I’ve lived long enough to witness remarkable changes in the world of being a woman. When I was a child most of the fathers went to their jobs and the mothers stayed home tending to the children and caring for the house. It was somewhat rare for a married female to have a job, but I did witness a small number of women who worked outside the home. Most of them were either teachers or nurses, thus my original belief that I would have few choices in a career when I became an adult. Nonetheless, I was most enchanted with two neighbor women who seemed to be blazing an independent trail of their own. One was a commercial artist and the other was a lawyer.
For some reason these two women took a shine to me. They invited me to their homes for little visits that involved walking into a different kind of world in which they were coequals with their husbands. I suppose these trailblazers left an indelible impression on me because I absolutely adored and admired them. I was impressed by their advanced educations and the interesting ways in which they lived their lives. Sometimes I think they were attempting to reframe my thinking by giving me a glimpse of possibilities.
After my father died I watched my mother become responsible for all of the tasks involved with working outside of the home and returning each evening to maintain the routines of keeping our household in order. She seemed to accomplish those her work with great aplomb, making me believe that women can be as strong and independent as men. I entered my own marriage with an attitude that I was as capable as my husband in almost every regard save for lifting heavy objects. He and I became a wedded team rather than assuming the old fashioned models that I had so often observed when I was a young girl. The old traditions of the man taking charge did not work for me. Luckily the times were changing and most of the marriages of my friends mirrored the new independence that women were achieving everywhere.
Today’s modern married couples have taken the teamwork idea up an even more amazing notch. I watch the younger men sharing in household duties and caring for the children on an equal footing. They think nothing of cooking the dinner, doing their own laundry, getting the kids ready for school. It is simply a natural progression of mutual respect that seems to have grown from the pioneering days of women like the artist and lawyer that I once knew and from brave souls like my mother who proved that a woman can beautifully handle the whole shebang on her own when necessary.
I still see vestiges of the old ways of doing things, especially among the older folks who are still with us. My father-in-law always takes my husband into another room to discuss business. He balks at suggestions that I have for getting repairs or managing money. He requests me to take care of the once female only duties like washing his clothes and shopping for the items he needs for his diet. He is stunned to see my husband and grandson cooking. He is visibly uncomfortable with my independence. He has balked at the openness of my opinions. I think that he can’t quite decide if he likes the way I behave or is somewhat repulsed by it. His two wives were highly capable and bright women who mostly deferred to his demands. He sees himself as the ultimate protector of the “weaker” women and he is gentlemanly in doing that in a very traditional way, but I am unwilling to give in to his old fashioned demands. He is a man of his era while I am a woman of mine.
My granddaughter is thoroughly modern. She has run an organization with thousands of members. She flies across the country alone without batting an eye. She has formed her own set of beliefs and opinions and is not afraid to voice them. She is the newest generation of brilliant and educated women who have goals as lofty as only men once had. She brings my admiration full circle as she works toward a goal of becoming a lawyer. She is unafraid, competent, reliable and no doubt cannot even imagine being treated like a hot house flower unable to make decisions or understand complex ideas.
There are still some people who long for the old days. They have romanticized the times when women could not have their own credit cards or bank accounts. They seem to to think that having the men in charge of everything outside of the home was chivalrous, and maybe it was back then, but those days are long gone. Women have proven that they can and will serve as equal members of a team. The young women that I know share responsibilities with their husbands in a spirit of mutual respect.
We still don’t have a perfect record when it comes to the role of women in society. Many cultures in the world have reverted to tragically domineering treatment of the females in their midst. They withhold education and deny women opportunities to work outside of the home. Even in our own country women are often under attack when they assert their freedoms. We have to be watchful for any signs that indicate a backward trend. Our young girls deserve to be equal to their male counterparts. We’ve come a long way and there should be no turning back.