Never in my life, had I read an author who so completely captured my own mother's struggle between being an ambitious woman with a powerful intellect, trapped in the nightmare of 1970s workplace sexism.
She, my mother, was so brilliant that they used her to train her new managers. Men, [young men] still wet behind the ear, always the bridesmaid, never the boss. It was such a common place theme that it became a motif in some movies like 9 to 5.
Women like her needed to work, because they needed the money to pay electric and water bills, to buy school clothes, and groceries. But in Man-World, women like her worked because they didn't know their place, and used the money to buy gewgaws and shiny things and their 300th pair of shoes.
I can remember my mother crying because she needed nice shoes, heels that killed her feet, so that she could look sufficiently feminine, if she wanted to be accepted at work, as a professional. She needed new shoes, but couldn't afford them. She walked on shoes with broken shanks. We needed a gallon of milk, but she needed more panty-hose. Yes, clearly her work in the world outside the home was for some frivolous purchase.
Their male managers loved these women, who were abmitious, smart, articulate AND [to this day] work for pennies on the dollar. They work so much harder, because they had a lot to prove, but at a discount. In Man-World, hiring that sort of woman, made sound financial sense, because you got more bang for your buck. And the culture at that time deemed these women, disposable. You could use them til some man with the same qualifications came along.
My mother struggled with that and a lot of other things. She was still expected to clean the house and to cook dinners, and since we were somewhat old-timey stock, we still canned apricots and green beans etc.,
She busted her ass to work for the money we needed. She started out with such a positive attitude. It took her a while to catch on to what was really happening. She just knew if she took a few classes at the community college, that would give her a fast track to a manager position *This Time.
She was probably one of the most educated workers on the floor. Believe me when I tell you, how frustrating that can be. Not just being educated, but knowing the job inside out to boot, being recognized for it through some backdoor compliment, but never rewarded for it, ever.
She constantly fought with her own mother about what her duties were, as a wife and mother. There was a tremendous chasm between them. Both worked for a living, but one as a Great Southern Lady and the other as a burgeoning blue collar Feminist. One as a corporate wife who worked for egg money and the other who was the primary bread winner in an unorthodox marriage that hinged on role reversals.
Both were mothering-strong women in their own right, forces to be reckoned with, but neither saw eye to eye on much of anything.
When I read Ruth Rosen for the first time, somehow, without being in my family, without being privy to all these dramas, she captured it on paper. Every nuance of every silent battle, every glare, every unexpressed fear, every half held hope, that stood just a micrometer above well cultivated, well earned cynicism.
Some of the things my mother told me, were expressed almost verbatim in her book. It made her writing so personal and intimate to me. It gave me a way to add a depth of understanding, of the larger forces at work, that shaped my own experiences as a working woman, as well as the child of working women.
So when I read this article today, on Alternet:We Never Said We Wanted It All: How the Media Distorts the Goals of Feminism
She nailed it again. My mother didn't want it all. She just wanted some breathing room. She wanted enough money to buy a decent air conditioner for our house. She wanted my sister and I to go to college some day, and graduate. She didn't want me to be trapped the way that she felt trapped. Being intelligent and yet unable to find much that pays over minimum wage and then try and support a family.
If wanting it all, means having enough to eat something other than Shit on Shingles 3 nights out of 7, or not having to choose between paying a doctor's bill or having a car that works, then sure she wanted it all.
She wanted it all, the way most poor people do. She wanted a life where she wasn't completely exhausted and overwhelmed every waking minute because she never has time to truly rest in her body or mind. My husband wants it all too, if that is the criteria.
And because we saved up and bought a storm shelter, even though we live in one of the oldest, and least attractive homes in our neighborhood, our neighbors in 200,000 dollar homes, think we have it all.
Having it All--to me is an extension of the Welfare Queen Myth. It's code for someone wanting more than *YOU think they deserve. There is a hostility behind that phrase that oozes out into the air and taints the air we breath and the thoughts we think.
The feminist-- as remade by the media and popular culture-- emerged as a superwoman, who then turned into a scapegoat for a nation’s consumerism, the decline of families, and the country’s therapeutic culture. For this, the women’s movement’s was blamed, even though this selfish superwoman who neglected her family seemed bizarre, not to say repellent, to most of the early activists. Rosen
It couldn't be the dysfunctional corporate mechanisms that were causing this massive flail, nope it had to be the women.
The backlash again[st] feminism, directed as it was against the women’s movement, reflected a moral revulsion against the shallow self-absorption of America’s consumer and therapeutic culture. And when Americans took a good hard look at this narcissistic superwoman who embraced the values of the dominant culture, they grew anxious and frightened. For they no longer saw loyal mothers and wives who would care for their communities, but a dangerous individual, unplugged from home and hearth, in other words, the female version of America’ ambitious but lonely organization man. Thus was born the cultural wars between stay-at-home moms and career women. Rosen
Apparently what is good for the gander is not acceptable for the goose. Who Knew!
Rosen's article really gets to the heart of the source of the Mommy Wars too. I encourage others to read her piece at Alternet. And if you are interested, read her book as well.
Comments are closed on this story.