I wrote a post on the other blog a while back about my fond memories of being in on the early-ish days of feminism and my sadness that many young women today eschew feminism while enjoying jobs and marriages they wouldn’t have had without feminists.
While the fringe branch I gather they object to existed in my day, they were not the main thrust of the movement. Those man-hating, marriage-bashing extremists have always been part of it but I’ve never felt like I was part of the same movement as them. The summer series Astronaut Wives Club has been reminding me of why we rebelled and the massive changes we have seen since my high school days, when we were expected to be nurses, teachers, wives… and that’s it. Most of us just wanted to have more choices and more dignity than women received then.
I started watching Astronaut Wives with skepticism, thinking I’d watch one or two and stop. Instead I’ve wound up riveted by the vivid portrait of how little respect and/or dignity women were accorded as recently as the 1960’s and the slow awakening of these characters. And, although I was aware of the space program and the astronauts, I wasn’t such a fan that I realized how their wives were being treated or that the husbands were like rock stars in those days.
Every week after watching I wish that all young girls and young women were required to see this chilling reminder of how poorly women were treated– with utter lack of respect, with assumptions that they were good only for sex and house work, that they shouldn’t have opinions (unless it was their husband’s) or interesting jobs, and on and on. That’s the world I was facing when I graduated from high school.
The roaring voices of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and their sisters stirred us to anger and demands for change. We were the generation that bashed down the doors and entered jobs we’d never been allowed, enrolled in graduate and professional programs in record numbers. We didn’t want to be stuck in those lives in which we were not supposed to speak out minds or have interesting jobs or step outside any bounds set by husbands. Most of my friends got married and many had chidren but they were also doctors and lawyers and social workers and stock brokers and editors…
My friends and I never hated men or advised anyone against marriage. Personally I always felt that true freedom has to allow all choices so I always stood up for the right to choose wife and mother. I just didn’t want that choice to mean they lost their voices or their right to independence and equality. My mother once said to me, “I hope you never get married. When a man marries you he thinks he has a slave for life.” And that’s really how marriage was for a lot of women in those days.
Marriage has changed so much for most people since then, it’s hard to imagine women putting up with the put-downs and “don’t speak” messages or the assumption that the only talents they could possibly have involved dust cloths and stoves. But that’s really how it was. Kudos to Astronaut Wives Club for reminding us how close we still are to the time when women were absolutely not equal. How many women still suffer in the U.S. from double standards and inequality. And that in many places in the world women still have it far worse than those American wives in the Sixties. There’s a lot for us feminists to do!