Lily Pads And Leaping Frogs

 

 

Article first published elsewhere in 2009 and re-issued in response to Katherine Gregor's post

 

About forty years ago, there was a daffy Beatrix Potter image in circulation based on the conjoined masculine and feminine symbols. The wisdom quoted was that Woman was the lily-pad from which Man could leap into the ether.

And leap he has! Right into the drink!

Why this should have been current when Feminism was digging in its heels is interesting and somewhat ambivalent.

With Darwin up for consideration again, (incidentally, I have no problem with Darwin and the Bible) I recently revisited the Genesis account of Creation. Post-Fall, one translation states of Woman: "...your yearning shall be for your husband, yet he will lord it over you."  You don't have to be a theologian or a scientist to agree or disagree with this. It has its own compelling mythic power and rings psychologically true beneath all the layers of enlightened revision.

Commonly, women put the interests of their menfolk to the fore and will be the first to shut down those aspects of personality and aspiration which have no room to flourish within coupledom, for the salvation of the unit. This is the principal reason that many fewer of them have historically gained recognition in the Arts.

Isn't it also the underlying reason why Political Feminism is doomed to bring on a whole new set of problems in spite of its achievements? Whatever measures are taken, the truth will shuffle the cards to achieve a status quo and the 'glass ceiling' will exert compression like some ghastly scene from a James Bond film.

No sane person could be against redressing injustice and giving women an equal education and the option of a life without marriage, particularly an independent caring, teaching or artistic life, using her creative and nurturing skills. But that's humanitarianism. There's a sharp difference between that and the drive to compete with men in the boardroom. That sort of high-octane ambition generates resentment, proves nothing and is not worth sacrifice. (However, I am glad there are women in Parliament and some other high places, representing the female experience, who are prepared to struggle with the practical and emotional demands of their career for the greater good.)

Feminism as a Movement has emasculated men to the point where they're no longer confident of their role and can't win either way. It has also produced an excess of androgen in women to the point where some are distressed to find themselves sprouting beards!

Jung explains that pair-bonding is secured by the feminine in the man treating with the masculine in the woman. This confirms the essential identity of both and makes the relationship foursquare.

Women need to take on board, not just in an intellectual way, that on the shared platform of conjugal harmony, he has not arrived on the same train. Novelists, like Danielle Steel, have grown wealthy on peddling an archetype of manhood that is a woman's fantasy. We wish men were like that. At least we think we do. This makes us disappointed in reality and each dysfunctional.

It's all out of kilter and we must make shift as best we can. It can do no harm to trade chores. That's teamwork in a society shot through with multiple stresses and it can't be denied that men possess true inspiration in the culinary department, something that would have been anathema to our fathers and grandfathers, except in the Savoy Grill. But to insist on a division of labour that undermines the natural strengths of each gender is to invite chaos.

While women are the ones to bear children, there will always be discrimination against them in the workplace, with the best will in the world. That we ourselves have undervalued our child-rearing and homemaker vocation has come back to bite us. We are still not content and don't command the same male respect for our role which our mothers and grandmothers took for granted. Were women ever more august than on the cusp of Emancipation? The hand that rocked the cradle a century ago knew a thing or two and was well wised up as to how to rule the world. They fondly allowed their menfolk to cling to the illusion that they were the 'logical' ones!

The wisdom of persevering in adversity is powerful and wreaks change, no matter that it sometimes looks like defeat while that's going on.

Childbirth may be awesome, but I sometimes think it was a mistake to allow husbands and partners into the delivery room. Our forebears just got on with it and preserved a little mystique. Today, we somehow get the idea that we're not actually living unless we're 'on stage' every step of the way.

That's probably down to Shakespeare. Now, I wonder whether he was able to appreciate that Anne Hath-a-way with him?

Upon reflection, perhaps it was the other way round!

 

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Gender Equality: Women's Attitudes.

International Women's Day makes me feel uneasy.  The fact that there should still be a need for it.  For all the leaps and bounds we've have made in Europe and other countries since the relatively recent times when women couldn't vote or own property, there are still many issues to address before true equality is achieved between the sexes. And one thing I feel very strongly about is that more could be done by women themselves to redress this imbalance.  

