Posts Tagged ‘Pleasantville


is “feminism” to blame?

In a comment after my recent post “Functional Illiteracy” a woman proposed that feminism was to blame for the decline in the literacy of our children. Her argument is that if mom isn’t at home when the kids get home from school, full of energy and ready to help them with their homework while providing a plate of warm cookies and a nice pot of stew bubbling on the stove, then all is lost. (She also bemoaned the fact that all those women working only served to make the world more expensive, the direct result of which she and her family spent their first seven years living in a “trailor” and were only now able to own a home because of the real estate crash.)

To paraphrase: What children need is discipline, supervision, and structure, and none of these things can be provided if mom works.

My first reaction won’t be quoted directly here, but when I stopped tearing at my hair and screaming, I decided I wanted to propose this as a possibility just to see what the world’s reaction was.


According to the Department for Professional Employees, the number of working women has risen from 5.1 million in 1900 to 65.7 million in 2005, and is expected to reach 76 million by 2014. In 2004 nearly half of all job-holders were women, although more women than men still work part time, and make 55-75% what their male counterparts do in most fields. (This is shameful, btw, but I won’t go off on a tangent.) The usual fields are also still well represented by women: teaching, nursing (82-98%) vs. engineering (10%) or airline pilot (3%). It is also noted that most mothers, even of young children, participate in some way in the work force.


My grandmother divorced her husband when my mom was in 1st grade. He was an alcoholic, and abusive, and my grandma decided she’d had enough. She had worked as a secretary before getting married, but had stopped upon her marriage. Once divorced, and not being paid any child support despite a court order, she had to go to work to support herself and her two daughters.

My mother-in-law was a public school teacher in Canada while my father-in-law was in seminary when she found herself unexpectedly expecting First Son (my husband). When she informed her principal of this upcoming blessed event, she was told that he would do her the “favor” of allowing her to continue until Christmas. As she would probably be “showing” before then it was important that she disguise this fact as much as possible so as not to make any of her colleagues or students “uncomfortable.” I can’t help but wonder if this principal also called each student’s parent and advised them against having any further children, as this could also cause some “discomfort” for the already-present children. Somehow I doubt it.

When the chair of the music department at the small, liberal-arts college where I used to teach and work as staff accompanist found out that I was going to be adopting a child and starting my doctorate he decided that it was “inappropriate” for me to continue teaching as, and I quote, my “attentions should be directed elsewhere.” I was promptly removed from the list of any courses I had been teaching, although it was determined that it would okay for me to continue to accompany students on juries and recitals.  (Isn’t this illegal?)

Anyway. . .


Kant once wrote that it was so offensive for women to speak in public that they might as well grow a beard.


I find myself being drawn down the path from the idea of men society deciding whether it’s appropriate for women to work or not, as well as deciding which endeavours are appropriate (teaching, nursing) and which not (engineering, math, science) to the fear and villification of women’s bodies throughout history. Women and their “parts” and processes are evil, unclean; we are temptresses and witches. “. . .men. . .defined by the lofty spheres of reason and intellect, while women, with their mysterious biological cycles, represent the base, dark, stormy, unpredictable realms of nature and emotion. . .” (Caroline Knapp, Appetites, p. 92)

So many tangents, so little time.


Just one more.

My husband and I just watched Forty Shades of Blue, made in 2005. Dina Korzun plays Lara, a Russian girl who had met the successful and influential, but volatile, music producer Alan James (Rip Torn), when he was in Moscow on a business trip. They now have a 3 1/2 year old son, and live in his house in Memphis, although they are not married until the end of the movie. Lara is lost, an empty shell. Our first sight of her is as she strolls like an automaton through the aisles of a swank department store; later in the movie she stands, drunk and helpless, on the street, trying to figure out how to get home while the father of her child is upstairs in a hotel room with one of “his” singers. She’s unhappy, and she knows it, but as she explains to Alan’s mostly-estranged son, played by Darren Burrouws, she “has more than anyone [she] knows; [she] doesn’t have a right to want more.”

This idea, that we don’t have the right, is probably more common than we think. I’ve felt that way myself.

Forty Shades of Blue, Sabina Sciubba


I can’t believe that, in the 21st century, we still have to walk down this road.

Sure, if the family is stressed and running in 65 different directions and no one’s “driving the ship,” then the children’s homework might suffer. But that could be as much a result of poor planning, disorganization, or over-scheduling poor little Junior or Juniorette; or perhaps “dad” is a little bit useless around the house. According to a British study, women spend an average of 3 hours per day on housework, men an hour and 40 minutes; this is considered a drastic improvement. I imagine it might help the cause even more if men were aware of the studies which show that those who “help” (how offensive is this? They help?) with the housework have more sex.

