life in a patriarchal dominated society, especially during the 1930s. The 1930s was a precarious time period for women, as they were given little autonomy. This was prevalent throughout the story, as the mother constantly allowed people to influence her decisions, regarding to raising Emily. In the end, though, once Emily grew older, she finally realized that maybe, society doesn’t know what’s best.