Every International Women's Day, I mentally give thanks for having a vote and for all the countless other rights I enjoy which were denied to my female ancestors and, still now, to millions of other women all over globe. But I also feel deeply sad when I think of how many women – perhaps inadvertently – still fuel this gender inequality with their own attitudes and the signals they send out to men and, especially, to other women.     Perhaps our first step should be true independence and self-sufficiency.

    Naturally, I am speaking here about women who have a choice.

    A few weeks ago, I was at a lunch, surrounded by half a dozen or so women I admire greatly for their education, their professional achievements and their indisputable intelligence.  Every woman at that table could be a role model for any little girl. This is why I was somewhat shocked to discover that I was the only woman there who had not changed her surname after getting married. The others had kept their own names in the professional field but, in their personal lives, had legally taken on their husbands' surnames. Time and again, I am surprised by the overwhelming number of women – and young women at that – who take their husbands' surnames after marriage. Some will argue that most of us carry our fathers' and not our mothers' surnames, anyway, but there's a huge difference between being given a name as a baby, when we have no choice in the matter, and consciously, actively choosing to take on a man's surname in countries where this is no longer a legal requirement. Doesn't that send a message akin to saying, "because we love each other I will let you own, change, part of my identity"? I hate to say this, but to me, this is setting the tone for inequality from the outset.  Please explain this to me if I am missing something here.

 

How can you attain equality without self-sufficiency? A landlady I used to lodge with when I was a student once prevented me from doing an easy repair on the cat flap. She said her boyfriend would do it when he dropped by later.  When I tried to insist, she said, "Never learn to do DIY, or you'll always have to do it."

    Brought up in an all-female household where we fixed our own taps, I was shocked. Actively refusing to learn a skill you didn't enjoy simply on the grounds that you might have to use it at some point in your life struck me as willfully curtailing, in however small a way, your self-sufficiency.

    My landlady was not an isolated case. Too many women delegate financial matters to their husbands because they're "hopeless at maths" (I confess I was guilty of that in my first marriage).  Too many women lack the most basic DIY skills because "it's a man's job".  Women who – and that's something I cannot understand – don't have a bank account of their own.  Fair or not, having at least a little of your own money is the first step to self-preservation, never mind independence.  Many people choose to cohabit without getting married because it's important for them to feel that they're in the relationship out of choice and not because they're bound to it by a legal document.  Trust me, the legal document can be dealt with much more easily than the crippling, paralysing fear, deep at the back of your mind, that you couldn't leave even if you wanted to because you couldn't afford a roof over your head or keep yourself in the style of life you have been accustomed to.

    I believe that loving and respecting your partner or husband is also expressed by not being totally dependent on him, because every ounce of dependence you place on someone else is the amount by which you prevent him or her from being fully him or herself.  Of course, we all depend on our partners in many ways, emotionally, if nothing else.  However, being financially dependent not only gives your partner power over you and limits your freedom, but places you in a potentially very vulnerable position.

 

Every Friday night, walking past the pubs in the city centre, you see young women in sheer, short or very low-cut dresses despite the cold weather.  The men, on the other hand, are dressed for the season.  Apart from feeling astonished that they don't feel the cold, I   can't help but wonder: Why not just bring a jacket or a wrap in case they feel cold later  or in case it rains? Are they so sure of their health? Are they consciously or unconsciously relying on a man gallantly giving them his jacket? I see these young women balance on such high heels, it is anatomically impossible to – should, God forbid, the need arise – run or even walk fast on them.  As an older woman watching them, they appear to me like the picture of vulnerability and, consequently, potential dependence. 

    A bugbear of mine is women demanding to be paid maintenance after a divorce if they don't have young children to support.  Women who feel that, having given "the best years" of their lives bringing up a family and then finding it hard to get jobs in middle age (and, yes, this is a social reality, unfortunately), they are entitled to be supported after a marriage has ended.  As a divorce lawyer I once met put it: a marriage is a relationship, not a pension plan.  Having no children myself, I cannot begin even to imagine how hard or even almost impossible it is to keep earning while raising a family well.  But I also know women who, as soon as their children started school, began attending courses, keeping abreast of developments in their professional field, and taken on part-time work.  Admittedly, many cannot go back to their original, pre-family careers, so they learn new skills.  I am not, not, not suggesting this is easy.  Only that it is worth doing whatever it takes to keep as much of one's independence as possible.  How can someone who consciously allows herself to be dependent be viewed as an equal?

