Friday, February 10, 2006

Less than goddesses

Ah, Betty. Life is short, but love is long.

Pretty Lady is perplexed by the variety of media output pondering the concern, "What Should Women Do?" This strikes her as a ridiculous question. Women do what we do. We should do our best, of course--and the vast majority of us are doing it.

Pretty Lady's copy of The Feminine Mystique has gone the way of most books published in paperback, during the second half of the twentieth century, printed on non-acid-free paper with double-fan-adhesive binding; it disintegrated, and she had to throw it out. When she read it, back in college, it struck her as both obvious and a tad over-researched.

But then, Pretty Lady had both the privilege and the misfortune of growing up in that most un-mystical of places, a suburb. She experienced firsthand that floating, glassed-in sensation of Being Trapped, Permanently, With Toddlers. She loves children, of course, as she loves most humans; she is the kind of lady who persistently engages the attention of babies in airports, and supermarkets, and on the street, occasionally relieving a long-suffering mother's burden of whimpering, by the simple expedient of widening her already large eyes to the size of tea saucers. Babies find this mesmerizing.

However, the conversation of toddlers, and nothing but toddlers, fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year, drives Pretty Lady Right Out Of Her Tree. When she lets her hair down, Pretty Lady is given to using words like 'solipsistic' in casual conversation, and quoting bits of Shakespeare in a breezy, ironic way. Toddlers tend not to appreciate this. At other times, she engages herself in focused creative activity for six to twelve hours at a stretch, and is inclined to be short when interrupted.

Thus, Pretty Lady feels that the best circumstance for engaging in the arduous and important task of motherhood is to be geographically surrounded by a vast number of friends, neighbors, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and cousins, who are all available at times to pick up the slack, when she feels she might be going insane. She has seen this in the South of France, and it strikes her as the only civilized way to live.

But that is only Pretty Lady's personal experience and opinion, which must be dissociated from the sociopolitical, for the purposes of deeper introspection. Sociopolitically, dear Betty's book was a bit myopic, as is so elegantly pointed out in this article, as well as in a ruminative post by the Dandy:

The problems facing, for example, millions of poor, working women or non-white women -- oppressive working conditions and low pay, racism, and the burdens of a double day -- barely register on the radar screen of The Feminine Mystique. As Rosemarie Tong remarks, "Friedan seemed oblivious to any other perspectives than those of white, middle-class, heterosexual, educated women who found the traditional roles of wife and mother unsatisfying."
"I tried to read her culture-altering Feminine Mystique many years ago and tossed it aside after a few chapters. I had no idea who she was talking about. Quite simply, I had never met an upper class, highly educated, suburban housewife. The choices and restrictions she was discussing had nothing to do with my life. "Choose to work" outside the home? Hah! As if! I'd been working and supporting myself since I was 17---I HAD no other "choice".

Well, there you go. One can somewhat understand the vitriol that is occasionally spewed by the upstanding, conscientious, self-employed male, who has poured forth the sweat of his brow to rescue his princess from a life of unremitting toil, only to have his contributions thrown back in his face with the words, "I'm bored with this." One can understand if one empathizes to a certain point, and no farther.

But it is still futile and absurd to prescribe a set of rules for how another, unrelated person ought to behave, in an unrelated set of circumstances, based only upon one's personal need to be the king of the homestead. I am sure that all these lovely men are committed to doing their best, within the parameters provided; do they mean to tell us that as women, we should stand aside helplessly and wait for them to rescue us, instead of taking whatever action seems appropriate? That Pretty Lady ought to let her rent go unpaid until her current swain proposes? Or that Francesca should let her baby starve because Pablo is drinking himself under the table? Surely not.

Pretty Lady does understand the meaning of reductio ad absurdum, of course. Economic imprisonment is a particularly harsh reality, next to which the concept of spiritual imprisonment seems self-indulgent and flimsy. But in her experience, self-empowerment is both the only reliable means to economic freedom, and a psychospiritual continuum. One aspect of freedom leads to another. This appears to be true for human minds of any gender. Once the bills are paid and the kiddies are in bed, the next human impulse is to Build Something Neat. Why deny any soul that joy and satisfaction?

So, darlings, on all sides of the political spectrum, let us let our Betty rest genuinely in peace. She was as earnest, and as flawed, as any of the rest of us. Like a baby becoming conscious, first of his fingers, then of his toes, then of playpen and back yard and Mommy's face, Betty saw what was around her, first. She grew up a bit and expanded her opinions. If her view did not become all-encompassing within her lifetime, who is to say that theirs is larger?


Chris C. said...

It is a human tragedy that one can believe that saying they want to urinate on a dead woman's grave, instead of saying they want to piss on it, allows them to maintain standing as Christian/civilized/whatever.

This is a bloody sadness... :(

I think, Pretty Lady, that you know as well as I, what cultivating this kind of bile in your body does to your soul.

It is the opposite of self-empowerment. And Betty was about self-empowerment. She is beyond the reach of these sad fellows.

Pretty Lady said...

'Sad fellows' is correct, which is why I cannot usually muster up the indignation against them that so many beleaguered women like to do. Young souls, indeed.