Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Women

Sweetney and Gingajoy got me to thinking about feminism from their recent posts. I commented on Sweetney’s site that I practice feminism by example and not by dogma, whatever that means.

What it means is, I was brought up by a pretty strong dame. My mother is a true maverick. She was born in Ada, OK and she rode horses, played polo, and, when she was 19, her father bought her a Piper Cub airplane. He told her about a program a woman named Jacqueline Cochran was putting together for women pilots in Texas.

My mother went and tried out for the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) but she didn’t get in. She came back home and told her father and he told her to go back and try again. He told her no daughter of his was going to fail. She went back, tried again, and got in. She became friends with the founders, Jackie Cochran and Nancy Love. Nancy Love was my brother’s godmother.

After the war, the WASP disbanded, my mother met my father at a cocktail party in New York, and six weeks later they were married. My father joined the Foreign Service, they moved to Singapore, then Australia. My mother went on two week riding trips in the Outback. Then they were then stationed to Tokyo, where she took up ceramics, calligraphy, painting and taught English on Japanese TV.

When they came back to the States, she was asked to join the Women’s Advisory Committee on Aviation, where she met a whole new slew of salty kickass dames.
Connie Wolf
, the Lady Balloonist, who always, and I mean a-l-w-a-y-s, wore a black hat with a black mesh veil attached, was a good friend who would come over for cocktails and stories.

She also met Janey, the wife of a senator and an accomplished aviator, who was once considered for the NASA space program. Janey is the first woman I remember cognizantly feeling respect for. Because she was such a ball busting liberal realist. She was also an experienced sailor who learned celestial navigation in her 60’s so she wouldn’t have to rely on temperamental machines. She had eight kids, that she sort of stayed home with, and her own small plane that she used to fly her husband to all of his campaign stops.

My mother’s two best friends were “the two Elizabeths,” both OBGYNs. Elizabeth was the first woman chief of staff of Columbia Hospital for Women, here in DC, and she delivered me. She was like my second mother. I gave one of three eulogies at her funeral and it still chokes me up. The other Elisabeth (for whom I am really named because that’s how I spell it) became a psychiatrist when she was in her 50’s, in addition to her OBGYN specialty. She became one of the foremost experts on post-partum depression and pre-menstrual syndrome because of her unique discipline in both fields.

Sooooooooo, conversation around the hacienda was always pretty stimulating. No one ever talked about working or staying at home. It just wasn’t an issue. My mother went to work in the 60’s for the FAA, as part of Johnson’s initiative to get more women into the government at higher levels. She went in, working on congressional liaison, and worked there for 25 years.

I was born late in my parents’ lives—my brother and sister were 14 and 11, my parents 42 and 54. So my brother and sister got one mother—the adventurous, horseback riding, glamorous hostess and I got the still-wonderful hostess, who also worked full time at a demanding job.

My mother hated housework and, as a Foreign Service wife, she had tons of servants and so when she came back to the States and started working full time, she hired a nanny for me and a housekeeper. My mother never did a load of laundry in my lifetime—honestly, I don’t think she could tell the washer from the dryer. She also never made my lunch or baked a cookie or a cake. Ever. Wait, she did make my lunch for my first day of school in second grade. (We had just moved back from India). She made me—and I kid you not—a CUCUMBER AND MAYONAISE sandwich. That’ll go a long way in establishing you as an eccentric fruitcake on your first day of school, lemme tell ya.

My mother didn’t do lunchroom duty, she didn’t stay home with me when I was sick—ever. She didn’t come to my school performances, until I was in high school and started doing theatre in earnest. My father came to the grade school stuff because, after he retired from the Foreign Service, he worked for VOA and was home during part of the day. It never really bothered me about my mother. It was just The Way Things Were. And it sure as hell didn't bother my father, or he didn't show it, because he loved and respected her endlessly.

So I guess I’ve never really known anything else, except really strong, really outrageous, committed, liberal, women who did interesting things with their lives—whether they worked full time or not.

It has never occurred to me to feel inferior to a man. Not once. Not in my intelligence or in what I can accomplish. I know I’m lucky for that. Honestly, I don’t ever recall a man making me feel stupid or inferior. (Well, maybe they have tried, but it's never worked). But there have been plenty of times when a woman has.

What I was also trying to say in my comment to Sweetney, echoing another person, was that I think we need to concentrate a lot more on humanism before we get specific with the feminism. I see a lot of divisiveness among women. And I think the whole stay-at-home vs. working mommy “war” is not media generated—well, part of it is exploited by the media—but I believe that division is based on some common American and human bugaboos such as jealousy, hypocrisy, feelings of inadequacy, stereotypes, judgementalism, etc.

We’re not honest on this issue. I’ll be honest. I am jealous of stay-at-home moms. I always have been. And that is saying something because I’ll tell you the truth, I am not a jealous person by nature. I think there are powder kegs of resentment on each side, offset by judgments and accusations—both verbalized and internalized.

I would like to stay home, but I “can’t” financially—oh, I KNOW the argument, I could if I really wanted to. Maybe I could, but I think it’s actually better that I do go to work. I know an acquaintance who says that going to work makes her a better mother. I would, however, like some balance in the equation.

What works for one woman is not going to necessarily work for another women. I think until we are able to stop being snotnoses toward women who have made different decisions—on working, staying at home, having kids, not having kids, getting married, not getting married, then we’re going to be in a thicket of disagreement.

Which is NOT to say I don’t see a huge melding of the chasm, most notably on the Internet. I think that phenomenon has brought together women from every single facet, demographic and mommy war and the reason I think we are listening more to one another is because we’re hearing the real voices and the real stories without any preconceived notions.

Mom-101 touched on that beautifully in a post where she revealed a picture of herself for the first time. She said she hadn’t done it before because she liked being a voice—just a voice—without having to contend with all the assumptions and compartmentalizations we all make, no matter how hard we try not to.

I love the people I’ve “met” so far. Mostly because I KNOW I wouldn’t have met them otherwise.

Now I gotta go be a working momma—and ain’t we all working mommas.


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