Sunday, July 08, 2007
Feminism, Progress and Birthday Dreams
While my back has been healing, I've had the unexpected gift and luxury of time to "ponder."
Oh, I always make time to "think." "Pondering" however, is another matter all together. It's a bit like "mulling" (as in "mulling it over") which is about letting the flavor of things merge (as in 'mulled cider'), but it's not at all like "stewing" - which usually means something has made me hot with anger and I'm trying to figure out why that is - letting the tough pieces of meat break down with the heat of slow cooking, and the flavor of the vegetables and seasoning blend together - and how I should respond.
Pondering is a matter of turning over different thoughts in my head, setting them on this side and then the next, standing back a bit to see how they look alone as well as compared to say, another thought which I've also set on a different side.
It's a slow process which must never be rushed. Hence, it's quite a luxury, normally - well, for me anyway.
I've been pondering a conversation I had with my granddaughter, MacKenna Jane, who just turned six on July 5th. It made me consider some of the conversations I've had with my own grandmother on the same topic.
I had sent her a bouquet of flowers as part of her birthday celebration. She adores roses - red, thank you very much - and thinks daisies look particularly well next to them. Her favorite arrangement is three roses (one for her sister, Abby, one for her mother, and one for her)surrounded by daisies and mixed here and there with pink carnations.
She's quite explicit about this. Being a good Nana, I always comply. Exactly.
She called to say thank you wherein the following conversation occurred:
"Well, my darling, you are six years old today. My goodness!"
"I know, Nana," she sighed, sounding suddenly like a 40-something. "Time flies, right?"
"Have you given any thought to what you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.
"Well, um . . .yes, actually, I have," she answered.
"Well, um, most of all, I want to be kind. Mommy says the world doesn't have enough kind people, so I want to be kind. And generous. Daddy says that we should always try to be generous. You know . . . Do you know what generous means, Nana?"
"Well, I think I do, but why don't you tell me what YOU mean?"
"Well, it can mean that if you have two pieces of candy, and one kid doesn't have any, you should give one piece to that kid. But, it can also mean that, like, um, if you have food and one kid is very, very hungry, then you should give all your food to that kid because you know you can always get more at home."
"Its like sharing," she continued, "but sharing is what you have to do because your teacher or mother says you gotta. Being generous comes from your own heart. Do you understand, Nana?"
I was a bit startled that this six year old learned this concept, and seemed to have understood as well, so I stammered, "Well, yes, yes I do."
"Well, see? That's what I want to be when I grow up. Kind and generous."
"I think you already are, my love." I said, gulping down a huge, proud sob. "But, what do you want to be? I mean, HOW will you be kind and generous? Will you be a doctor or a lawyer or . . .?"
"Oh, Nana," Mackie laughed, "I'm only six years old! I have plenty of time to decide about that later!"
I don' know why I continued to be surprised by anything this child says, but her response stunned me into momentary silence, which Mackie heard loud and clear.
Rushing to my aid, she continued, "But, well, I already know ONE thing I want to be when I grow up. Do you know what that is?"
"No, sweetheart, why don't you tell me?"
"Well, I already know that I want to be a Mommy, just like my Mommy."
"Really?" I said, surprised at the slow rise of disappointment I could feel welling up in my stomach.
"Yes. I can't think of a better thing to be than to be a good Mommy, just like my Mommy. And then, you know what, Nana?"
"Then, I can grow up to be a really good Nana, just like YOU! And, you are the BEST Nana anyone could ever have!"
I swear to God, if Jesus had come to take me home in that very moment, I would have left this life a deliriously happy woman.
I've been returning to that sense of disappointment I initially felt when Mackie said her first "career aspiration" was to become a Mommy. It's what I've been pondering these past few days as the back spasms have subsided enough for me to think about something other than the pain in my back side, but not enough for me to concentrate and read for great lengths of time.
Yes, yes. I know. What's wrong with that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
You have to understand. I'm from the first generation of women who grew up after our mothers read Betty Friedan's revolutionary book, "Feminine Mystique," published in the early 60's. I grew up in a time when to insist on the title, "Ms." was risking being called a "feminist" - which was just about on the same level as being called a "communist" - and earn the bearer a similar fate of social ostracism.
Some of my children's earliest memories are of helping to organize "Take Back the Night" demonstrations and marches after a woman had been raped in our community. This was an act of boldness so unthinkable as to have astonished my grandmother and which continues to amaze my mother, both of whom considered rape an eventuality in every woman's life.
Of course, like any movement, there were some over-reactions. Not every man who opened a door for a woman was a "male chauvinist pig." Getting married and having children did not mean that you were "subservient to the patriarchy." Allowing your name to change at marriage did not mean that you had been "seduced by the dominant male paradigm."
Let's be clear, here. Friedan's meaning of the "feminine mystique" was the idealized image of femininity which encouraged women to define themselves to the narrow role of housewife and mother. It was considered noble for a woman to forgo her education and career aspirations in service of "her man" and her children.
This denied women the development of their own identities, leading to the unhappiness Friedan described as "the problem that has no name," and contributing, among other things, to the rise of the "baby boom" and the development of suburbia.
