“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..."
Tuesday was Arbogast feast day. I was so busy, I forgot to celebrate. I almost always forget. You'd think I'd remember, because the 21st is also my father's birthday, a memory rich with vats of homemade ice cream and plates heavy with thick-sliced tomatoes. oh well.
Instead I will give a nod to my 5th great grandfather, Michael who, with his wife Elizabeth, started up the Arbogast clan that arose from Virginia. Michael immigrated from Cologne, Germany where he was born in 1734. He arrived on the Speedwell in Philadelphia at age 17, parents and siblings all dead, and threaded his way through the big mountains west of the Shenandoah Valley to Highland County in 1758. These days, Arbogast is known as a "good valley name" and the graveyards are full of Arbogast tombstones, unlike Indiana.
Immigrants from Germany, England and Ireland (plus a few folks wooed from Pennsylvania) were the ones who felled the trees in Virginia to made way for the farms, and to pay off their passage. He was naturalized in 1770, patented 130 acres there in 1773 and added more acreage over the years. He married a natural born Virginian and fathered two rarely noted daughters and seven oft-noted sons (several of whom served in the American Revolution).
He died at age 79. In his will, he left his wife "one-third possession of at the time of my decease for and during her natural life time and her to keep possession of the dwelling house where in I live during the said period of her life and the adjoining to said house and all the under of following articles: to-wit, her bed and furniture, one pot, one baskin, one dish, two plates, two spoons, one fleish fork, one laddle, one kettle, one coffee pot, two teacups and saucers, one set of knives and forks, lisc (?) tin cups, two chairs, one large chest, one spinning wheel, one wool wheel, one pair wool cards, one pair cotton cards, the table in the house, all her books, her saddle and bridle, one tin bucket, three coolers for milk, two head sheep, two of my best milk cows, one horse creature, of not less value than fifteen pounds currant money, all her clothes, and the mulatto girl named Nancy."
I hope things worked out okay for Nancy.
My 4th great grandfather, David Arbogast. and his brother Michael, and "their heirs from them" were excluded. Maybe they had already received their shares when emigrating on to the east, or maybe there just wasn't enough room in Virginia for all of those big Arbogast personalities. Michael moved over the mountain to establish Arbovale, now part of West Virginia. David moved to Indiana, leaving his twin brother behind.
David, who with his wife Elizabeth had five sons and four daughters, died at 109 years of age in Andersonville, in Posey Township - about two hours away in the northwest corner of Franklin County. Originally known as Ceylon, was laid out in 1837 by Fletcher Tevis, and renamed in 1849 after Thomas Anderson, a tavern owner. David was living in Virginia when he was 49, and it looks like all the kids moved with him, so the next 50 years surely were interesting.
I was shocked to discover, via a May 15 article in the NYT, that the stereotype for solo travelers is someone who is “single and looking,” on a dating holiday. Really? Of course, people would only go on vacation by themselves if they were looking for sex, or perhaps marriage! Not looking for the brilliant onion domes of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, not yearning for a perfect croissant in street-side cafe, not hoping to wander for a day in acres of gardens. No, we’re out touring the world hoping to get lucky, to cure ourselves of the singleton disease. This is news to me and the all the other people that make up the one in five people who traveled on their own on their most recent leisure trip, mostly women.
The Visa study cited noted that solo traveling was done mainly by “Women Wanderers” under age 45 (rats, I was hoping for a good showing for the over-60 crowd), and half were professionals from China and India. Again, down come crashing myths. What? Women from restrictive, third-world countries are professionals and they travel by themselves more than women from the USA?
The most frequent response I have to my solo womanly world wanderings is, “Oh you are so brave to go by yourself.” I have a hard time knowing what to say back. By nature, I am not a joiner. I live by myself and have for most of my life. So what, I’m supposed to hunker down with a tour group or cozy up with someone for a couple weeks of tight quarters? I’ve tried it, and learned. I don’t want to spend my vacation negotiating with someone else about when we go where, why. I don’t find the constant chatter of a companion a good sound track for exploration. Interjecting worry about whether or not my pal having a good time, is an extra layer of stress I prefer to leave behind.
So far, Steve and I are able to travel together peacefully, but his companionship is not a requirement for me to go on a trip.
I just returned from a ten-day solo adventure to Russia. A place shrouded in media myths; a country with a remarkable history and role in today’s world churn, it provided a double whammy to folks’ amazement about me traveling alone. “Ew, why Russia? By yourself? You are so brave!”
Oh Fiddlesticks! I‘m not brave; I’m a well-researched, curious traveler. I felt I needed to get to Russia if I was ever going to. Emotions are running high out there in the rarefied clouds of global politics, who knows when the doors would close and I would miss the chance to walk through palaces, past onion dome Orthodox churches, down blocks and blocks of beautiful buildings while thinking about Mongol Hordes, serfdom, the siege of Leningrad, the great social experiments of socialism and communism? Miss finding bowls of borscht or Uha fish soup, plates of pickled herring, or piles of Pelmeni dumplings stuffed with mushrooms? Miss immersing myself for days in art, losing myself in a night of flawless, extravagant, and passionate ballet? Miss wandering through sophisticated shops while cosmopolitan, stylish women stride tall beside me? No way!
There were hard moments during the trip but I’m not sure any of them would have been better if someone else was there. In fact, I finally settled on a very Zen-like, do-one-thing concentration to get myself around in the enormous public spaces and the particularly vexing Moscow metro. I found time slipped away, paring down my vacation to-do list with the velocity of a sharp Soviet scythe. I’m glad I didn’t have to argue with anyone about where I was or what was getting chopped off the list.
Here are a couple essays from my days there.
May 2 St. Petersburg: Go with the flow
Riffs inspired by books, articles, and winds that sweep into my life.