What is wrong with women today?
In many ways, our lives are easier than ever. Thanks to women's lib we have choices our mothers never had: we can work, stay home with our babies, or combine work and motherhood. We marry later in life, most of us have our own bank accounts and some control over our finances. This is something our grandmothers never dreamed of. Many women have maids, and for those of us who still do our own housework (like yours truly) a plethora of labor-saving devices makes housecleaning far easier than it used to be.
On TV the other day I even saw a disposable toilet brush: the ultimate in decadence for the spoiled homemaker. No need to get your hands anywhere near those icky bristles (how many of us ever touch the brush end, for God's sake?) - with the touch of a button you can send it off to a landfill somewhere so you don't have to be grossed out by the mere thought of contaminating your shell pink fingernails.
And today's men walk on eggshells. "Father Knows Best" is a thing of the past. Commercials and sitcoms feature wisecracking Moms and smart mouthed kids who always seem to make Dad the butt of their jokes. Men are bombarded with Hallmark moments tailor-made for our erstwhile supporting roles: Mothers Day, Valentines Day, anniversaries. After working 40-60 hours a week, the poor dears are still expected to pony up with cards, flowers, candy, and jewelry.
But in many homes the man still provides most of the filthy lucre: where is Breadwinner's Day? When does he get showered with gifts? Carey Roberts thinks the women's liberation movement has gone too far. Modern women have gone beyond demanding equal rights to a culture of entitlement:
Open up any woman’s magazine, and you’ll see advertisements that unabashedly appeal to self-entitlement. Everything from hand soap to resort vacations is peddled with tag lines such as, “Take time for yourself,” “You deserve it,” and “It’s all about you.”
Myrna Blyth, former editor of The Ladies Home Journal, knows this all too well. In her book Spin Sisters, Blyth remarks pointedly, “narcissism is an advanced evolutionary stage of female liberation. Me, me, me, means you’re finally free, free, free.”
I see far too much of that as I look around today's world. Modern women demand all the privileges traditionally afforded us during bygone years, but also want the new freedoms of a liberated era. There is a harshness, a stridency that grates on the nerves.
We don't seem to understand that those privileges were granted in recognition of a woman's special role in society. When women were placed on a pedestal (and also, to be honest, restricted in what they could achieve) they were also protected, cherished, and honored. Doors were held for them and rough language was restrained in their presence as befitted their delicate sensibilities. Modern-day feminists like Nancy Hopkins, however, still demand such defererence while paradoxically insisting men treat them as equals.
They want to have their cake and eat it, too.
To be fair, our new roles take some getting used to. I found it hard to embark on a full-time career after twenty years of being a full-time wife and mother. I knew things would change, but even I was unprepared for some of the changes I saw in myself.
I'd always been very patient and forgiving when I stayed at home. Now, stress and the power shift that comes with making quite a bit of money have made me less conciliatory, less patient, more cranky, more prone to take offense where once I would have extended the benefit of the doubt. In short, I found myself acting less like a woman and more like a man.
Ironically, this happened even though I invariably sympathized with my husband. For the first time in our marriage I truly understood why he was cranky at times. As a stay-at-home wife, I'd always rather thought him unreasonable when he was brusque for no reason. But though it hurt, I'd always been able to greet his rare growling with a smile and shrug it off.
Now I didn't even take it personally anymore - but at the same time, I was in no mood to put up with it. After all, I'd had a rough day at the office too! I no longer had that vast reservoir of patience to cope with one more trial at the end of the day when my defenses were down. I needed a wife to soothe my frayed nerves! Instead, I got a husband who was just as frayed around the edges as I was.
After a great deal of thought, I couldn't help reaching a few unpleasant conclusions. The first was that, though feminists overvalue traditionally male accomplishments like workplace achievements and devalue traditionally feminine skills like homemaking and people skills, things on the home front had run a lot more smoothly when someone (unfortunately me) was running it full-time. And there was no replacement for me.
Secondly, I was getting so wrapped up in the demands of my job (easy to do) that I was turning into a mini-version of my husband instead of what I wanted to be: me. Things I cared about weren't getting done.
It is a truth not universally acknowledged that women in the aggregate often have different priorities than men, whether we acknowledge them publicly or not. Of course, I can say that without bringing the harpies of political correctness down upon my head because I am not Larry Summers - he would be dragged though the streets in chains for saying the same thing.
While I am in some ways very driven at work, my family and home and my relationships with people also matter to me. The fact that women often earn less than men is also universally bemoaned, but those of us lucky enough to be married to a high-earning spouse have choices. We don't (although we may feel guilty for not doing so) have to make slaves of ourselves. We can balance the demands of work and home life if we choose to work. And if we choose to do this, we can be honest about the tradeoffs of so doing: less money, more freedom, a happier, less stressful existence.
In some ways, I think the women's lib movement got it all wrong. Too often they seem to be trying to make women into miniature cardboard cutouts of men instead of freeing women to be ourselves. Unfortunately, this would include letting us make choices that include staying home with our children, or even [shudder!] subliminating what we want at times to the needs of our loved ones, because sometimes that is what women do. It would include giving women permission to be...women, in all the variations from tomboys who never wear makeup to girly-girls who don't feel dressed without fake eyelashes, dangly earrings, and Lee Nails. To be ourselves for once, not some one-size-fits-all version of a liberated Rad-Feminista.
Women who choose to pursue their own priorities need to stop demanding the whole enchilada and bargain intelligently for what they want in life. For me, that meant negotiating a work-at-home schedule that makes my salary and time stretch much farther, though it limits my opportunities for promotion. But that is what I want: my choice.
And perhaps, as I found when traveling recently to Chicago, we need to be able to accept the courtesies offered by men gracefully. I was startled when standing on a crowded airport rental car shuttle in my black power suit and high heels when a young man in a baseball cap offered me his seat. I thanked him for his kindness and demurred, yet he insisted. Still surprised, I thanked him again and gave in. He had a little smile on his face the whole time.
When I got off the bus, I stopped and thanked him one last time. His small act of kindness made my day, and though I didn't need his seat (and certainly would never have asked for it), it was nice to know that chivalry isn't completely dead. I think he was happy too.
Sometimes it is good to be a woman in a world where men are still men.
cross posted at Villainous Company