Let’s be clear. We’ve had this debate before, and it just leaves us with bad feelings. What is the future of feminism? Why do we women always want to be so darn likable?
The latest slant to this round of “Pin the blame on the woman,” comes from Sheryl Sandberg in her new book, Lean In. Granted she is speaking to a certain class of women; those on their way up the business school food chain, graduates of the Ivy League with plenty of support and mentorship. She wants little girls who were previously called “bossy” in preschool, to be acclaimed for leadership skills instead. I get that. The Bride’s preschool teacher pulled me aside one day and gently asked me to talk with her about her tendency to “lean over” to her seatmate’s art work and offer help and criticism. She was supposed to adhere to the rules, only care about her own work. Harumph.
What was i supposed to do when her Grandma Ada offered her money whenever the elementary teacher checked the box that read something like, “Always raising her hand, too talkative.” Don’t you know children were to be seen and not heard, that being quiet and still was the goal? Things hadn’t changed much from my Sacred Heart days of carefully folded hands on the desk in fear of a smack to the knuckles. Sandberg stresses the importance of choosing the right life partner, and wants you to ask, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”
I was talking to Grandma Ada about this and she said “Oy.” The day before she had attended a lecture with a man talking about his philanthropic work and his travels around the world. Ada was sitting next to his wife, and asked her the loaded, mind-boogling question of the century – “Do you work?” Now my MIL received her PhD at age 65 and is still counseling patients at age 88. Softening the question she added “outside the home” and the young woman (who was my age) turned to her and said. “No.” She took care of the children and the home so that Mr Wonderful could do what he did…well she didn’t phrase it that way exactly.
Let’s be clear. I graduated high school 3 years after Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. She too was criticized for speaking to the well-educated, suburban woman. Men had returned from WWII and women went back into their homes and felt something was missing. This growing discontent sparked the second wave of feminism, after all we had the vote, what more could we want? Young women today are surprised to learn that we couldn’t wear pants on the streets of Boston, that we had to get a credit card in our husband’s name, that we were asked how fast we could type at every job interview. That we couldn’t even get a prescription for the new wonder drug…the birth control pill, unless we were married. We wanted our daughters to have it all, and now that they can, some are just saying, “No Thanks!”
Along with the increase in pay, they may not want to sacrifice time with their families. Many of the Bride’s Duke alums have opted to stay-at-home with their children, for now. Lucky for them, they can afford to do this. When my daughter was considering her medical specialty, the ability to have more time at home for her future family was a factor. I wonder how many men consider this when they choose a speciality? And just why is this a crime, leaning out for awhile? These women with a full-time 24/7 staff at home (nanny,cook,maid), a loving husband who does laundry, should not be saying to our daughters, “Look at me, I went back to the office 2 weeks after my baby was born.” Well la dee (expletive) da!
It’s about time for feminism’s third wave. Equal pay for equal work, it’s not really too much to ask. If working women, from the cleaning staff, to hospital corridors, from teachers to the board room keep pushing the envelope, if they learn how to negotiate for family leave along with pay hikes, if they keep raising their hands that glass ceiling will be shattering all over this country.