“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”
― Jane Austen, Persuasion
Mom, I don’t envy your granddaughters, growing up amongst this interconnected, opinionated, expectant, perfect seeking, exposed and socialized society. Media professing save the earth, woman’s rights, and wrongs. The door of opportunity wide open and all avenues towards one’s hearts desire available and right there for the choosing.
The identity of feminism today, manufactured and industrialized from the hard work of woman such as Grandma. MsLinda told me of once bringing in this magazine to ask her own Mom what the word “abortion” meant – probably circa, what, the late 50’s? The early 60’s? AND, I guess by that simple question, setting off, she said, an hour-long debate between the other women sitting around that kitchen table, drinking tea that day.
Feminism is no longer such a dirty word as it may have once been. The Gloria Steinbeck’s, and all those early pioneering women, say Mary Shelley, or delving back farther still to one Helen of Anjou all the way back in the 13th Century, must be cheering & high-fiving these no more damsels in distress.
Yet, still, we seem to find a way to confine, berate, instigate, and altogether dictate, what being a woman should mean. Can mean. As if by opening up the door, society seems to still have a deep-seated desire to still direct the traffic.
The young women your daughter has raised, well, they would certainly have you clutch your chest in pride, I know, if you were able to see them on the ice, playing their hearts out at that once male sport they both love.
“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”
“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
― Jane Austen, Persuasion
For a young woman today, I can’t imagine how the cares and wiles of Jane Austen’s day can possibly resonate. How the strength and mere act of publishing and being a woman at the same time were, for centuries, almost an act of treason against the state. How the significance of Helen of Anjou’s creation of a school for women in the 13th century, in my books, makes her worthy of sainthood. A name, I fear, that has become washed from the many annals of time by the male scribes of our past.
Shall we tell them not to kiss boys? To go out first and educate themselves to become Doctors and Lawyers, Presidents of Countries, and Captains of Industry? With their offspring lodged on their hips, gray flannel business suit dripping with puke, rushing them off to be cared for by another. Shamed if they do, and shamed if the don’t.
That year I lived with Lex & her family, well, that summer before I finally found this little abode, we sat on the porch of the Homestead, and she shared her fear at taking on this opportunity she’d been handed at work. The opportunity would take her away from her girls just at a time when, as she said, they would need her the most.
I told her: how can you not? Show them your strength, I told her, do what your heart desires, and those girls will learn as much from that as they would by your presence standing at the kitchen sink each day when they return from school.
But I know it is not as easy as all that, of course. The days are long, and the support often lacking, yet, I can see a different Lexi when I visit now. She has evolved, and she’s made it work. Perhaps not always smoothly, but she’s managed, as all mothers before have. Being a manager of others, playing a significant role at work, and at home, that is an act of patience, courage, and a balancing act between the individual needs, and the needs of her offspring.
We live, Mom, in a world where the new lovely Princess of Britain, upon giving birth to her first child, and having the audacity to display the reality of the figure of a new Mom, and be thought a hero to the multitudes, is seen as a revolutionary act of honesty.
What brings about these thoughts you may ask, ah, alas, tis that Jane. Jane Austen’s Persuasion to be specific. I just finished watching a beautifully crafted version on film, and I am struck by the notion we often have of her work as mere gossipy, flippant, and marriageable dialogue, at odds with the woman of today. Yet, I’m sure I’m not the first to find that idea quite lacking in fact.
“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.”
― Jane Austen
Because, in fact, these characters she has created, while certainly a product of those staid and proper Victorian times, are still women of strength. We often still struggle with the self-same silly diversions, and societies desire to have us all coupled off with that for whom they approve. Where fathers bow to their daughter’s desires, eventually, and girls must now be both Mary the Mother AND Mary the Whore.
However, I am not solely a feminist. I am a humanist as well. I am for the rights of all, regardless of gender identity.
Perhaps the next step is to move beyond these pigeon-hole labels, and instead, defend the rights of each and every one of us to live as they may choose to live. Perhaps it is time we should be shorn of our inherent desire to define, and discontinue to departmentalize our innate selves.
Whether transgender, multi-gender, no gender, or otherwise, maybe it’s time we stopped trying to find heroes, for raising one above another, we are merely dismissing the struggle of us all. When we make heroes of our rich and powerful, we diminish the significantly more difficult task of merely trying to get by.
Every day you know Mom, there is this guy that rides the bus to work with me. I use the term, “guy” if only to use SOME pronoun of gender, for how this individual chooses to define their gender, I know not. Their name is male, so I have assumed, whether that be rightly or wrongly, that they are a he.
Some days this co-worker comes to work in jeans and t-shirt, while others in a funky skirt with naughty nylons, and little girl ponytails. I wondered for the longest time whether they were transgender, cross-dresser, or what. But, I thought the other day, does it matter anymore? Tis not their words and lives and ideas and sense of self, more important than which sex they identify with? And if they identify with either? And I decided it didn’t.
At least not to me. However, it certainly seems to matter a lot to other folks. You should see the hue and cry being splashed across every social media outlet the last few days, as Bruce Jenner evolved into Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. Wowzer is all I have to say. Drop dead gorgeous, and welcome to the tribe of the feminine. But hero? No.
I would prefer to use the term maybe, pioneer. Truly, for the last hundred centuries or more, many more, what human, born MALE, could understand the desire to become female? We were the 2nd-grade sex, the almost not human sex, the temptress of Adam sex. Perhaps that is a more telling aspect of our times.
Mom, as I say, what a world of choice and opportunity those girls are growing up within. Where even one’s gender can be a difficult quest. And where one may choose to not choose, and that be in fact a choice. Where the pronouns of description lag behind the realities of the day, and the choice becomes not for which profession one may choose, or which gender one may marry, or even what length to grow your hair, since those are irrelevant today.
It makes me think, you know, of that Chinese Proverb/curse…”may you live in interesting times”.
Each of us, every one of us, we struggle to find that sense of self we can live with. And do we NEED heroes? I suppose we do. If only to lift up the eyes of those at odds with themselves, and show them it IS possible to become anything one wants, regardless of what society may choose to label you. A light in the dark for those who struggle with their own definition of self.
And, I suppose, like Jane Austen’s Ann Elliot in Persuasion, we each and every one of us struggle against the currents that try to define us. In the end, we each have the opportunity to grasp on to that which makes our world an easier place to live within. Far easier, I say, to go about one’s day confident in their own sense of self, so as to get on with the other messy business of being human.