    I frequently come across women doing work they enjoy, often artistic jobs, which don't pay enough to support even just them alone.  They have the luxury of being able to do this because their husbands have "proper" jobs.  Apart from the blatant unfairness of the situation, what if these husbands suddenly lose their "proper jobs" or decide they want a divorce? Are these women equipped to survive financially? I know only too well how soul-destroying an unfulfilling job can be, but, surely, we have a responsibility to have at least the potential to keep the wolf away from the door, don't we?

    I love it when my husband or a male friend automatically pays for me in a restaurant or coffee shop.  It's so chivalrous.  But, sisters, we just can't have it both ways.  In general, I am often surprised by the number of self-proclaimed feminists who turn all 19th century fair sex as soon as it comes to putting their hands in their pockets.

    

I feel very strongly that one of the ways towards gender equality is also solidarity among ourselves.  Wherever possible, it's important that women stick together, encourage one another, are sympathetic towards one another, and not undermine members of our own sex.

    Let's stop watching one another in the mirrors of ladies' rooms, trying to assess who is better dressed, better made-up, more attractive, more of a competition out there where the men are waiting.  Let's stop putting one another down.  It is deeply sad but undeniably true that too many women see other women as competitors rather than allies.  Too many catty remarks are made where praise and appreciation would be much more constructive.      At the beginning of last winter, wearing a new russet-coloured coat and a Tudor-style, brown velvet hat on a slant, I went to see a female friend.  The two men I was with had commented on how lovely I looked, so I rang my friend's bell, a smile on my face.  She opened the door, took a quick look at me from top to toe, and said, "Gosh! Russian winter, is it?" My smile disintegrated.

    A couple of years ago, a friend invited me over for tea on the occasion of her birthday.  H. had a prior commitment, so I went alone.  To be fair, my friend didn't bat an eyelid, but the other woman in her living room, complete with husband, said, "What? Without H.?" Her arch tone and raised eyebrow suggested a hint of disapproval rather than genuine surprise.  But perhaps my making it an odd number of guests made the room look untidy.

    Many a man is invited over for supper, by the wife of a couple, while his wife is away, "so he doesn't eat alone, poor thing".  How many wives are invited over for dinner while their husbands are away?

    When a woman is single, it's true to say that – at least in this country – attached women will socialise with her when their husbands are otherwise engaged and seldom invite her to couples' outings.  Are they afraid that she cannot hold her own in a conversation without a man present?

    Several years ago, a friend invited me to her engagement party.  "Please bring someone," she said.  

    I was single at the time, so told her I'd be coming alone.

    "But you'll have no one to talk to!" she replied.

    I hadn't realised that it was a "bring your own conversation partner" event, or that she viewed me as a ventriloquist's doll.  Needless to say, I declined her invitation.

    My new female friend L. tells me this strong territorial instinct is a naturally-programmed leftover from our primitive female ancestors, who had to fight tooth and nail to keep other women from their males in order to ensure their very survival and that of their offspring.  I like to think that we have evolved since then.  We've had the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Sturm und Drang, and the Suffragettes.  It's time to shake off the primitive leftovers, right? 

    Time to take full responsibility for ourselves, and treat our fellow women with compassion and encouragement – always.  The fact that many men still consider us as second-class citizens is not a reason to lose our self-respect and our dignity, but, on the contrary a reason to consolidate it.  This isn't about their attitudes, but ours.

Scribe Doll 

 

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Just do it. Go.

Sometimes, life makes you want to throw your arms up in the air in full f%*# it all!

Cue in time to get lost ... in a feisty swim under a sun flecking through warming water, yoga on the beach to salute the sun at dawn or a tear along the Great Ocean Road on the back of a bike. Sometimes just being with a friend that lets you blurt out a chain of rants and holds you when distress is too great for your shoulders or sitting with one of those gangly kids who seem so disinterested in anything seriously adult but that care more deeply than you realise, can help the blood reduce its boil.

