“Girl”. “Boy”. Often
since before our birth we are assigned a “gender” and with this preassigned
gender come certain stereotypes and expectations. Girls are expected to grow up
to be loving mothers and take care of their households. Boys are expected to
become strong father figures who financially support their families. The short
story “Girl,” by Jamaica Kincaid displays the absurd stereotypes, expectations,
double standards and ridicule placed on girls. The determination of society to
force these predetermined standards on young girls often causes strained
familial relationships. Young girls are often groomed to be perfect wives and
are forced to accept these absurd stereotypes often at the hands of their
mothers, mothers who they themselves experienced the same double standards and
ridicule. Mothers who, in order to maintain tradition and the status quo, are
willing to subject their own daughters to these absurd stereotypes,
expectations, double standards, and ridicule.

The story begins
with what seems to be a mother giving her daughter basic tips on how to do some
simple household tasks. However, as the story progresses we see the mother
begin to change her attitude and her lessons are clear proof of the double
standard placed on young girls. “Try to walk like a lady and not like the slut
you are so bent on becoming” (Kincaid).
This highlights the ridiculous standard of how a young girl should walk in the
eyes of society. The mother insults and ridicules the daughter repeatedly
throughout the short story by calling her a “slut.”

The mother is
essentially shaming her daughter by calling her a slut. What type of mother
slut shames her own daughter? Is the devotion to tradition so strong that a
mother would ridicule and subject her daughter to the same double standard that
she was so clearly subjected to? The daughter remains silent during her
mother’s lessons and only speaks twice, once to defend herself and a second
time to ask a question. By the timing of the daughter choosing to speak it is
clear that she does not agree with the mother and her standards.

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The daughter
chooses to defend herself when the mother accuses her of something she has not
done. “Don’t sing benna in Sunday school” says the mother (Kincaid). “But I don’t sing
benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school” (Kincaid). It is clear the
daughter disagrees with the mother’s standards but out of either fear or
respect remains silent. She speaks only to defend herself, something the mother
dismisses entirely.

All the lessons
the mother gives the daughter throughout are lessons on household
responsibilities; laundry, setting a table, cleaning; as well as standards for
behavior. By the lessons the mother teaches her daughter, it is clear that she
is a very traditional woman. She is determined to drill these predetermined
gender stereotypes, standards and expectations into her daughter’s head and
uses ridicule as a way of making the daughter submissive. As the story progresses
the mother’s lessons change from household responsibilities to lessons on how
to love a man and on the woman’s place in the marriage.

The daughter
chooses to speak the second time to ask her mother a question regarding
instructions on squeezing bread, a question that clears upsets the mother. “But
what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread? You mean to say that after all
you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the
bread?” (Kincaid).
The question from the daughter can be seen as a sign of defiance to the
mother’s lessons. What did the mother mean by “the type of woman who the baker
won’t let near the bread?” (Kincaid).
It was evident that the type of woman that isn’t allowed near the bread are the
type of women that the mother had been warning the daughter against becoming,
the so-called “slut.”

It’s clear that
the daughter has already planned to step outside the predetermined standards
and stereotypes society and her mother have subjected her too, the standards
her mother has been pushing on her the entire time. The daughter has decided to
step out of the mold and rise above the ridicule, stereotypes, expectations and
standards that have been set upon her and other young girls since birth.
Kincaid uses the girl’s defiance to show that young girls can step outside the
standards and stereotypes, they can make their own decisions and they can make
of their lives what they want no matter what their mothers or society tells
them.

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