Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hear Me Roar

Silly me.  To think that about a month or so ago I was considering setting this blog aside, thinking its work was done.  I wasn't taking into account the general election and all the crazies that come out of the woodwork (maybe myself included) during that time in the American process when we actually think we have a say and get to elect our President.  This cycle lacks some of the comedy of a Sarah Palin, but it has the serious drama of a still lagging economy, gas at $4.00 a gallon and two individuals squaring off who are both, from what I know, earnest enough people with good intent, but radically different viewpoints and constituents to please.  And it's got The War on Women.  I'll tackle that directly in a later post because, as it turns out, the biggest interaction I've been having with Pittsburghers lately - whom you'd think I'd be all warm and fuzzy with all the time - is over an article about Mitt Romney and women's issues, and suffice it to say, I'm not making friends fast, but I do have some staunch supporters, and I was highly intrigued by how the lines were drawn for and against my opinion.   But to really understand why I feel the way I do, or anybody does for that matter, you have to look at their background, so here's a little bit about mine.

I originally thought I would write about growing up female in the 70's, which I am, but I envisioned it as a collective experience.  Then when I sat down to actually write it, I realized that was hubris on my part.  I can't really speak for all women around my age.  So, this is my personal experience and observations about what was taking place during that crazy decade.

The 60's largely passed my little part of the world by.  Bozeman, MT was a college town true, but I remember one peaceful sit-in to protest the war in Vietnam and that's really it.  There was probably more going on than a six-to-nine year old girl really knew or cared about, but it was not the hotbed of radical change, that I can say with assurance.  However, change was happening and we saw some of it on the news.  We may have thought we were insulated from it, but my general impression is that by the time we hit the next decade, the social fabric we had all known was different and we were going to have to re-configure how all of us fit into this new world, most notably women.  Because the protests of the 60's hit all the markers, nothing was left out:  civil rights, the war, the environment, poverty, social mores and sexual freedom, and women's rights.

The Dick Van Dyke Show
I remember thinking at some point when I was around 17 that I was not particularly looking forward to being an adult because I was going to be part of the generation that had to hold the torch and define the rights the women before me had fought so hard for and I somehow knew, even then, that it would be a hard, messy process.  In thinking back on it now, it was our moms who probably really felt the jolt.  They began their journey as adults being told that Laura Petrie, the cute and perky wife of the main character on The Dick Van Dyke Show, was the ideal woman.  Smart, funny, and pretty, but dedicated to her man and raising their son.  By the time the next decade rolled around, the ideal woman was personified as Mary Richards, the never-married independent career woman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Ironically, they were played by the same person.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show

How hard it must have been for those women, who were raised to believe that they should attract a husband who could take care of their economic needs and that their role would be to manage the household and raise the kids.  Suddenly that must have seemed like it had been devalued.  Add to it a significant recession that forced many of my friend's moms back into the workforce to help make ends meet (my mother among them when my father was laid off when I was 11), and it must have been a confusing, stressful time.  My bet too:  many of the men in those households weren't too adept at changing their expectations about things either.  My dad didn't.  Mother still cooked, cleaned, did the laundry, the grocery shopping and was the primary parent.  All on top of working full time.

Nonetheless, I think she liked it.  I know she did actually.  She never left the workforce again until she officially retired, even though Dad once complained that she essentially made enough money to cover their taxes and economically it would be a wash if she quit.  It gave her a social outlet that she didn't have taking care of me (which was not a real challenge until I hit high school:  my nose was generally in a book and my largest sins at the time were constantly attracting stray animals like I was the Pied Piper and not wanting to clean my room).   Nevertheless, nothing came off her plate, things only got added.

For me, as the 70's rolled on, I noticed that, of all the doors that were trying to be opened for women, the people my age seemed to be walking through the door of sexual freedom most often.  It was easy, it was fun, and it all seemed harmless until the AIDS epidemic came along in the 80's and scared us all to the core.  I was reading articles in Glamour about how to handle your roommate when wanting to bring home men and in Cosmopolitan about the etiquette of the one-night stand.  And lots or articles in every women's magazine about increasing your sexual pleasure.  What I don't recall was a whole lot of articles about building lasting relationships.  That seemed secondary during the time known as the Me Decade.

I may sound like I am critical of that.  Not really.  I'm just kind of neutral actually looking back on it.  Getting to be the aggressor in sexual conquests and racking them up like we felt men had been doing for centuries may have made us feel empowered, but power in the bedroom wasn't translating necessarily to power in the boardroom, and economic parity, I would say now, is what we should have been focusing on.  And some women were.  There was a growing female presence in the halls of power:  women I grew up admiring like Barbara Jordan with that commanding booming voice of hers and Bella Abzug with her odd hats that I'm sure made men all over the country snigger, but everybody certainly knew who she was, so it was highly effective branding.  And other women were wielding a lot of power or at least becoming a real presence in all circles:  Gloria Steinem,  Leona Helmsley (who became notorious in the 80's, but was powerful and wealthy by the 70's), Jane Fonda (as activist, not sex kitten), Ursula K. Le Guin (if you don't know who she is, you're probably not a fantasy nerd like me), Yoko Ono (again, as activist - not the person who broke up the band), and so on.  And of course there was Princess Leia.  I may have dressed like Annie Hall, but, like most people my age, I wouldn't mind being an ass-kicking space princess like Leia!

You would think it was a heady time to be a woman.  And it was, but it wasn't necessarily easy either.  More on that next time...

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