Have you ever had the feeling or thought that your mother acted and raised you differently than other mothers? There are many mothers with different perspectives and opinions on how a woman should be or behave in front of other people. In Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”, a mother teaches a girl about certain beliefs coming from society and culture at the time to be a “perfect” woman in society, while in Gary Soto’s “Looking for Work”, the mother does not take certain beliefs and rules seriously at that time to be like a perfect mother and families portrayed in society and media.
Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” narrative describes a mother explaining to her daughter how to be a proper woman as what is required in society and how to prevent to be a slut (469). From the beginning to the end, the mother is giving rules and commands. Kincaid writes that the mother dictates, “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap” (469). It shows that the mother is trying to show what tasks women have according to society and what her mother expects from her. The relationship between the mother and daughter is bad because the daughter did not talk that much and tried to answer the allegations of words like “walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming” (469). The mother controls the daughter too much and is very harsh on her daughter’s appearance to dress appropriately “from looking like a slut” (469). The mother is very influenced by former women’s roles at that time and how these define a real woman. They want women to “sweep a whole house” and stay home and do to the housework by telling her it is her responsibility and is expected of a woman at that time (470).
I find it very sad and depressing to hear stories like this from the perspective of a mother. Not only in the past, but also today, children are told to have certain responsibilities because of their gender and what is seen as normal in society. At that time, because of gender roles in American society, men dominate, and women were told to be at the house and support the husband. The image portrayed here from mother to daughter is that, in society, if a woman does not follow gender roles and the task of women to “recognize the slut I have warned you against becoming” (470).
Kincaid writes, “don’t squat down to play marbles-you are not a boy, you know” (470). This shows that there is a certain way a woman should act around men to be successful in life, in contrast to today’s society, where women can freely follow their dreams and educate themselves. At that time, a lot of daughters started to rebel against their mothers as they decided to work out of the home and make their own decisions, but the mother does not let her daughter speak and lists stereotypes if she becomes a slut on “how to make good medicine to throw away a child.” This shows that her mother is not taking the daughter seriously end even if she wants to give good advice to her daughter or care about her, she does not think about the words she uses. A women’s success is measured by her ability on how to cook and act in front of other people. Therefore, the mother only cares how to be a woman and daughter and what to do in order to please everyone and fit into the roles accurately but is concerned because she wants her daughter to be accepted in society.
The women in the narrative “Girl” are only successful if they stay at their box of tasks because of their gender but if they refuse, they are judged and looked down upon. The mother did not realize that words like “slut” (470) are hurtful for a girl because they are judged for actions that are seen as not normal in society for a woman influenced by expectations in gender roles coming from media and centuries given culture. In Gary’s “Looking for Work,” the mother is completely different because they are coming from a working-class background and she is a single parent and is in the role of the men to work hard to put food on the table. She does not have time to engage with the son and engage with him like the shows in the 1950s of a perfect family (22). He compared his and the mother’s roles from the media with his own mother’s action “our own talk at dinner was load with belly laughs” (22). In Soto’s “Looking for Work,” you can see that the mother does not care about the family “she sent me outside where my brother and sisters were sitting” (23).
Compared to Kincaid’s “Girl”, the mother somehow cared about the daughter and was trying at that time, apart from discrimination of genders, while the mother in “Looking for Work” does not take the proposals of her child seriously and laughs at him and sends him outside. It seems like with words like “Later you’ll bug me to let you stay out longer,” she does not want to engage with her kids.
In conclusion, both mothers are not very successful in their own way. The mother in “Girl” teaches her daughter stuff with no regard for her feelings or thinking about the situation only because society is showing what women are supposed to do, but she also wants her to be respected by others.