If someone were to try and gather all the women in the country and have feminist convention on the left and a more “traditionalist” convention on the right, I would probably decide which doors to pass through based upon the menu – who had the best desert. Or swag. I’ll join anyone’s club for a free piece of published material. I’ve never been real partial to either group and will generally find stance opposing the current conversation partner simply to keep it interesting. I used to sit much further to one side, but exposure to multiple voices has led me to be a very content fence sitter.
A recent read plus life situations has really led me to a new appreciation of these voices. I’ve been raised in an era where girls can sing “anything you can do I can do better…” without a lot of fear of criticism. At least, I have. The ladies of my time have been told we can do anything we want to. Many have. I’m sure that had I wanted to enlist in the military, my lack of phallic organ would not have been the first reason people tried to sway me away; it would likely have something to do with my unhealthy relationship with comfy pants and facebook or my dislike for people yelling at me. But I’ve not encountered anything really being off-limits due to my femininity.
This all came at the cost of the generations of women who have been told the very opposite message than mine. I once sat through a UM Polity class focused on “women in the ministry.” I was asked if I wanted to be a part of the panel, but felt I had nothing to really contribute. It was a good decision – the stories that the many other women shared offered so much perspective. They provided the narrative so that I could really understand the freedoms I have today and how they came to be.
Recently I read a book that, combined with my current situations, has also brought a lot of appreciation to my current Beautiful Struggle. I stumbled upon Not Becoming My Mother, in which the author tells the story of her mother and the way the author was shaped by her mother’s shortcomings and failures. It’s a quick little read (I’m positive my cousin EW could finish it in the time I skim through People Magazine) and I highly recommend it. I felt like I was reading the diary of several women I know (probably because the book was structured after the author’s mother’s diary. Fancy that coincidence).
The book starts out talking about the era of many bright, intelligent, motivated and talented women who spent most of their lives bored to death because they weren’t to work unless the husband was unable to provide (and what husband wants that to get out?). Many enjoyed exciting careers until marriage when they “settled down” to tend to the home. The author’s mother gave into so many of these expectations, putting aside aspirations of medical school in exchange for her own mother’s desires for a ph.d in music. She married, had children and became equally miserable and atrocious at the homemaking. She longed for thoughtful conversation and greater purpose. In the end, the author could vocalize her own appreciation for her mother, that her mother’s misery had led her not to simply accept what was expected and to explore her own route.
As our babysitter recently retired (it sounds so sharp to say “quit” and we’re on much better terms than what that might indicate), I find myself dancing between two circles. On the one side I hear the voices of the women who long for meaningful conversation and purpose, to be a mother but also to be “more” than that alone. I feel that a particular friend has really found her happy groove with a recent promotion, and she does this with a congruent happy and healthy relationship with her little girl – she’s a fantastic mother. So many times I think, “I want that. I could have that.” On the other side, I hear the inner voice reminding me how I want to be the one to help H overcome his hitting stage, how I desire to nurse M until she’s older, how I want to be a part of my childrens’ days and not just bedtimes.
It’s a difficult struggle, and I’m sure I’ll never find perfect resolution. The grass will always be greener. However, right now I can truly appreciate my freedom to struggle. For so many, there was never a question. There was never a decision to be made. Their struggle wasn’t an inner battle, trying to make the best decision based on all known factors; theirs was an outward struggle for the right to make the decision for themselves, with their families. So as I bounce back and forth, weighing all options, I will lift my morning cup of coffee to them who paved the way to a beautiful struggle. I’m fortunate today that I have such a difficult balance to maintain.