Monday, October 24, 2016

Miss Understood

Elizabeth is taking a Women's Studies class at school this semester and it is rocking our house.

Years ago when I was reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and The Women's Room by Marilyn French, I remember viewing everything in the world through that lens, without shades of grey. I lived in the house with a man who made fun of feminism and feminists openly, matter-of-factly; that mockery and derision in the house supported everything I was reading. The 1970s were infamous in my home for the laughter and mockery towards the likes of Gloria Steinem, Coretta Scott King, Bella Abzug, Roe vs. Wade, the Equal Pay Act, Billie Jean King, the Equal Rights Amendment, stories of sexual harassment, Betty Ford, Susan B. Anthony, even a show about a single, divorced, capable women called One Day at a Time.

There is an excellent scene in the book The Women's Room when the main character, after getting educated and being a successful, professional women, finds herself on her knees, cleaning the kitchen floor. She is astonished to find herself in that subservient position. I remember reading that scene in the 70s and swearing to never be that women. Now, of course, I know that sometimes my floors need cleaning and sometimes the being on my hands and knees on the floor thing is a great way to getting that done. 

On my floor. The one that I own. The one that I choose to clean.
One recent evening my daughter came into the kitchen where I was cleaning the floor at the same time I was having a conversation with my husband. Don't you feel oppressed down there on the floor, Mom, she asked.

I told her that no, absolutely not I do not feel oppressed. It's my floor and I want it clean. Furthermore cleaning my floor does not take away the fact that I am a highly educated woman. And the fact that her dad and I made decisions about what our roles would be in this house and we chose to share the chores. Tonight I was cleaning the floor while he did some laundry.

She was dissatisfied that I wasn't feeling oppressed.

Tonight we had some upheaval where, again, Elizabeth attributed some stuff to the pseudo-feminist principle that stuff isn't fair for her because she's a woman. I guess if you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail. She was quite resistant to considering anything not pointing to feminist oppression and she was quite inconsolable for a time. 

Jer and I talked with Ellie for a very long time tonight, helping her to understand economics, oppression, and many points of life. We encouraged her in many ways and showed her love and helped her to more fully understand. We accepted her rage. I get it, how frustrating unfair practices are. I'm proud as hell of her.

It is a long road, this work understanding life. I have high hopes that our conversations tonight helped her to see a bit more clearly...and helped her to feel more personally empowered.

Maybe she'll even help me with the floors one day...


  1. We can only hope that each generation builds on what we have achieved. Sadly, in the last decade (I partly blame celebrity culture) I believe the next generation of women have taken a huge step backwards from where our predecessors left us. I would rather hear of an overly passionate feminist than the sad things I have heard from women's mouths recently (think of all those female Trump supporters). I must say, I think Elizabeth does have a point to a certain extent. Like you Karen, I am 'highly educated' and from the generation that watched so many women either just devote themselves to their career or to their family. We are the generation who tried to find the balance. We tried to have the career and be good mothers, be equal partners with our husbands yet not emasculate them. An extremely tall order! We've done the best we could, Elizabeth hopefully will come to eventually recognise that. Yet, we have been trying to do all this with men who were not raised the way your John was. And I think this is the key to helping future feminists, bringing up our boys as feminists. This is truly the next big frontier for feminism! This is not to criticise your husband or mine, it just simply is true that most of the men of our husbands' generation were brought up to feel as failures if they are not the main breadwinners and can not live up to the stereotype of what is expected of a man. They are doing great too in helping us raise boys outside of this mold. However, let's be honest with ourselves, laundry is not equivalent to scrubbing the floors on your knees. Here's to hoping that if our daughter's ever have male partners, those men feel compelled to get down on their knees and scrub the floors side by side with them. Then we'll know that not only did we raise our girls right, but we also raised our boys to shed the social pressures of the patriarchy. Both your children show me that the future is bright! XX

    1. Sorry, I forgot to sign that! By the rantiness you probably guessed anyway ;) Happy Thanksgiving! Eugenia xx

    2. SCRUBBING floors? Hell no. I had a wash cloth.
      But I understand what you are saying, Eugenia.

      Elizabeth is living in a household where Jerry often cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner, where he and I switch off as main driver in the car, where I pull out my card to pay as often as he uses his, etc. Elizabeth is privileged in this way. The battle isn't in our home. It is in the world at large...and I know that she is going to battle it like a boss. <3

      SO proud of her.