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Societal Expectations

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Societal expectations for acceptance. The way individuals choose to carry themselves in everyday life is affected by societal expectations. These societal expectations are sort of an unofficial guideline by which individuals live their lives. Whether it’s gender roles or just wanting to be accepted by others, people feel the need to “live” according to these guidelines. As time progresses so do the “guidelines” and if the individuals cannot keep up with these norms, they can be left behind or deemed as an outcast. Gender roles seem to be the most common. From the day a child is born societal norms are placed on them. For example a young boy’s room will be probably be blue and filled with sports items, while a young girls room will be pink and be filled with dolls and a play kitchen set. These small details, along with expectations, begin to shape their role in society. “Barbie Q” by Sandra Cisneros is a perfect example of societal expectations. In this short story Cisneros introduces two young girls who are playing with their Barbie dolls. The girls go into great detail when describing their dolls and the outfits the dolls are wearing. One can conclude that the girls are poor when the main character tells the reader that they only have one outfit for their dolls. They even had to make a dress from a sock because they could not afford other outfits. This is further illustrated when the girls begin describing how they will play with the dolls. Everyday the two girls play out the same story with the two Barbies fighting over an invisible Ken doll. One day when walking through a market, the young girls discover a set of dolls that have been damaged by a fire in the toy warehouse. Although the dolls are not clean and still smell of smoke, the girls do not mind. As long as they can dress their Barbies with the outfits and continue to play with them they will be happy. The main character in Barbie-Q, the narrator, is the young owner of one of the Barbie dolls. She pays very close attention to detail when describing both of the girls’ Barbies. When telling the other girl how her Barbie should act, dress and interact with the other Barbie, she is acting out society’s expectation. This is evident when the narrator tells the other girl “Your Barbie is roommates with my Barbie, and my Barbie’s boyfriend comes over and your Barbie steals him,”(Cisneros 244). The Barbies will be fighting over a boyfriend. The young girl most likely acting out from what she sees in her environment. The girl also states, “Because we don’t have money for a stupid looking boy doll when we’d both rather ask for a new Barbie outfit”(Cisneros 244). From this line one can assume that the girl is more worried about getting another outfit, and making her Barbie doll look the best it can look, rather than getting another doll to play with. These girls are less fortunate and don’t have enough money, and this may be the reason why she states this. Another reason she may say this is because she wants her doll have the newest outfit and look the best it can. Overall the girl’s actions and way she speaks all seem to be a result of what society has taught her. The main character places a lot of value in her dolls and portrays them as perfect beings. As she plays with them and describes them, she is thinking about her own self-image and what society is expecting out of women. It taught her how women should dress, act and the type of life they should live. A Barbie doll is considered to be the “perfect girl” to many people in society. Barbie dolls have the perfect hair; make up, outfit, smile, etc. However, in reality, people are flawed. Towards the end of this story, the young girl mentions all of the dolls’ defects after the warehouse fire– a melted foot and smelly hair, but these imperfections do not change the Barbie dolls’ purposes. The doll can still be dressed up and played with. Therefore, while society places these stereotypes on how women should dress and act in the “perfect way,” in the end the young girl realizes that no matter how many physical imperfections a person has, it does not change who they truly are.
At the end of the story the girl in “Barbie-Q”, comes to the realization that one must fight these societal expectations. People may often wonder what the “We”, or society in this case, will do. “Barbie Q” and an essay by Amit Marcus can be used as examples of how someone will deal with these societal expectations. Amit Marcus states in his essay, “Dialogue and Authoritativeness in “We” Fictional Narratives, that “We” fictional narratives usually challenge the norms and values accepted by the group. In “Barbie Q” by Sandra Cisneros this can be seen. The narrator seems to challenge the “norm” of what is expected out of women in society by the use of “we.” Although this short story brings forth most of the problems associated with societal expectations, it also helps give insight on how people should deal with these expectations. Marcus describes three types of “We” in his essay, the authoritative, internally persuasive, and disorienting discourse. “Barbie Q” takes on the authoritative discourse and creates rigid boundaries between the discourse of the speaker and the discourses of others. The authoritative “we” fictional narrative is either unconditionally accepted or completely rejected. In the case of “Barbie Q”, the young girl dictates by using “we”, and her words are unconditionally accepted. Despite not being written in first person plural, it cannot escape the “we” discourse due to its subject matter. The narrator gives her thoughts and no other character speaks throughout the story. She controls the situation when she speaks of the Barbies and how they will be playing with them. No other character’s insight is given and it is assumed that the “other” accepts the information given.
