Thursday, March 8, 2012

What We Think: International Women's Day Edition

In honor of International Women's Day, I thought I would share some thoughts I've been having recently that stem from some of my most recent reading material and movies we've watched. Right now I'm ripping through a light read called "The House at Riverton" by Kate Morton.  I picked it up because I'm slightly obsessed with the BBC series "Downton Abbey". Like the series, the book is set in the 1920s, and tells the story of a wealthy British family from the perspective of one of their servants (who the story goes, happens to be one of their illigitimate children..of course).  But what really fascinates me in the book is the lives of women before the 1970s.  I also just finished Katherine Graham's autobiography - another great story that spans the life of an extreamly influential women from the early 1920s onwards.   We also just saw "The Iron Lady", and I was fascinated by Margaret Thatcher's (excuse the term) balls to get in politics when she did, as the only women in the British Parliament.   Further - I've been making my way through Mad Men, and while about six years behind the rest of the world, am completely hooked.

I enjoy reading about and watching how very different these women's lives were only 40-90 years ago from my own today.  Granted, I was neither born into nor did I marry into a family with the kind of money that these wealthy families had, so the comparison between our lives isn't entirely smooth, but none the less, I like to imagine how different my life would have been had I been born before the suffragist movement, or even before the women's liberation movement.

Would I have gone to University? Probably, given that I was the oldest child and that my father had.  Would I have been brave enough to go into a program like law and been one of the only women? Would I even have been accepted? Would I have gone to University for the sole purpose of meeting a husband while I toiled away in an Art History program (which according to hollywood is what all women who went to University between 1950-1965 took).  And had I met PB, or another professional like PB, would I have been happy to trade in my modest career of writing social notes for the local paper to stay at home and manage the home?

Let's imagine I had indeed met PB in 1952 and perhaps he opened his own little pharmacy, joined the Chamber of Commerce and the local golf club (all of which I would obviously be excluded from).  Would I be happy with a life that involved waking at about 8:00 am, to see PB off with a lunch packed and a kiss on the cheek, followed by some deep thinking regarding what I must remind our housekeeper to do that week, followed by some pottering about the yard, finding reasons to critique our landscapers, after which I realize if I don't hurry I'll be late for lunch with the ladies so I quickly change into a lovely dress and pearls, ensuring that my make up is perfect and my hair properly styled. 

After a gossipy lunch with the ladies, during which we discuss the latest charitable cause we are supporting by throwing a fabulous event (for which I've offered to supervise the caterers and florists - very generous given how busy I am), I head home to ensure that the house keeper has adequately done her work.  I arrive home obviously a bit worn out from my long lunch and the stress of managing household staff, only to be confronted with the fact that my housekeeper has had to leave early and I'll now be responsible for reheating the casserole she prepared for us.  Sigh.  On top of that, there is a Chamber of Commerce event that night that we'll be attending  and I am far from ready, and PB will be home in a matter of hours and will expect me ready when he arrives. 

I spend the next hour or so redoing my hair and makeup, and deciding which dress I'll wear.  I barely get the casserole in the oven and PB's scotch poured in time by the time he walks in the door.  Of course PB notices right away that in my rush of the day I've left the mail sitting on the counter, (very untidy), but luckily I'm able to smooth things over by promptly refilling his glass and complimenting him on his good decisions at work that he informs me about.  

We head off to the event, PB mingles with other business owners while I focus on making the best possible impression because of course my appearence and behavior reflects entirely on PB, and chat enthusiastically with the other wives about our latest home renovations, the stress of managing household help, the latest children's programs, and indulge in a bit of good natured gossip about a former aquaintance who's had the misfortune of being divorced.  PB and I head home and during the drive I politely listen and agree with PB's impressions from the evening, and am careful not to bother PB with too much information about my own day, after all, he's had a much busier and harder day than I and should be able to relax once home.  We romantically retire for the evening, thougherly exhausted from such a demanding day.

Let's just quickly compare that to the life that I have now, for which my predescessors fought so very hard for, and which I'm very appreciative of.

