Sunday, February 15, 2009

"No One Told Me Having Fun Is Not As Fun As I Thought"

So many of the important lessons about life seem only to be learned after we experience the path we shouldn't be taking. Two steps forward into the mist and one step back; a leap of faith followed by an honest measurement of where we've landed. All too often it's not so much a step as it is a pratfall that lands us in a mud puddle of dis-illusionment and humiliation. I know I've had my share lately...

Covered in the mud of our mistakes, caked in regrets; that's when the real learning begins, doesn't it. We wipe away our false beliefs and see things as they should have been, occasionally marveling at how backwards our old vision has been revealed to be.

As I clear up my latest personal glob of mud, I deeply sympathize with Zoe Lewis' confession of her own humbling revelations about the path she's been traveling. It's not easy to admit we've made a mistake, but that's the best way for good to come from self-inflicted tragedy:

A playwright who embraced the feminism espoused by her mother and flaunted by Madonna now feels betrayed

I never thought I would be saying this, but being a free woman isn't all it's cracked up to be. ...My mother was a hippy who kept a pile of (dusty) books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bed (like every good feminist, she didn't see why she should do all the cleaning). She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation. ...

Now, nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. I want love and children but they are nowhere to be seen. ...I was led to believe that women could “have it all” and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dreams - to be a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no.
I argue that women's libbers of the Sixties and Seventies put careerism at the forefront, trampling the traditional role of women underneath their Doc Martens. I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother wasn't such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of yesteryear.

Increasing numbers of my feminist friends are giving up their careers for love and children and baking. I wish I'd had kids ten years ago, when time was on my side, but the problem is not so much time as mentality. I made a conscious decision not to have serious relationships because I thought I had all the time in the world. Many of my friends did the same. It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.
Had I this understanding of my psyche ten years ago I would have demoted my writing (and hedonism) and pursued a relationship with vigour. There were plenty of men and even a marriage offer, but I wouldn't give up my dreams.

I talked to the girls who were the subject of my play Paradise Syndrome in 1999... Nicki P, 35 and single, works in the music industry and adds: “It was all a game back then. Now I am panicking. No one told me that having fun is not as fun as I thought.”

... Not all women want children but I challenge any woman to say she doesn't want loving relationships. I wish I'd had the advice that I am giving to my 21-year-old sister: if you find a great guy, don't be afraid to settle down and have kids because there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't do later (apart from having kids).

1 comment:

Eowyn said...

"I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me."

Amen, my sister.

I came of age during the zenith of the feminist movement, and it deeply resonated with me. All throughout childhood, I was explicitly or implicitly told the only meaningful intellectual experience I could enjoy as a woman was via the traditional careers -- secretary, nurse, etc. As a journalist, I could look forward to WAY less pay in the expectation that I'd only be working temporarily, anyway, due to family, which was my REAL vocation.

Well ... I'll try and keep my own history brief. I wanted a family, and was committed to being available to my girls full-time, so I gritted my teeth and did it. By the time my Dana was 5 and Maggie 2, I was literally climbing the walls. So my former husband (a prince of a man, and an excellent dad) and I worked it out where either he or I was with our girls at any given time (I took a part-time job). It worked out very well, indeed.

The problem with women is they want families, and families mean maximum devotion of time with a minimum of intellectual stimulation. (Unless you're one of those rare, blessed types that don't really want to do anything else.) The other problem is they like the freedom and independence of working, without the guilt of worrying about small offspring depending on their emotional availability every 3 seconds. No can do, obviously.

I recognize that children need a parent on-call throughout at least their young childhood. But the cost it asks -- especially if it asks it of just one of the parents -- is enormous, terrible, and debilitating. Even with BOTH parents involved, it is difficult. If a woman tries to fulfill the previously accepted social template, she invites insanity.

I'm a feminist, but I don't subscribe to the dogma. I don't hate men, I don't want ~revenge~ for all the centuries women were socially barred from intellectual and employment pursuits, and I fully realize what it takes to lovingly raise a child.

But I still can't solve the conundrum of how women can be fulfilled, intellectually and emotionally, while chaining themselves to the small, contained, intellectual vortex of daily life at home.

I've examined lots of arguments. "It IS an intellectual exercise to raise your child with all the resources at your command." Bollocks. Do enough laundry, clean up enough messes, cook enough food, and you've got zero energy to devote to ~creative upbringing.~ Much less reading and enjoying Dickens, or whomever you're craving at the moment. If it comes down to having to schedule a scant hour to read at night, that is NO reading, and NO enjoyment.

My point is that the changes asked of mothers in their lives are more than they should accept. Hence, the quite natural stepping up to the plate of today's fathers.

And what I'm seeing, culturally, is that parenting -- to the benefit of everyone -- is finally being shared. I credit the feminist movement.

But if any woman expects her path to be completely smooth, she is deluding herself. She should be thankful that she CAN finally pursue what she wants -- but there is no free lunch. Let the clock tick too long? Your fault. "Someone" should have told me how hard it is raising children? My generation already went through that, and worked it out. (Sort of. Workable, anyhow.)

We'll never go back (thank God) to forcing women to be full-time mothers. But children will be born, and they must be cherished. It might take some maneuvering, but it is possible. Today's women just need to surf these curls.