What emerged from this original small circle of thought was what became the social tidal wave known as "The Feminist Movement." There are those, like me, who rejoice in the changes brought in with this tide. Others, however, still can not utter the words, except through clenched teeth.
Almost from the very beginning, there has been a backlash to the gains made for women in our culture. As Flo Kennedy is remembered as saying, "If we really had come a long way, no one would be calling us 'baby'."
Some reading this will not be too old to remember "The Total Woman," by Marabel Morgan. It was the Christian woman's response to the changes and challenges which came with feminism, instructing women on "how to make your marriage come alive."
A mostly vapid little book, Morgan's approach was one third common sense and the rest "Stepford Wives." Her premise was that the only thing any man wants is a woman whose entire reason for being, her sole purpose in life, the only focus of her life's work is to be a good wife to him and a good mother to "his" children.
You know, there may be men out there like that, but . . .no, wait . . .You know what? There are. . . .men like that. And, women who are married to them.
There are quite a few Blogs popping up these days, written by intelligent, well educated women, who love Jesus and their husbands and families who think that the only way to be a good Christian wife and mother is to sacrifice her career and aspirations to the higher vocation of family life.
There are actual websites like "Ladies Against Feminism" with helpful articles on "Humility" and "Thoughts on Masculine Leadership and Feminism." There are actual pictures of women who have made their own "modest" dresses (no slacks for these feminine followers of Jesus, oh no!), with pictures of them going through their day, doing the laundry, making the bed, doing crafts.
Other sites are more of the same, "Joyful Momma," and "Family Renewal Ministries," - all chock-a-block full of helpful information and support for "the little woman."
There is one woman, an Episcopal priest married to an Episcopal priest, whose writing sometimes flat out scares the BeJesus out of me. She is pregnant with their fourth child, the youngest of whom is not yet one year old. They are using "Natural Family Planning" - letting "God decide" on how many children they will be blessed with and resigning themselves to gladly take whatever God gives them, giving God the praise and glory for "his plan for their life".
She gets lots of support from women who have made similar choices, all giddy with what they describe as "Christian love" and the "Holy Ghost". Everyone seems positively ecstatic about this new pregnancy while this poor woman writes about how she doesn't have the energy to clean her house or herself or her children whom, she muses with mild curiosity, might get their feet cut on the cereal bowl one of them smashed this morning which she simply hasn't had the inclination to clean up.
The women commenting on this have nothing but giddy high praise for her. I can only read so much before I have to reach for some dry crackers. Apparently, you can experience "morning sickness" by proxy.
Hear me clearly: If this is her choice, God bless her. I would defend to the death her absolute right to choose this life for herself and her family. Based on what she writes, however, I have a hard time believing that's the really case. It's all about not having any control ("God's will" and "God's plan") and it's all written with an undeniable and unmistakable undercurrent of hostility.
Well, there's an ancient expression known among those who live and work in the desert: "Trust in God, and tie your camel tight."
Perhaps you understand now why my stomach clutched when MacKenna revealed her Birthday Dream of one day being a Mommy.
What these women don't understand is that the goal of feminism is not just about the advancement of women or "the feminist agenda".
The ultimate goal of feminism is the liberation of the human spirit.
My grandmother, MacKenna's great-great grandmother, knew this when she fled her small village in Portugal to come to this country to start a new life. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm willing to bet that her paternal great-great grandmother fled the (not-so) Great Potato Famine in Ireland for much the same reason.
MacKenna's mom is a psychologist. She earns her PhD in May of 2008. She works with incarcerated women and their children, trying to help them rebuild their lives after their release from the penitentiary, prevent recidivism, and establish healthy relationships with their children and their families.
And, she's a great mom and wife and daughter. Indeed, she's an amazing human being. I'm obviously enormously proud of her.
She is part of the dream my grandmother had for her children and her children's children. Indeed, I think her dream is one that is shared by many women all over the world.
That dream is that every child that comes into this world is wanted and loved.
That dream is that every woman who becomes a mother does so by her own free will.
That dream is that every woman has a choice about how she will live her life - including being the very best Mommy in the whole world.
As I have pondered these things, I have come to believe that MacKenna's birthday dream has its priorities in exactly the right order: First: That everyone in the world is kind and generous. Because the world is often cruel and we need more kind and generous people.
Parenthood? Well, it's not for everyone, but MacKenna makes the point that if you know yourself as a child who is loved and wanted and treasured, why not continue that great legacy in another generation?
And one's life work? Well, that choice is made with equal care and consideration and over time.
I can't think of a more noble aspiration to have at six years old.
Or, any age, for that matter.
Well, my final words to MacKenna on her 6th birthday were these, taken from the wit and wisdom of feminist author Faith Wittlesley.
"Just remember," I said to MacKenna Jane, "that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astair did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.
MacKenna giggled, "Nana, you're so funny."
"Yes, I suppose I am."
"Yes, my love."
"Umm .. . who is Ginger Rogers?"
"Ah child, now that's another story for another day."