Wednesday, November 18, 2009


This morning I finished reading When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins. Like The Feminine Mystique, it's journalistic, replete with stories of individual women that mark the changes. It's a solid synthesis of recent (women's) history.

Inevitably, it made me sad. Early on, we meet the woman thrown out of traffic court because her apparel -- slacks she had worn to her office job -- affronted the magistrate. ERA was not ratified. At the end, a bus driver whose faith tells her to wear dresses and skirts is fired for not wearing pants to work. Collins spends just a few pages on troubling social issues of the present, such as the increasingly sexy way little girls dress and the casual, unfulfilling sexual activities of young teens and 20-somethings. In that section, she does give us author Jessica Valenti's concise summation of the stain between conservative impulses (past or present) and contemporary Girls Gone Wild thinking: "'The message is still the same -- that women's sexuality doesn't belong to them.'" (p. 369)

Also inevitably, there's the personal. I've become a little fixated on Collins's summary of Lisa Belkin's article on shared housework. When husbands and wives "were seriously trying to divide housework and chores evenly ... it seemed like a tortuous process -- full of lists and negotiations and struggles on the part of the woman to jettison her higher standards for cleanliness, social niceties such as thank-you notes, and the way the children looked when they were dressed for school." (p. 360) Really?! Women are always the ones with the higher standard? I am certain I have known messy women, and women who didn't dress themselves in matching socks (so I'd imagine they wouldn't mind stripes and plaids on the kid). Surely not all men are slobs -- I think I know some who are very neat. But most off all, this of course, stabs at a sore spot of mine: I have done in the past, and do now, nearly all the housework because my expectations are "too high." And it drives me crazy. I read The Feminine Mystique; I followed recent articles on women needing to let go of the superwoman image as goal; I knew how not to be a victim of nonsense -- yet the sight of milk spilled all over the sink, cabinet, and floor this morning literally, truly made me cry this morning. Well, at least I can go to work in pants and expect to be treated with respect.

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