Friday, December 11, 2015
Are You Susan B. Anthony or the Other One?
I have no memory of my mother vacuuming.
I remember her folding laundry, and the smell and sound of clothes churning and roasting in the coin-operated machines at the laundromat.
I remember when she cooked, because it didn't happen very often. She made a pork-chop thing with lemons three or four times; eggplant parmesan a few times; and, for two or three Thanksgivings meals, lasagna.
I bring this up not to suggest anything about my childhood one way or the other. I was thinking about from the point of view of being a grown-up...Specifically, of being a wife and a mother who vacuums frequently and cooks constantly, with regular mid-week breaks at Burger King or Qdoba.
My son will have loads of memories of his mother in the kitchen. He will be doing his homework, and I will be cooking; or he will be practicing piano, and I will cooking; or he will be playing on his X-box, and I will be cooking.
So, there's a variance, a discrepancy, a deviation, a divergence...between my adult life and my mother's. I'm trying to figure out why.
My mom is a feminist, but so am I. I used to think that she and her cohort were the first feminists ever, before I realized Simone de Beauvoir's THE SECOND SEX had been published 10 years before Betty Friedan's THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE.
Somehow, I thought that as a feminist, my mom's generation would win all these rights and privileges for women and that I would be the beneficiary.
But, I still wasn't paid nearly as well as my male counterparts at work.
I still experienced sexual harassment as a teenager and young woman.
And somewhere along the way, how the hell this happened I don't now, I became the primary housekeeper and cook in my family.
My mom still doesn't vacuum or cook. They pay a lady to do clean. (Note: A woman is still cleaning the house, but at least she's getting paid for it.)
My mom doesn't cook or clean and she rarely shops for clothes.
What does she do with all of that time?
She reads. She reads the New York Times, the local paper, the New Yorker, and a variety of books, including very good books, pretty good books, and murder mysteries. Now and then she'll reads something enormously taxing, like Proust or Bleak House, just to prove she can.
My mother lives with women. I live with men.
My mom has no pets. I have at least ten.
I wasn't supposed to be Betty Crocker. I prefer Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Susan B. Anthony said she never wanted to get married or have a family and become a complete drudge. She didn't. She ran around the country free and unfettered, demanding that women get the vote.
Elizabeth Cadish Stanton stayed home and cooked and cleaned; when she got a moment, she sat down at the kitchen table and hammered out a pamphlet or a speech.
We're like them, my mom and me; Mom visits her friends all over the country, and finishes the New York Times; I stay home, and cook and clean, and in my spare time, I write.
What if, instead of being the beneficiary of the feminist movement, I had been among the first American feminists..? What if I had stopped wearing make-up and shaving my legs? What if I had read more dangerous books...(Okay, to be honest, I've read quite a few dangerous books...more than my share.) But what if I had marched in the streets for equal rights and equal pay? What if, instead of a book club, I belonged to a women's group intent on mutual empowerment and consciousness raising?
Would that make me more free?