The authoritative “we” fictional narrative facilitates the author in making a point about women and societal expectations in the public world. It is targeted to the public world in order to “challenge the norms and values accepted” by most individuals regarding women. The use of authoritative “we” makes the short story more powerful by using the “we” to represent all women. The narrator’s idea of how women should act and dress is represented through the Barbie dolls. She holds the Barbie dolls to a very high standard of perfection. When looking at the Barbie doll she sees what is expected of her and this is in direct relation to what society expects of women. The narrator feels this is the image that she will need to live up to, until she has the realization at the end of the story. When she sees the damaged Barbie doll she accepts her own identity and disregards societal expectation of what she needs to be. It is here that we see the “we” go against the norm. The same “norm” that she held herself to be is no longer there. After reading the short story, “Barbie Q” by Sandra Cisneros and the essay by Amit Marcus, one could conclude that no matter what society dictates as “normal”, the individual will always have the choice to create their own identity and do what they want.
The question many wonder is why do we live according to these expectations? Of course many of the expectations such as gender roles, are done unconsciously. Individuals have been put into these roles their whole lives, so it’s almost second nature to them to act and think the way they do. Not everyone however unconsciously follows these guidelines. Humans are naturally social beings and are seeking acceptance from others. This may be a reason why many feel the need to follow these expectations. Take for example the poem “Constantly Risking Absurdity” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti for example. Ferlinghetti opens the poem by saying “Constantly risking absurdity and death whenever he performs above the heads of his audience” (1-5). He is comparing the life and work of an acrobat to that of a poet. He explains the risk of falling and failing. To the acrobat it would be the risk of falling to his death but to the poet it would be the risk of pouring his heart and soul on paper with the hope that others will be able to relate or see it in an inspiring way. “Death” refers to the audiences failing to understand. In reality both the acrobat and the poet are looking for the audience’s approval and they would go to great lengths to achieve it, even if means looking stupid and absurd. The poet’s and the acrobat’s real purpose of entertainment is for personal reasons. In both cases if the audience is pleased then both the poet and the acrobat have been successful and accepted. The lines “For he’s the super realist who must perforce perceive taut truth” (19-21) best exemplifies the search for the truth to life’s inner meaning. Individuals are on a constant journey to the truth of one’s self. On the journey of inner self-truth one will always find obstacles and dangers on that road. From the rope the reader can see the risks the acrobat and poet are taking to see the truth about humanity. One wrong move and they become vulnerable to other’s judgment and disapproval. Ferlinghetti suggests that one’s success is measured by the audience’s approval. If the audience approves then he will have achieved the “truth” and “beauty”. The “truth” is his own personal understanding of humanity and the “beauty” is the audience’s understanding and appreciation. If he has received their approval and understanding then nothing stands between his personal goals and achievements. In “Constantly Risking Absurdity” it can be said that the poet and the acrobat symbolize the individuals in society and the audience represents society in general. Individuals on a daily base live their lives based on societal expectations and seem to be looking for this acceptance from others. In “Barbie Q”, the girl has also conformed to these societal expectations. The narrator and her Barbie doll are so closely linked that their identities begin to come together as one. The Barbie represents her in a way and according to the narrator if the Barbie doesn’t look its best it will be rejected. The same goes for the individual in society, if they do not act or look a certain way they will most likely be seen as an outcast.

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