It was 1976. The front page of every newspaper was ablaze with reports about something called Women's Liberation. A woman named Betty Freidan had written a book entitled The Feminine Mystique. In it she described the findings of her research, which clearly indicated that suburban housewives felt a dissatisfaction they could not fully articulate.
"Housewives," she wrote, "lowered their eyes from the horizon and steadily contemplated their own navels."
Emotions were rampant. Women squirmed as they were forced to come to terms with their own ambiguous feelings. Men perspired and loosened their ties as they pondered the implications and consequences of Ms. Friedan's research.
I was caught in the vortex of this revolutionary upheaval.
I had been meeting socially with a group of women for several years. We always found comfort and support in each other and no topic was sacred.
On this particular afternoon, someone brought up the subject of Woman's Lib. We had never discussed the topic before, as we were accustomed to addressing concrete realities like annoying husbands and demanding children.The concept of women being accepted as equal was, until now, an illusive myth -- a fantasy. Besides, if we dared think of it as a reality we might be expected to do things that could alter the chemistry of our marriages -- of our lives.
Could we, as women, really have careers without being viewed as negligent mothers and aggressive bitches? Could we be accepted as individuals with the same need for achievement and fulfillment outside the home that men had? Was there even a remote possibility that we might be taken seriously?
I was a compulsive housekeeper. I detested every moment of it, but knew it was my job and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to be the best I could at it. Reading a sentence in my first issue of Ms. Magazine caused bells and whistles to ring out: If you are the only one to whom something is important, maybe it's not really important.
I had never considered such a concept before, so I stopped the daily dusting and vacuuming and switched to hand-picking lint from the floor and occasionally blowing on the furniture. I waited for repercussions from my family, but to my shock... nobody noticed or cared.
I reported this phenomenon to my group and a heated discussion ensued.
"What am I going to do when the kids leave for college?" I asked. "My husband won't allow me to work. Am I destined to a lifetime of tennis, bridge and volunteer work? There has to be more to life than playing games and fulfilling other people's needs."
"I've always fantasized about running a highly prestigious business, with my own hot male secretary, and an impressively huge desk," responded Julie. "I want to attend important meetings where I get to call the shots, because until now my biggest decisions involve meat loaf or chicken. I've changed my share of diapers and am ready to change the world."
Donna looked glum. "Well, I'd be happy if I could know what it feels like to start a job and actually see it to completion. Housework has no ending -- ever."
"There's a far greater issue here," Nikki said, as she stood and banged her sneaker on the kitchen table for emphasis. "When I married Scott I not only lost my name, I lost my identity. I want to, once again, be seen as Nikki, an individual with her own ideas and talents, and not just as Scott's wife and Robert and Emmy's mother."
"Well," I said, "When I agreed to marry I had no idea that it automatically meant I had to put my life on hold for two decades. I need more. I need a reason to get up, get dressed and get out."
By now we were incensed. My adrenaline was soaring and I hated for the meeting to end, but my watch indicated that the children would soon be home from school and it was time to disband.
I suggested we not wait a whole week to meet again. Instead, we should get together the next day to keep the momentum going.
Julie said she'd see how she felt in the morning. The weather report called for rain and her hair always frizzes when it rains.
Donna planned to do her nails, finish a terrific book she started and bake brownies for her son's Cub Scout troop.
Nikki didn't want to miss her favorite soap opera two days in a row.
As for me, I guess I was somewhat relieved. I hadn't realized what a toll the afternoon's excitement had taken on me. I looked forward to spending the next day vegging out by the pool.
After all, the Women's Movement never said I had to work; it only said I had the right to work -- if I chose to. And, for now at least, I chose not to.
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