“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—Is this all?’”
Today is the birthday of Betty Friedan, born in Peoria, Illinois (1921). Her thoughts, like the one above, put forth in 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, roused women into action for equality, challenging the widely shared belief that fulfillment had only one definition for American women: housewife-mother. Friedan was right about the depth and breadth of women's dissatisfaction. The book sold three million copies in three years.
Women had been discouraged from working during the depression to give men jobs. But during WWII they flooded into jobs and college slots vacated by men gone to fight. They were independent. They made good money. They had future careers. They made airplanes, ships, munitions, and tanks. They held technical and scientific jobs for the first time. But all that was lost upon the return of soldiers when the fear of another depression forced women out. It was promoted as the patriotic thing to do, but it decimated women’s lives as they were systematically relegated to pink-collar jobs in law, medicine and business or no jobs at all.
Everybody knows how the brilliant Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t get a job as a lawyer. But what I remember was my mother’s bitterness over being shunned by other women for working in our family flower shop. And the woman who married my stepfather after my mother died: she was forced out of medical school to make room for returning veterans and had to accept a career as a high school biology teacher when she wanted to be a doctor.
But by the 1960s, the nearly psychotic and bored white women of the suburbs (yes, the same women courted by today’s politicians) tossed aside Tupperware, frozen dinners, and tranquilizers to put their racist, Bardot-draped, shoulders into righting the listing ship of women’s equality. They wrote books, marched in the streets, launched legislation, started magazines, ran for office. And strategically excluded women of color, just like the old suffrage days.
That oft-scorned movement put women in congress, allowed us to have birth control pills and the right to terminate unwanted pregnancy, credit and houses in our own names, admission to top-drawer universities, and careers beyond menial labor. It was the second wave of feminism.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 stipulates that women receive the same pay as men for the same work. We're still working on that. And working on even allowing women to hold equal jobs.
Stifling attitudes toward women are woven into our culture, like racism. And for women of color, it’s a double whammy.
I have deeply pondered my own racism. From my late teens on, I did everything I could think of to reject the racism. But recently, I was trashed on social media as a racist. At first, I protested. Not ME! But then I realized my trasher was right. I’m racist. I can’t help but be racist. And I have to own up to it because it helps me see my privilege, helps me understand the anger of those who look at me in disgust.
This has led me to believe I am also riddled with bias against women, even though I am one. Even though I experienced decades of sexist slap-downs, forged radical non-Hollywood relationships with men, clawed my way as a single mother to fairly respectable positions, and pride myself on my feminist views.
I can’t help it. It’s buried in me. Like racism, it’s part of my foundation.
I was taught. By my family, my teachers, my bosses, my friends. By the lack of female authors, artists, scholars, or innovators available from which to learn. I can fool myself—like I did in the 1980’s, thinking I was no longer a racist because I forgot a Black friend’s color—that I’m not sexist because I have tried hard to unlearn what I was taught.
It’s hard to excavate my biases. Almost impossible to see them. They lie hidden in my dark, irrepressible judgement of women who have chosen paths I deem inadequate—dissing Melania Trump’s plastic-surgery-modeling-rich-guy route when I should just try walking a mile in her ambitious, sky-high stilettos. They seep into my own language, that I must vigilantly correct—calling Joe Biden, Biden; but calling Kamala Harris, Kamala.
Beyond me, out in the larger world, the third wave of feminism is blossoming. I Googled “feminist activists 2020,” and first up came a link to an October 2020 post on Mashable, “6 feminist activists to follow on social media.” Right away, I’m heartened. The women are all colors, shapes, sizes, ages, and religions.
They are probably racist and sexist too, but I’m following them. Closely.
And hoping, as this young woman points the way for us all:
"...And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside..."
The cheerful slant of spring sunlight is coming through the kitchen window. It plays across the covered mound of bread dough rising in my well-scratched, old Pyrex glass mixing bowl. The rest of the afternoon will be punctuated with kneading, punching down, and patiently waiting for rises. By oiled black cast iron pans. The aroma of baking bread will fill the house as the sun sets.
This sudden bout of bread making follows a week of industry. Painting, mending, cleaning, pruning, and weeding with great determination and gusto.
Now I’m trying to resuscitate my blog.
You might think it’s corona virus hunkering.
But it’s not. This is my emergence. Not hunkering at all. The tackling of chores put off after months of hunkering to do another rewrite of my new book, Random Resistance. This version, 3.5, required eight months of hunkering.
Since I started this novel in June of 2015 (a month before Leave the Dogs at Home was published by IU Press, a year before I had surgery and radiation for breast cancer) there have been several manuscript hunkerings.
The first draft was finished in a daze from a concussion after being knocked silly by a distracted driver in a left-turning car bowled me over as I was crossing the street on an October evening in 2016. I thought that draft was magnificent, at least while I was writing it. Later I realized, thanks to some honest readers, that it was anything but. Still, all but one reader thought idea had merit; it was worth the slash and burn of total revision. Worth the hunkering.
I have loved the book. Hated it. I have put it aside. Gave up writing all together for a bit.
I have taken travel breaks. To Istanbul and Athens. To Russia, China, and Europe. To Paris twice with my daughter. Paused to help my sister when she had a couple of strokes. Sagged while saying goodbye to my dogs Lila and Diggity, my cat Cirrus.
Put my all of the rest of my life aside to work on it. Gave up all of my other writing to write it. Papered my office with diagrams of the story arc and post-it note character pathways. Lived with winding stacks of books and thick files. Renewed subscriptions to newspaper archives many times.
I’m not complaining. I like myself best when I’m writing. When I’m a crazy woman up until three in the morning, wandering, writing, researching, muttering, rewriting. My head full of the story, the images, the music, the passion. Dreaming about it. Eating it. Breathing it. Writing it.
And now Random Resistance is in the hands of an able editor, releasing me to finally do my reservoir of neglected chores as the rest of the world hunkers down.
Random Resistance is a story about the time that made this time.
Here's a glimpse:
When an impassioned protester calls a Chicago abortion clinic volunteer escort, Connie Borders, by name, tells her he knows where she lives, and threatens to expose her of being a murderess, she foolishly shrugs him off. She knows all about protest drama from when the outrageous hippies and Vietnam protesters were making headlines. When Connie left conservative Indianapolis to hitchhike to California to be part of the coolness that was sweeping the country. Back when abortion was illegal.
There were just a few short years when people truly believed they were going to change things for the better. Believed in their music as a social binder. Together they could stop the war, make abortions legal; pull communities out of poverty. bring real equality to our society. There was a real sense of optimism and hope that the country, the world, was on the cusp of a new system of love, trust, and brotherhood. We talked about eco systems, and you are what you eat.
But we all know that was a pipe dream. Life went on pretty much as it had before. A few things changed, but the big picture did not. The hippies cut their hair and got mortgages.
And today, we are so far, far away from the ideals of equality and peoplehood. So polarized that we can’t even agree to hunker down together.
It makes me want to hunker down. Except, I’m loving the freedom from hunkering.
I know that the manuscript will come back soon from the editor. Marked up. Full of questions. A whole new season of slashing and burning before me. A demand for me to turn my back on spring, and probably summer too, and hunker down to get version 4.0 done.
A big part of me wants to resist. To skip ahead in my life, go play. I have other projects. Trips to plan and take. La la la.
But, I’ve got too much invested. When Random Resistance returns to me, I will hunker down.
Riffs inspired by books, articles, and winds that sweep into my life.