Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day 17 - A book you’ve read that changed your views on something

From Thirty Days of Truth

Yes, I know I skipped doing this for one day. I had a lot to do yesterday, many errands to run and I just didn't get back to the computer before I had my evening martini, and after a few sips of a martini what little filter I have disappears.

I graduated high school in June of 1964 with no plans beyond graduation except to go to work at some meaningless uninspiring job until I got married, then I'd quit my meaningless uninspiring job to become a wife and mother. While I longed for a real loving relationship, the idea of doing nothing but washing dishes and cleaning house all day seemed just as uninspiring.

I knew I was supposed to be happy with just being a wife and mother. I wasn't supposed to aspire to anything else. There was no talk of or encouragement for college and I envied my friends who headed off to colleges and universities in places I'd never been. But I was a lousy student, lucky to get a B in any subject. Why try for something more when I could never have it anyway? Why aspire to anything when my life script didn't call for the need of an education, let alone a career outside the home?

Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique, caused quite a stir when it was first published in 1963. My mother purchased the paperback when it was published, read about a quarter of the book, pronounced it "rubbish" and promptly threw it in the trash.

When I look back on my mother's reaction, I come to two conclusions: (1)She thought The Feminine Mystique was a "Sweaty Betty" book, a name we gave the genre of books my mother so voraciously read. Betty was my mother's nickname and the books she read had pictures of shirtless, musclebound men holding near-fainting women overcome with desire on virtually every cover and contained at least one descriptive passage of throbbing manhood, fiery loins, heaving breasts and gentle but passionate persuasion, hence Sweaty. (2) My mother had only an eighth grade education and didn't understand what she was reading.

I, being my mother's daughter, also thought The Feminine Mystique was a "Sweaty Betty" book and when she wasn't looking I pulled it out of the trash to read in the middle of the night. I hid the book underneath towels in the back of the linen closet in the hallway because my mother would periodically scour my bedroom for unauthorized make-up and jewelry.

The Feminine Mystique was a rather scholarly read, difficult for a marginally educated almost high school graduate to understand and absorb. And, at 17 years of age, I frankly was disappointed with the absence of throbbing manhood, although there is a part of the book in which Ms. Friedan questions Sigmund Freud's assertion that women have penis envy. I can remember thinking at the time, Uh, no I don't. Honestly, I really don't want one. I kinda like what I have.

Even though I often felt stupid because I had such a hard time with it, I was motivated and determined to read the entire book. I had to read paragraphs over and over again to grasp their meaning. I'd stop reading for a day or so because I had to think about what I'd read, then go back and read some more. Eventually, the concepts made sense to me and for many years thereafter I read more books and articles by feminist authors : Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Nancy Friday (My Mother, My Self), Kate Millett (Sexual Politics), Erica Jong (Fear of Flying), etc.

I was my own personal woman's movement. My inner voice was given words and I would never be the same. Now, so many years later, when I hear someone mention penis envy, I think, Dude, a woman doesn't want your penis. She wants your job!

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