Traditional Motherhood In Tillie Olsen's I Stand Here Ironing

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Tillie Olsen was a part of the first generation of American feminists and she was a mother herself. She was influenced by her own experiences and the time period to investigate traditional female gender roles and conventional motherhood. In her short story “I Stand Here Ironing” she critiques traditional motherhood and the patriarchy's influence on society by analyzing the experience of a single mother struggling to raise her daughter, Emily, during the great depression. Her daughter, Emily, has a rough childhood and is isolated from her mother for the majority of her youth, whether in the daycare center or in the medical clinic, and she is never truly capable of forming the traditional mother-daughter bond. Tillie Olsen scrutinizes the…show more content…
Although traditional motherhood is generally depicted as a loving and selfless experience in which a mother guides her daughter through life, Tillie Olsen suggests that conventional motherhood shames women for not living up to its unrealistic expectations and it is a method to suppress women. The patriarchy misrepresents traditional motherhood as a loving and selfless experience in which a mother adores her child unconditionally and teaches her daughter important values. The story begins with a phone conversation between the mother and another character, possibly a counselor, social worker or teacher of her daughter. The teacher or counselor talks on the phone with the mother and assumes that “because [she is] her mother [she has] the key” to her daughter and can understand her completely (Olsen 292). This excerpt demonstrates the unrealistic expectations for mothers that the patriarchy has instilled throughout society. Mothers are supposed to understand their daughters and be able to control them because they have taught them everything they know; however, there are many different circumstances that…show more content…
Emily has hopes of becoming a comedic actress and making her own path through life; however, this is very unlikely and she will most probably turn out like her mother. Her mother even doubts her, claiming she “has much to her and probably little will come of it” (Olsen 298). Despite Emily’s enormous potential and talent as an actress, the world rarely accepts female actresses or comedians because they believe women are meant to care for children. Society is able to prevent many young women from determining their own fate because traditional motherhood is self perpetuating, meaning children are taught the same gender roles that their parents are taught. Emily is taught that women stay in the house and iron; she is not encouraged enough by her mother early on. The mother regrets her failure to teach her daughter that she can make her own path through life, claiming her “wisdom came too late” and that she can only hope that Emily “ know[s]- that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron” (Olsen 298). The narrator failed to guide her daughter through life and to help her avoid some of the mistakes she made. Emily will likely fall down the same path the narrator has taken, because of the perpetual nature of
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