My day begins at 5:35 - PB is out of town again so I'm on my own.  As soon as the alarm goes I'm up quickly, get dressed and head out the door to walk the dogs for 40 minutes. I rush to get them fed, and fit in a short work out video before I shower.  Its very clear that now women not only have to be thin and pretty but we also have to be fit and strong and have six pack abs to be desirable.  Hence eating less and pottering about won't do it anymore.  During my workout one of the dogs throws up all their food and I'll now have to clean up that huge pile of vomit because the last time I tried to pretend I hadn't noticed the vomit PB totally busted me on it.   

I rush into the shower, during which I quickly do an inventory of my various black pants and ponder which have the least amount of dog hair on them.  I apply a quick coat of undereye concealer but only because I recently read an article that said that women who wear some makeup are more respected in the workplace.  Awesome.  I blowdry my bangs, but realize I have no time to blow dry the rest of my hair so I throw my hair into my usual messy ponytail, and consider myself done.  I quickly pack my own lunch because we're trying to save money so I avoid eating out.  I whip up a smoothie for my breakfast because there is certainly no time to sit down. 

I get to my car only to remember that I'm out of gas and out of windshield washing fluid.  Even though I'm now already late for work due to the vomit situation, I'll have to stop at the garage and deal with that, which I dread, because I'm obviously going to get covered in the dirt that's covering my car.  I drive 40 minutes to my place of work.  I get to work, fit in a run at lunch because I'm training for a half marathon (modern women should also be athletes).  I work 9 hours, get in my car and drive the 40 minutes home. 

Once home, I'll quickly change into an old pair of PB's sweat pants and an old stained hoody, and I'll need to take the dogs out for another walk because they're crazy from being inside all day.  I'll need to get the kitchen cleaned up from my breakfast smoothie (the damn blender leaked everywhere) and get a load of laundry on before PB gets home and asks what I was so busy doing that I didn't have time to empty the dishwasher (and I'll feel guilty because the night before I wasted hours on Pinterest instead of getting the house vaccumed).  I'll then need to make dinner that's vegan (the most compassionate, healthy and environmentally friendly diet - what else would today's women eat?) but is also creative, because PB hates having the same old thing for dinner and he's also trying to lose weight so it has to be healthy, and we only have squash, zucchini and soy yogurt in the fridge.  I'll be desperate for a glass of wine - but the latest studies have shown that the modern woman was drinking too much, so now I only allow myself wine on weekends. 

After dinner, PB, ever the modern man, will generously offer to tidy up the kitchen while pointing out to the dogs that he doesn't mind cleaning up the kitchen at all, especially not after a long day and a long drive.   This is helpful for me because in addition to my full time job  I also work a part time consulting job and need to get a report done for them I've been working on.   While I'm working on the report,  I'll remind PB that I need his T4 so I can get started on our taxes (the modern woman does the family's taxes herself).  This will trigger a conversation about what I made this year vs. what PB made and we'll joke about how I'm lucky he's there to support my ass and then I'll say that we really.really need a new blender.  PB will sigh and point out that there always seems to be something "I need" and that money doesn't grow on trees.

PB will then ask if there's anything in the house that I can pack for his lunch tomorrow.   I point out there's leftovers, but then we'll argue about the fact that he always forgets to take the leftovers that I pack up for him and ends up buying his lunch.  While I'm working on my report - PB will ask if I want to cuddle.  I'll grimace at him and he'll say I'm so unaffectionate and cold and ask why I hate him.  I'll remind him I don't hate him but that I'm working and I also know what he really means by "cuddle" (but silently think to myself that I really should stop being so frigid because that latest article I read said that frigid wives are why men cheat.)  We'll zone out in front of the tv for an hour, and then I'll head to bed at 8:30 and read books and magazines that make me think my life isn't so awesome and that I'd really prefer writing thank you notes all day and then flick off the light at 9:30 so that I'm ready to go the next morning.

Please don't get me wrong.  I have a such a great, easy and comfortable life compared to millions of women world wide.  I know how lucky I am.  I truly do.  But there are many times, times like when you're elbow deep in dog vomit that you are praying doesn't get on your work clothes because they're the last clean pants you have, that one can't help but fantasize of days before the modern woman's life.

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