Reading this NY Times piece on last week’s 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment (the one that gave women the right to vote) stopped me in my tracks. Ninety years, really? Is that all? And had it been that long? It seems like another world, doesn’t it? Floor-length skirts, bustles, corsets. Not voting. So much has changed.
But has it?
I’m a child of the 70’s. That was Women’s Lib time. Bra-burning time. I was dimly aware of all that, but not from my mother. She was wearing cat’s-eye glasses and taping little swoops of her dark brown hair to her temples at night with pink tape to create curls the next day. Instead I learned about the feminist movement from reading contraband copies of my older brother’s Mad Magazine. I’m still a little miffed that Mom wasn’t out there marching with signs.
We take our mothers with us to the births of our own children. I’m more like my mother in this than I wish to be. At 7 I wanted to be a hippie, but I still ended up following many of my mother’s size-six footsteps.
I was embarrassed and chagrined to notice, when attending a particular Buddhist meditation sangha for the first time this week, my surprise that the leader was a woman. After all, this is 2010! 40-plus years after bra-burning and Women’s Lib! 90 years after women’s suffrage! Why am I still entrenched in Mad Men-style gender roles?
I don’t think I’m alone in this. When people look at women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi they say, “Look how far we’ve come! Women in places of power!” My thought when hearing that (despite my own, identical, reaction) is Why is this a big deal at all? Other countries seem far more blase about their women leaders. India had Indira Gandhi. The Phillipines had Corazon Aquino. Even England had Margaret Thatcher.
What are we teaching our daughters about being women? When we ourselves have reactions like mine from the other evening, doesn’t that filter through to our children? Sweetie, you can be anything you want when you grow up. Maybe even President! How many of us have said well-meaning words like those to our daughters, words that really send the message that being “anything” is really hard, that it’s not enough to just be who we are regardless of our genitalia.
I don’t have an answer for this. I don’t really know what messages I am sending my daughters and how those messages will affect them in twenty or thirty years. It’s my hope that things are slowly changing and that we are giving our daughters tools that will allow them to feel their own empowerment, but I’m saddened by what I see around me: the sexualization of younger and younger girls in clothing stores and advertising; the pressure my new fifth-grader feels to have a “boyfriend” like many of her classmates do, even though she thinks of boys as friends; the hope people attach to the few visible women we see in places of power. We have so many examples of powerful women throughout history (Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great…), but who are our role models? Real Housewives of New Jersey. Really? Is that all we have to offer ourselves?
What do you see occurring in your family? Do you think your daughters are taking on your views on gender roles? Where do you think women in this country will be in twenty years? Are we truly ready for a woman President, and would that make a difference for us?