02/11/2008 02:19 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Boomer Girl First Wave: The Fractious Feminine Mystique

The women's vote in Maine, media wise ones told us, would likely be enough to tilt the caucuses in Hillary's favor. Didn't happen. Some of those reliable women voters had other ideas. We're left to figure out what went wrong--at least with a portion of them.

It's a dangerous game, trying to pigeonhole the psyches (or the votes) of first generation baby boomer girls. Like Hillary, we're sixty-ish. Like Hillary, our life experience has made us occasional Masters of the Mixed Message. To understand where we are, you have to understand where we've been:

Our mothers deferred to our fathers, wore housedresses and were attached to the kitchen by an invisible umblilicus. Mother knew a thing or two, but Father Knew Best.

We played house, secretary and school teacher. We played with our blonde Barbies well into pre-pubescence. We didn't menstruate; we had "The Curse." We didn't talk sex; we talked "The Black Act" or "The Dirty Deed." By definition, sex was only full-fledged, unadulterated intercourse. We could do anything--and everything--else except the conventional act itself and say, in all honesty, we never had sex. We could be good and bad simultaneously.

We grew up wanting to be good girl/bad girl. What began with Barbie ended with Sandra Dee/Marilyn Monroe. And it was true: Blondes had more fun.

We were in our mid-teens in 1963, when Gloria Steinem shimmied herself into a bunny suit, worked a stint at a New York Playboy Club and wrote about the objectification of women. She was a leggy, frosted blonde who lived the high life in New York City and looked entirely too good toting a tray of cocktails. Some of us, awkward, thick-ankled and smelling of Clearasil, missed her message. Not because her point of view wasn't relevant and feminist, but because our Barbie/Sandra/Marilyn complex got in the way. We didn't trust a woman who looked that good in a bunny suit telling us we needed a man like a fish needed a bicycle. Easy for her to say--she could ride any bike she liked.

Lots of us married young. We were smart, but college was the place too many of us were sent to find a Mr. Right who'd be a really good provider. When we opted for yards and yards of white tulle rather than a little old piece of sheepskin, Mother and Father didn't mind a bit. Especially if Mr. Right was in pre-law or pre-med. We were good girls.

We missed Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963. We were too young for the first edition. So we had no idea "...the full time homemaker role is stifling..." or that we'd been trapped in the Netherworld of Domesticity with festering penis envy and without realizing we had "brains as well as breasts." By the time we got that message the deed was done--and re-examining our choices was too risky. We tried not to think about it.

Then Germaine Greer told us we had no idea how much men hated us or how well we'd been taught to hate ourselves. She said a Women's Revolution was in order and scared us half to death. We were unarmed. And we were getting depressed. Maybe Steinem, Friedan and Greer were bad girls.

We looked to other role models who made us feel better. Phyllis Schlafly, who was almost as blonde and hyper-coiffed as Barbie, told us what to do in perilous times. Feminism was bad for us. The ERA? Forget it. It was practically communist. We saw good old Phyllis on daytime TV while we folded laundry, baked bread and nursed our babies. We might be exhausted, we might be bored; we might be a little blue because, unlike the Sandra Dee-Bobby Darin movie marriage we'd grown up on, ours had no romantic soundtrack. But we were saving the American Family single-handedly. Our husbands, our children and posterity would be forever grateful to us. Phyllis told us so. We failed to notice that she was too busy flying all over the place, getting rich preaching the Happy Homemaker Doctrine, to tend to her own family 24/7.

And we had another blonde helper. Marabel (The Total Woman) Morgan had the answer to the Who-Am-I?-Bored-Housewife-Blues. We had only to put on a happy face, understand our men, forgive them their trespasses and all would be well. We wanted more? Easy. All we had to do was get buck nekkid, wrap ourselves in Saran, slap a big red bow on our heads and meet hubby at the door at 6:00, ready to stop, drop and roll. Forgive, forget and say Yes!

Coming of age in an era of such radical feminine duality was enough to drive us over the edge.

By the time we got serious-blonde-with-a-sensible-headband Hillary in the '90s, we were screwed up in more ways than one. Even those of us who'd foregone the early marriage, finished grad school and done great things, were screwed. We felt guilty if we'd done the domestic thing. We felt guilty if we hadn't. But...Hillary Rodham Clinton had done it all. She was a smart professional woman who was raising a really nifty kid. We loved that. She'd married a Mr. Right who'd made the Big Time and called her an equal partner. We loved that. Then came trouble and Hillary's caustic "stay home and bake cookies" line and "I'm no Tammy Wynette standin' by my man..." We turned off faster than a far-right Republican at a pro-choice rally.

Truth is, we first wave boomer girls have a love/hate relationship with Hillary Clinton. She didn't fall far into the good girl/bad girl trap, but she's neck-deep in the SOFT GIRL/HARD WOMAN one and the mixed message doesn't set well. She epitomizes the yin and yang of our perpetual struggle to come to grips with our place in the world and, because she swings both ways, we can't be expected to stay the course with her just because she's a woman. This woman seems to be as confused as we are. Maybe she's too much like us: Conflicted enough to keep dog-eared copies of both The Total Woman and The Feminine Mystique on her mental bookshelf. So maybe some of our sisters in Maine reverted to form and stayed home.