Can we really 'do it all'? Why did we think we wanted to?
During the sixties I was a typical Missouri country girl. I married in late 1963 and spent the rest of the decade barefoot and pregnant. I raised a garden, sewed clothes for my kids, and even attended extension classes to learn proper canning methods. I didn't work, or even drive.Then the seventies came along. I was a charter subscriber to Ms magazine in 1972. I started thinking about my life in a way I never had before. I was no longer happy being "just" a good wife and mother. I wanted more. I wanted a career. I wanted to be a great writer. I wanted to "find myself". I wanted perfect sex. I wanted to decide which channel we would watch on TV. I wanted to go braless.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying Ms Magazine put all those ideas into my head. The women's movement was everywhere in those days. It was in the newspapers and magazines, on TV, and it was something we all talked about wherever women gathered. We began to think we had a right to want more than we had.What we wnted most was the right to make decisions about our own life. It was a fact that women did not have that right. Everyone knew it. We would say things like "my husband won't let me cut my hair" or "her husband let her get a job".
My own husband felt there were only two reasons why any woman would want to go to work: either her husband was not able to make enough to take care of the family, or she wanted to earn her own living so she could leave him. This was a deeply felt belief for him, just as it was for many men. He couldn't articulate it, and for many years I couldn't understand why he was so dead set against letting me have a job of my own. We had bitter arguments about it, especially after all the children were in school and I was at home alone on the farm all day. It was 1979 before he gave in to the idea. He let me get a job. So, you can see right there that I never have really managed to become a liberated woman.
Over the years I've picked some rights I really wanted and let others slide. I've worked since 1979. I have my own car and my own bank account. I wear my hair short even though I know he likes it long. But I don't think I'll ever get to decide which channel to watch. The women's movement opened up a whole world of possibilities for my daughters and my granddaughters. I am happy for them. But I'm also a little sorry that they will never know the world we gave away. Years ago I wote a poem about it.
I followed down the narrow path
carefully placing my feet
just where he stepped,
where he paused,
Sometimes he looked back,
and called me
I didn't mind.
Not at all.
he took his pocket knife,
cut wild roses growing
cross the way
to save my arms
he made his steps shorter,
trod down all the snow
to make the going easier
When my breath still came hard and fast,
watched a hawk fly 'cross the sky,
waited quietly 'til I said
when the stream was running full,
he found a log to carefully balance on
while the water rushed beneath our feet.
I grasped his hand
to clamber up the bank,
and waited, later, while he checked some
swampy ground, to see if we should cross
or go around.
When he said
where he stepped,
where he paused,
I didn't mind. Not at all.