Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Few Notes on Women's Liberation

One of the reasons Sister Dorothea struck such a chord with me is that what she said was so obvious. I immediately knew she was right. What shook me is that it took a woman who could never put herself in my place to tell me to do the right thing. Who in their right mind takes an hour and a half to leave to meet her family in the emergency room? You drop what you're doing and you go. Did I really need someone else to tell me that? I shouldn't have, but I had the weight of the women who had come before me on my shoulders.

From a pretty young age I knew my generation would be between a rock and a hard place. We grew up in the shadow of women like Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and Barbara Jordan. Women were burning bras and rallying in the streets in support of an equal rights amendment. Ladies, remember Helen Reddy's I Am Woman? I can still sing along. As a matter of fact, I heard it on the radio just the other day and shouted out the words right along with her. All those women scrapping and scraping so all of us could have the same opportunities as our male counterparts were constantly on our minds growing up. But, maybe aside from Dustin Hoffman, who starred in movies like Kramer v. Kramer and Tootsie and seemed to single-handedly be putting forth the notion that being in touch with your feminine side was okay, I don't recall a lot of movement on the other side of the gender gap. So, it didn't take a genius to figure out that while women were gaining the right to work outside the home, they would have to continue working within it too. In other words, all eyes would be on us to see if we could handle the balance, and not only would we have to handle it, we'd have to do it in heels and with kids tugging at our skirts. We would be the generation of women who would have to show those doubters who were watching that we were indeed capable. We would have to break through the door that had been cracked open and make a way for the generations to come after us. Problem with breaking through doors is that you tend to get bruised and full of splinters for your efforts.

Of my friends, I can think of only one who blatantly said she was going off to college to hunt for a husband. None of us were planning on being a homemaker as an occupation. We all dreamed of our respective careers, of being successful, and of living a fulfilling life doing something meaningful that also made a lot of money. But, at the same time, we also grew up listening to stories about Cinderella and Snow White. We all had dreamed of a Prince Charming, and played dress up wedding at some point. Maybe we didn't talk about it, but most of us would be lying if we didn't admit that we at least had a vague idea of what we wanted in a wedding, probably most of us before we had the actual groom to go along with it. I for one will admit here and now I picked the ring I wanted before I met Greg.

Add all that complexity to my father's work ethic, and it was almost a foregone certainty that I was not the best candidate for Mother of the Year. Only, on that particular point, I was too dense to see it. It's amazing to me now that I could have been prepared to struggle to find a life balance because of my gender, but not be smart enough to carry that thought over to how it would impact my children. My only conclusion is that I was too self-absorbed to see it.

I'm now about to say a very non-feminist thing: children change everything, and once you make the decision to have them, they should be your first priority. You put a life on this planet. Take responsibility for it. I don't mean give up your life entirely. My children would not have wanted that from me; it would have made me insufferably boring. But, they had a right to expect the best of me. And they should have been my primary job. Neither was true. For that reason, I support my younger friends waiting to have children. I worry that their families, many times parents who are my age, pressure them to have children almost before they finish walking back down the aisle. You want grandkids? Surely there's a Big Grandparent program out there somewhere. Let your adult children settle into their marriage and their careers and leave them alone until they are ready.

Finally, I think I need to say that I don't hold anyone responsible or to blame for the choices I made. Not my business partners, not my husband or his family, not the investors who bought our company. Not any of those feminists I watched growing up. They were influences to be sure, but I made my own choices. I owe people apologies, but not the other way around. Actually, I owe one person still living an apology. Marissa, I am very sorry I was not there for you. May you find your path as a woman in this world a little less complicated than mine, but however you find it, I will now be here to help you along.

No comments:

Post a Comment