11So here it is, National Women’s History Month.
Did you know? Do you care?
I know - — and I care deeply. Frankly, I care beyond the 31 days of March, but I’ll settle for that focus, however limited.
I care because I’m the mother of three daughters, the grandmother of three. I’m a sister. And I’m a woman with amazing female friends.
So I’m thinking about womanhood: my own and others. Those thoughts always bring me back to the world I knew, and the one my three daughters have inherited. I assure you that they are vastly different places. Almost alien planets.
When I was a young woman, we were still living out the last gasp of the Ozzie and Harriet era. We were sleeping on hair rollers, believing in happily ever after that came packaged only in marriage. And we spent a lot of time and anxiety wondering whether we’d be lucky enough to be chosen, and when.
We couldn’t have imagined what was coming. The sexual revolution. Living together. Babies, then marriage. Women breaking down the barriers of the Ivy League and strategizing major careers.
My daughters inherited that world, and feel a certain entitlement to it. And even though I remind them of how hard-won were those gains, they didn’t live any of it. It was handed to them. And that may be lucky, but it’s not instructive.
I wish I’d had more direct experience with the women’s movement myself. But at the height of the Age of Aquarius, I was too busy diapering babies and reciting Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to be marching for equal pay for equal work.
While the Vietnam protest was heating up, I was in my kitchen preheating the oven.
No, I’m not proud of my passivity. But it was a fact of female life for so many of us who now look back wondering how we slept through the 1960s, the decade of tumult — or rather, how we wandered through it sleepless from 2 a.m. feedings.
I have so many friends from that era who learned bitterly that Ozzie can pick up and leave Harriet for a woman with no semblance of midriff bulge or hair going gray at the roots. I think ours was the last generation to earnestly believe that Doris Day and Rock Hudson really did sing in harmony in cottages behind white picket fences.
The women I know and love have spanned two civilizations: the one before Betty Friedan sounded her clarion call for equality, and all that has come since.
So yes, I look at National Women’s History Month with a history of my own, one that seems ancient, almost prehistoric, alongside my daughters’ versions.
And yes, I do sometimes wonder what might have happened had I been born just a few years later.
But I’m more curious than bitter, more envious than angry.
And I remind myself that womanhood, even 1950s style, has been richly rewarding for me.
My best and most important work has been, and will always be, motherhood.
A long marriage has given me what I needed and always wanted.
So I celebrate National Women’s History Month reasonably content with what was.
But as a woman living in a still-new century, I also wait breathlessly to see what will be.
This I know: sisterhood is powerful. And it needs to be. ••