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...