Women–Can’t Live With Them and Can’t Live Without Them
By NANCY PATRICK
With only two human genders, one would think differentiating between them would be simple. To the contrary, defining the male and female sexes in modern times has become quite difficult. It has grown into fodder for political, moral, ethical, biological, and religious debates.
During this March of 2022, I am especially aware of the unique and complex roles of females in the past as well as the present. As a baby boomer born in 1950, I grew up in a time when women’s roles seemed clear (at least to my female relatives).
My mother, my aunts, and most of my friends’ mothers did not have jobs outside their homes. What we labeled “housewives” has become “stay-at-home” moms today. About the only women I knew who worked outside their homes were teachers, nurses, and retail employees.
The post-WWII era presented difficulty for men as well as women. Because so many men had fought against the Nazi regime in Germany, women left at home had to fill all the jobs that men had formerly done.
Women worked in factories, munitions businesses, and manual labor jobs to keep their economies alive. In addition to their new roles as breadwinners, they continued to maintain their households by providing necessities.
Most women of that generation and mine as well took home economics classes in school where we learned the qualities of good housewives. Many of us geared our educational and other choices toward becoming wives and mothers.
If you want a glimpse of reality for women in the United States before changes during the last five decades, look at this list of instructions from a 1950’s home economics book: Womens_Rights_in_the_American_Century_RS_6.pdf (umbc.edu).
As a baby boomer, I have struggled mightily between my innate desire to achieve professional success and my desire to be a perfect wife and mother. I soon learned that the twenty-four hours of a day will not accommodate both professional careers and blue-ribbon domestic achievements.
That acknowledgement presents difficulties for many women who “want it all” but face the dilemma of discernment between achieving what they want and keeping their health and sanity. We have to learn the skills of compromise, diplomacy, and self-esteem.
The current invasion of Ukraine has illustrated much of what remains a natural division between men and women. I refer to the heart-wrenching scenes of families torn apart as women and children flee the cities to safe havens in bordering countries. Our hearts break as we witness mothers carrying children and suitcases as they leave their husbands and fathers behind to fight for the country’s continued independence.
This separation has occurred as a necessity in a time of extreme duress. The women, to protect their families, chose to leave, while the men between the ages of eighteen and sixty were compelled to stay and help fight for their country. These men became citizen soldiers overnight.
The dire situation in Ukraine has created a somewhat natural division between men and women. I don’t think anyone debates what the Ukrainians did in regard to male/female roles in defending their families and their country.
Having said all that, I know from history and experience that women have been severely disadvantaged throughout time. From earliest days, men sensed that knowledge (education) bore power. Because they wanted to keep that power, they exerted control over women to keep women’s positions inferior to theirs.
A few quotes from well-known historical figures illustrate the general assessment of women:
Lord Chesterfield: “Women are only children of a larger growth.”
Euripides: “I hate learnéd women. May there never be in my abode a woman knowing more than a woman ought to know.”
Dr. Samuel Johnson: “As the faculty of writing has been chiefly a masculine endowment, the reproach of making the world miserable has been always thrown upon the women.”
As I think of the women who paved the way for my own opportunities for education, career, and family, I remember that women in some countries remain chattels of their husbands or fathers. The rulers forbid them education and demand they cover their bodies from head to toe so they will not tempt men to sin sexually.
The women in strict Muslim countries must still fight and suffer persecution for asking for education and basic human respect. In 2014, fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai suffered severe head injury from an attempted assassination by the Pakistan Taliban who ordered the hit because they feared the popularity generated by Malala. Her crime—advocacy for girls’ education—threatened the Taliban’s power.
I especially appreciate the women in America who suffered greatly in the early 20th century so women could gain the right to vote, thus giving them a voice in their own government. To learn the extent to which these women went to achieve suffrage and the extent to which the government went to prevent their success, I highly recommend the movie Iron-Jawed Angels. The movie accurately illustrates the sacrifices many women made for their fellow female citizens.
Limiting the length of an article on women’s impressive strength, intelligence, commitment, grace, and ability to rise again when buried by bureaucracy is a difficult task.
I want to write about the women writers who opened the eyes of the reading public to the oppression of their lives (Kate Chopin, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Willa Cather, et al.)
I want to extol the work of scholars like Marie Curie and her work in the field of radioactivity and the women of Hidden Figures (Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Gobels Johnson) whose mathematics’ genius aided NASA in the early days.
Though a difficult and controversial topic—sexual harassment—has headlined much news in the last several decades. I greatly respect women such as Anita Hill, who brought to light questions regarding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and more recently Christine Blasey Ford, who did the same during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.
Though these women knew the public scrutiny they would suffer, they came forward to reveal unpleasant parts of their own pasts. Their motivation was to inform the American people of possible reasons to question the candidates’ worthiness for these positions.
Women in all walks of life face challenges based on their sex. Though women’s judgment is sometimes flawed when they feel trapped between women’s equality and their desire for love, acceptance, and family, nonetheless, women continue to forge ahead as they seek their rightful place as equal human beings in a complex and divisive world.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing