“Why did you feel guilty about missing your son’s prom pictures?” probed a forty-something mother at a presentation I made for a book I had written on balancing work and family during the eighties? “I miss my kids’ activities all the time. It’s just part of life.” She, a lawyer, was lecturing me on how to behave like an independent woman. Really?
All right, I’m old and grew up in the Eisenhower fifties in a white privileged suburb. I enjoyed being a girl. I loved my time as a Girl Scout. I anxiously awaited the monthly delivery of its publication, American Girl, and I read with great interest about Jane Adams and Mary Lincoln. I never questioned my role. I ran for Homecoming Queen and I tried out for cheerleading and made neither and lived with it.
When I had my children in the seventies, I raised them in a white privileged suburb. Though the norms of the past were being questioned, I was more apt to read about the picketing and protesting and write a newsletter for the PTA about augmenting school curriculum.
I was ahead of my time in the sense that I decided to return to work rather than remain a stay-at-home mom. I did face discrimination against my gender. When I was looking for space to open an art gallery in the early eighties, the agent who was showing me around, a man, looked at me skeptically and asserted, “You’ll be back playing tennis with your friends in six months.” Needless to say, it took me a while to find a landlord who had faith in me. I still believe that male mindset continues to linger on today. The point is: I prevailed.
When I look at life today for women, I am grateful to those who helped me maintain a center, like my mother and my grandmother and also for the suffragettes, Betty Friedan and the feminists, and the MeToo movement. I ask myself if I were I growing up today: Where would I stand? Would I ally with the Me Tooers? Would I decide to be transgender like the child of one of our friends? Would I pursue a career above all else and overlook the demands of family when necessary? Or would I, like I did in the eighties, try to balance it all and make every effort to be present for my son’s prom pictures?
Bottom line for me is a belief that there remain variations between men and women and within those disparities, we should each embrace our genders and work to do our best. I’m against the progressive belief that we need to continue to speak out about having been victims, and I’m against the other end of the spectrum who believe a woman’s place is in the home. But we should allow for our differences and accept the realities. I don’t think women are ever going to be quarterbacks for the NFL and I don’t think men are ever going to deliver babies. To equalize the playing field has its limitations.
Mimi Pockross is the author of Pulling Harvey Out of Her Hat: The Amazing Story of Mary Coyle Chase.