The book club I attend just finished our discussion of Nancy Horan's Loving Frank. The book is a fictionalized account of the love affair between married Mehmah Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect. Roughly 10 women gathered to discuss the book and its tragic ending.
Set in the early 20th century, it focuses on the intensely difficult choices a married mother faced when thinking of leaving her marriage and children to pursue this affair. While I in no way sympathize with adultery, I was left feeling that its much deeper than black and white. In fact, I felt that this woman faced the same choices and struggles women are still facing today.
Back then, women were overtly objectified; they grew up, maybe went to school, married, had kids and made a home. That was it. Maybe they volunteered, maybe they had quaint artistic hobbies, but that was it, especially for women of a certain class. Working was discouraged, even frowned upon.
I find today's objectification much more subtle. The fact that companies still advertise car parts to men and cleaning products to women gets my panties in a bunch. My daughter, who happens to love spiders, dinosaurs and dragons, often laments the lack of t-shirts with those things on them for girls. (We buy for her in the "boys" department if we have to.) Barbie, the symbol of all that is traditionally (and distorted) feminine just celebrated 50 years.
And women still ask themselves if they are making the right choices. Should I marry? Should I have kids? When I have kids, do I stay at home, giving up all I have worked for to stay home with them, or do I return to work outside the home? Which is better?
Many people have pontificated on this issue and they all claim to be experts. Books are written, studies are done, children are questioned, surveys are circulated. But just like Mehmah Cheney, is it really that easy? Is there a one size fits all answer for how we live our lives.
Clearly not; just look around. The variety available to women is staggering. So why don't women give each other and themselves the right to make their own choices. The most divisive thing we can do is fail to support each other. (This starts in middle school, but that's for another day.) When I hear a mom criticize another mom for her life choices I feel angry. What right do I have to dictate how another person should live her life?
As I have aged, my views on this and many other things have altered, which I suppose indicates growth. I used to think it was easy; you just have your kids and give them all. Wow is that hard. On the other hand, my sister returned to work shortly after her first was born. Wow is that hard.
You see? We are all doing hard work. We are all trying to make the best choices for our families. We simply have to get to the place where we are okay with difference. So Mehmah Cheney, in the book anyway, had to decide between a more artistic life outside of her marriage and with a married man and giving up herself to stay with her husband and children. Could she have lived a fulfilling life within her marriage? I don't know. And was leaving her husband really the best alternative? Was what she gained worth what she surrendered?
It was the public animosity that staggered her; and it is what tears us down still. We don't need so called experts to tell us what our kids need, if we are paying attention to them. We don't need some stranger to tell us that one choice is better than another. What we do need, though, is a community of women willing to accept all the different choices we can make in life.
Then we can teach our daughters, and our sons, that women can buy car parts and men can clean toilets, we can show them that the sky is the limit, we can teach them that there is no such thing as man's work and women's work. Isn't that they kind of world you want your kids to inherit?