Is it time now to take a deep breath and hearken back to the “good ol’ days,” when men were considered superior and a woman’s Place Was in the Home?

Perhaps what we need, instead, is a society which supports our right, and ability, to do both.

Caroline Knapp again:

If only we lived in a culture that made ambition compatible with motherhood and family life, that presented models of women who were integrated and whole: strong, sexual, ambitious, cued into their own varied appetites and demands, and equipped with the freedom and resources to explore all of them. If only women felt less isolated in their frustration and fatigue, less torn between competing hungers, less compelled to keep nine balls in the air at once, and less prone to blame themselves when those balls come crashing to the floor. If only we exercised our own power, which is considerable but woefully underused; if only we defined desire on our own terms.

And what is the cost to us as women if we spend our lives denying our very selves? Being made to believe that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, capable enough, responsible enough, articulate enough, valuable enough to make a contribution to society other than the one that is prescribed for us?

I fear this post has devolved into rambling incoherence. There are so many thoughts and ideas competing for my attention, I find myself writing and deleting much that seems too tangential. I’ll leave you with a few parting clips as my closing thoughts.


I clicked “publish,” decided I was going to avoid one more tangent, started to write this out as a separate post, and then decided it absolutely HAD to be included in this one. This probably isn’t very “professional” of me, but so far no one’s paying me to be here, so I guess it’s okay.

Caroline Knapp, one more time:

. . .a dash of Hegelian despair can be a useful thing, a check against consumer culture’s blaring strains of false promise, and also fodder for a deeper kind of acceptance. To know that hunger is an essential part of what it means to be human, that it’s possibly epic and anguished and intrinsically insatiable, is at least to muffle the blare, to introduce a sense of proportion.

And yet proportion is hard to hold onto, and may be particularly hard for women. During an interview on National Public Radio’s “The Connection,” conducted following the publication of her 1999 book, “The Whole Woman,” feminist Germaine Greer described something she sees with increasing frequency: the weeping woman, the woman stopped at a traffic light with tears streaming down her face, or exiting a stall in the ladies’ room with red-rimmed eyes, or slumped in her seat at the movie theater, clutching a handful of Kleenex. The weeping is always private, indulged on the sly, and Greer sees the sorrow behind it as a cultural phenomenon as well as an individual one, a reaction to the lingering understanding among women that despite several decades of social change, the world remains largely indifferent, disdainful, even hostile to their most defining qualities and concerns.

Women weep, Greer believes, because they feel powerless, and because they are exhausted and overworked and lonely. Women weep because their own needs are unsatisfied, continually swept into the background as they tend to the needs of others. They weep because the men in their lives so often seem incapable of speaking the language of intimacy, and because their children grow up and become distant, and because they are expected to acquiesce to this distance, and because they live lives of chronically lowered expectations and chronic adjustment to the world of men, the power and strength of a woman’s emotions considered pathological or hysterical or sloppy, her interest in connection considered trival, her core being never quite seen or known or fully appreciated, her true self out of alignment with so much that is valued and recognized and worshipped in the world around her; her love, in a word, unrequited.

In a nod to the diminishment of outrage that began to take hold in the eighties, Greer told her interviewer, “We tried to mobilize women’s anger. We spent years telling women to get in touch with their rage, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s just not enough rage to go around. Women don’t get angry enough. What women do is get sad.”

This sentiment stayed with me for a long time. I was driving from Boston to Rhode Island while I heard it, to visit a friend for the weekend, and I spent much of the trip thinking about the steady press of sorrow in a woman’s life, the feeling of discord that may run through her days, the singular loneliness of living in a wrld that emphasizes and rewards so many qualities that may run counter to her central humanity: independence instead of interdependence; distance instead of closeness; self-seeking instead of cooperation; the external world instead of the internal world; glamour and wealth and celebrity instead of kindness and generosity and warmth. I thought about the private pain of women, expressed with so much wordless anguish: the anorexic, isolated and terrified and working so relentlessly to starve away her own hunger; the shoplifter, trying to compensate for what she never had with a Clark bar; the self-cutter, lashing at her own skin instead of out at the world; the bulimic, hunched over a toilet bowl, retching out a river of need. I thought about thwarted connections–a girls’ from her mother, a woman’s from her culture–and then I did something I almost never do: I pulled my car over to the side of the road, and I sat there, and I wept.


Can’t embed the audio clip I want, so go to:  and click on the little speaker next to Origami.

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