The Adverse Effects of Gender Expectations – Ali, Grade 10

This literary analysis is written by one of my grade 10 students. The essay is based on Mrs. Sommers in Kate Chopin’s “A Pair of Silk Stockings.”  Having read about Kate Chopin, the writer has been able to delve deep into the story and find the theme of the story. He has provided enough supporting details, including some textual elements, to support the theme.  

 

The Adverse Effects of Gender Expectations

Before the establishment of gender equality, strict gender roles were ubiquitous, and stereotypes, such as mothers devoting everything to their children, were commonplace. In a world where tradition has often been unjust with its typically arbitrary constraints, mothers were expected to conform to the societal beliefs that stripped them of their femininity and sexuality. This unjust expectation and its dire consequences are shown in the story “A Pair of Silk Stockings” by Kate Chopin, where Mrs. Sommers, a mother wholly devoted to her impoverished family, impulsively spends fifteen dollars to satisfy her every whim and desire. The story conveys the message that strict and unreasonable expectations of women, in general, and mothers, in particular, can exhaust their physical and mental fortitude, limit their satisfaction with their maternal role, and confine their sexual and feminine desires.

Even though motherhood has tedious and stressful obligations, societal expectations still insist that mothers must always altruistically think of their children first, which, in the long run, burdens their mental and physical well-being. In the story, Mrs. Sommers’s weariness is displayed in several instances. She is described as “a little faint and tired” since she is too occupied with “getting the children fed” and “preparing herself for the shopping bout,” which leads her to “[forget] to eat any luncheon.” When family affairs start to take precedence over one’s meals, which is essential to one’s well-being, it is evident that these unreasonable societal norms neglect the mother’s health in favour of her children. However, these expectations are extremely flawed as the well-being of a caretaker should weigh just as much as the ones that are being taken care of; otherwise, an ailing mother will not be able to care for her children. Furthermore, the mental fortitude of mothers under these social norms deteriorates similar to their physical health. Instilled with the notion that her children must always come first, Mrs. Sommers has to completely shut down her “mental process or reasoning” to think about her own desires. The fact that mothers have to always think about what is best for their children will only cause them to eventually expunge their mental process so they could please their own desires after being deprived of their needs for prolonged periods. Thus, the story shows that the societal expectations for a mother, which is still present to this day, can only damage her health, and in essence, the entire family. 

Besides, the unjust expectations placed on mothers also create a lot of dissatisfaction with their maternal duties. While Mrs. Sommers impulsively spends her fortune on the silk stockings, she describes her maternal role as a “laborious and fatiguing function” and she wants to “[abandon]” those “responsibilities.” Mrs. Sommers’s thoughts to be free of her maternal role is not because of her lazy or lethargic disposition. In fact, Mrs. Sommers is portrayed as a very altruistic and spirited mother in the beginning, as her first intention with the money is to add “[a] dollar or two” to the “price usually paid for her [child’s] shoes.” However, taking on the role of a mother for extended periods will only cause women to feel discontent with their role. As a result of a mother’s dissatisfaction with her maternal duties, she will eventually want to completely escape from those responsibilities so she could satisfy her own desires. At the end of the story, Mrs. Sommers ardently wishes that the cable car could “go on and on with her forever,” meaning she wants to be perpetually free of her responsibilities. The dissatisfaction resulting from unjust societal norms placed on mothers can ironically disincentivize them from performing their maternal responsibilities. 

The unreasonable societal norms for a mother confine her femininity and sexuality as they are expected to think about their children at all times. Chopin uses symbolism to convey that society strips mothers of their womanhood when Mrs. Sommers’ impulsively spends her money on the silk stockings. The pair of silk stockings symbolizes a woman’s sexuality, as the act of buying the silk stockings was the catalyst to Mrs. Sommers’s realization of her personal desires as a woman. The desire for a woman to dress beautifully is shown when Mrs. Sommers, who is described as “faint” and “tired” earlier in the story, is suddenly “fastidious” about how the silk stockings fit her when she buys the stockings. The silk stockings are described as “luxurious,” as Mrs. Sommers has not belonged to the “the well-dressed multitude” because of her lack of fortune. The silk stockings replenish Mrs. Sommers’ repressed womanhood, which leads her to frivolously spend the money for herself instead of her family or children. Mrs. Sommers’s extravagant purchases may seem selfish if her circumstances are considered superficially. However, the core issue stems from society’s persistent demonizing of mothers who fulfil their sexuality, causing these repressed feminine desires to eventually override the motherly duties. Societal expectations of mothers restrict how they can think and act, ultimately stripping them of their femininity and sexuality and repressing their desires as a woman. 

Societal expectations of women, and especially mothers, are unreasonable and are often more of a detriment to their physical and mental health, their satisfaction with their roles as mothers, and their sexual and feminine desires. Despite the issues that societal expectations of mothers have caused, many people in today’s world still do not realize how imperative it is for a woman to be able to satisfy her roles as a woman as well as a mother. If the former role of a woman is sacrificed for her maternal duties, ultimately her health and the health of her family will be undermined.