And generally, within a few pounding heart beats or slamming round-kicks to the punching bag, that little whisper begins to be heard, ‘do whatever makes you happy.’

We lost a dear uncle last night after he suffered a second heart attack, the first being at home before being air lifted to hospital. Easy to write that he's passed, much more difficult to express the loss. I cried of course, in streaming tears, while I tried to think through my exam document and interviews and battling a virus, even while preparing dinner. Cooking's always a reflecting time. A gentle man, caring, and the other half to my aunt, he was her doctor she would say, having to insert drops into her eyes every day. I saw him as the quiet achiever, always busy in the basement or outside, shifting wood for the heater and taking food scraps to the compost, even in sub zero temperatures, watching, always smiling, understanding everything, including my English words.

And when l realised l'd seen him only a few weeks ago, l cried even more. He and my aunt lived in the mountains on the other side of the world to me and l'd only just visited them a few weeks ago. It had been six years since the last visit. It was wonderful of course, winter and snow in Austria with my youngest son, sister and her son, and my aunt and uncle and all their family. Quite blissful, like being home.

‘Do whatever makes you happy.’ That little faint whisper persists.

I’m thankful I got to see him but never imagined it would be my last time. 

It just so happened too that a few hours before my uncle’s passing, the beautiful Azure Window in Malta collapsed and crashed into the ocean during a wild storm. We were enjoying the Azure Window’s beauty after seeing our family in Austria, my son climbing the rocks, dwarfed by the magnificent jagged formations and the blowing spurts of sea. Now it’s gone, forever. Loss is grief.

Treasures like these are priceless, where they may be gone in physicality but still linger in a soulful presence that never fades. I'm so blessed to have been able to tell my uncle (and aunt) that l loved them when l saw them those weeks ago, to have glimpsed their emotional tears as we said good bye, to feel their love.

Thankful and grateful are my two words for the week. ‘Do whatever makes you happy,’ l say to my sons, ‘as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else.' That's in the perfect world of course.

Life's too short to hesitate. Just do it. Go. Do what makes you happy.

I'm in Sydney on the weekend and that little whispering in my ears is far from softening.

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Springtime in Winter

Bright yellow daffodils and the white blossoms on pear trees continue to decorate this late winter landscape.   Gerald and I have both had our first cold that we have had in a year or two, but we cannot blame it on the weather. This has been an unusually warm winter here in Southern Illinois, and I have kept expecting it to change.Yesterday's rainy weather while I was out and about doing errands after I had a semi-annual check up with the heart doctor made me think of April--not winter.  Last night's wind storm did some slight damages here, but nothing like the tornadoes a few days ago over at Elkville and elsewhere.

Other areas have not escaped winter. After Gerald's sister Ernestine and husband Don stayed around for some final family visits here before they left our warm weather and headed back to Wyoming, they were dreading the snow and ice-covered roads between here and there. They made it back safely, and we were grateful. Last Sunday, I noticed our son was wearing a coat at the softball game down at Texas A&M while we were still able to opt out of jackets.

I just hope we do not have one of our March blizzards this weekend when family is coming up from Texas and Tennessee for granddaughter Erin and Josh's baby shower. Preparing for the new baby girl coming into our family's lives has been such a joy during our season of sorrow. First the dining room table and then the bed in the guest bedroom has been covered with sweet frilly clothes and girly gift bags, and now I have to get that room back in operation before company starts arriving for this weekend's party.

The last baby girl in our immediate family when out granddaughter Cecelie was born—and she is a senior in high school this year! We have delighted in our three great grandsons since then, but we are definitely ready to welcome a little girl into the mix.

Erin's sister Tara has suggested instead of using a card with our gift that we inscribe a children's book—one we already have and cherish or one we choose just for Caroline Marie. That has been a fun idea. (I have been concerned when I realized how much cards cost these days. I loved the gorgeous cards given us for our anniversary party, but was shocked when I realized how expensive they were. They have been re-read more than once and are carefully stowed away for future enjoyment.) With cards costing more than some books, Tara's idea is an excellent one. I can just imagine how much pleasure Josh and Erin will have reading to their little girl.

Regardless of whether spring weather stays or not, our hearts are warmed that we have a new birth coming up to celebrate.

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