I have this fantasy that things were easier for women in my position before the advent of women’s lib. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the almost equal footing with men that I enjoy in our culture. I’m glad that there are women running companies and pursuing careers and using their minds and talents in ways that are interesting and satisfying to them. I just think it must have been much easier to be a stay at home mom let’s say one hundred years ago. Let me explain.
Assuming that I even received an education, the fact that I am intelligent, was a good student, and talented in the arts would have placed little more expectation upon me than to marry well or at least comfortably. I would not, and neither would my instructors, have put any pressure on myself to do anything with my education other than marry and produce children whom I could educate. I was however schooled on the heels of the triumphant woman’s liberation movement of the 70’s into which I was born. My mother, though she elected to be a stay at home mom was influenced enough by the acts of the woman of that era to expect that her daughters would have different, better, and greater lives than she had. My public school teachers echoed this theme, praising my accomplishments and expecting me to take my skills as far as possible in the public arena. In short, I was raised with great expectations. I believed them and expected different and better things for my life too.
Imagine my surprise when I meet a man and find myself longing to bear his children and when they are born absolutely repulsed by the thought of giving them to someone else to raise while I pursue this better and greater life. I make the choices that are as true to my deep self and the person I want to be as I can and suddenly I find myself in a life that looks remarkably like my mother’s. I can’t help thinking the adjustment would have been less of a shock had my greatest aspirations simply been to live a life like my mother’s and if I had been taught by my culture and society to treasure these things that I was now embarrassed to tell people about. I know what my university professors were thinking when they learned I had elected to marry and raise children rather than pursue a professional music career. Some of them said it out loud. I am wasting my life.
When I think of the women in my life that I most respect and want to be like, they are women who did not choose their own empowerment but gave themselves to caring for others. My great Grandmother who passed away last summer spent her entire life raising her six children, taking care of her husband and then taking care of her grandchildren and great grandchildren and anyone else she met that needed help. She had more joy than a room full of people my age put together and I want to be the kind of person she was. The rest of the list is varied, Mother Theresa, my mother in law, Heidi Baker, Jackie-Pullinger-To, Elizabeth Elliot, but they are all strong women who’s strength lies in great faith and love for others. I was not trained to strive for these things.
The other reason I think it would have been easier to do what I do before women’s lib is that perhaps I would not have been educated. I am plagued by nihilism. For those of you who don’t have philosopher husbands to explain such terms to you it is basically wondering daily what the point of daily life is. Is there a big picture? Why are we here? I wonder what the point of raising my children is. It is to have a better life than I did? That thinking didn’t work out for my mother because here I am, (though my marriage seems to be better so far.)
So I raise my children to be strong and intelligent and virtuous so that they can raise their children and their children can raise their children. WHY? See for this to all have a point I have to have a fundamental assumption that life is good and is better than nothing, something that has eluded me, though I wish I could gain it somehow. The mother’s that have kept Africa alive for several years now don’t have this problem, they know life is good because they are faced with the reality of losing it every day. They don’t stop to wonder if they are wasting their talents keeping their children alive from one day to the next, they don’t wonder if they are too smart for this kind of thing, they know that staying alive matters and that what they are doing is vital. (At least in my fantasies they do.)
Imagine living at a time when making a good batch of yogurt was a source of immense pride, or having several children who were strong and healthy, or being given the honor of preparing the evening meal by yourself as a sign that you had grown up, a time when the basic day to day tasks still meant something, and were worth doing instead of something we rush through to get to our “real life”. Perhaps I should be blaming industrialization instead of feminism and become a Luddite.