Women have only been out of the box for about 50 years, and it is not surprising that a lot remains to be accomplished. Morality, religion, and power structures resist change. The biggest change over these last 50 years has been the ascendancy of the single woman, untethered to a man for her identity. Even married women present themselves as single entities by not taking their husband’s name. The sky didn’t fall.
Until the 18th or 19th century women (except aristocrats) were part of the same business and daily routine as their husbands. They managed farms or blacksmith forges together. There was a separation of labor, but children were around both parents as they worked, and both parents were part of the same community. When men left home to work women sank out of the commercial loop and didn’t know the people and issues which were occupying their husbands’ days; they languished. (My brother just told me about a luncheon he had a few decades ago with some male business colleagues. All the men, except him, gave their wives an allowance and paid all the bills. I well remember hearing stories in my childhood about recently widowed women who had never written a check or paid a bill.)
Our enemy is still the Victorian ideal of fragile womanhood. I think that if I had been regarded as the “angel of the household,” I might have become a hysteric too. My only alternative would have been to become an “old maid,” or that equally disparaging word, “spinster.” When women and men ran farms together, before the Victorian Age, it would have been difficult to consider them “fragile.”
I grew up in the 1950s when, for middle class white women like myself, marriage was the one and only goal. But “They changed the rules on us midstream,” said one of my high school classmates. Suddenly, we had to declare a career! Our male counterparts did not know how to do laundry, cook, iron, take care of babies, or entertain, so we continued doing those things too. We were working two jobs. Women were forced to change; for men, it was optional. Today’s young men change diapers and cook dinner without a second thought. It’s one of the logical solutions, but still leaves both working parents stressed and fatigued, which affects relationships and health.
It has taken time for society, religion, and morality to catch up with the Pandora’s Box that was Women’s Liberation. The steps backward, like some recent judicial rulings, are frustrating, but the critical mass has been reached. We are never going backward.
I wish I could be here 50 years from today, when no generation will remember the Old Days, when we will have transformed our societies to deal more wisely with the energy that was unleashed when we set our women free.Tags: representing older Americans, women's liberation