Hold off on the hate email for just a moment. As vile as that statement is (and I know, I wrote it), it seems to me an unfortunate truth. But a statement of conviction shouldn’t be mistaken for an indication of approval. Nothing has made me more disheartened and concerned for both my country and myself than the citizens of this nation installing an undisciplined, unqualified and unstable megalomaniacal misogynist in the Oval Office. Yet it can’t be denied Trump’s presidency has galvanized women (and plenty of good men) like nothing in over the past half century.
When millions marched across the country and around the world the day after the inauguration, a new revolution began. To be honest, I’ve been waiting for it for quite some time.
As a young feminist in college I was fired up about the inequities women faced, but like a fool I thought all the heavy lifting on that front had been done in this country. With all the rights and opportunities afforded women by the initial Women’s Rights Movement of 1848 and that of the Second Wave in the 1960s, I leaned back and brushed my palms across each other as if wiping off dirt. I felt we had this thing wrapped up.
Then I got married and became a mother. The two events happened in rapid succession and were not entirely planned. Well, the marriage was planned (largely by myself). No one tricked me into that one. I willingly and happily complied when my husband got down on one knee in the middle of a swanky restaurant in the West Village and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. I’d planned on doing that anyway.
The baby was different. The baby came out of nowhere. When three weeks after my honeymoon I stood in the bathroom of our Brooklyn apartment staring down at the pregnancy stick as a little blue line materialized, I stumbled back against the wall. This most definitely was not part of my plans.
Despite our five-year courtship – living together for three – before making our commitment official, marriage and children had never been on my vision board. This was mostly because vision boards are a little hokey and because they didn’t exist in the late 1990s. But if they had, mine would’ve been thumbtacked over with plane tickets and photographs of exotic beaches and tear-outs of The New York Times best sellers lists and flyers for literary events and maybe a photo of a corner office or any office in a tower high above Manhattan because all I ever wanted since the time I was a child was to have a fulfilling career, and since I didn’t think I could write I set my sites on becoming an editor.
I didn’t need a vision board for that. I’d held my plans in my heart and head for over 20 years. Throughout high school and college and into my early adulthood, I directed all my energy toward them. My first job out of college I managed to land a position at a publishing house. I thought I’d actually done it. I was mere inches away. If I reached out my arm and stretched my fingertips I could almost grab ahold of my dream.
Then I got pregnant. After that my vision constricted. When I found myself out of a job a year and a half later, my vision narrowed even further.
After my maternity leave I’d gone back to work, but I’d arranged to return part-time. A few months later when we bought a house and moved to the suburbs, I continued working part-time but rearranged my schedule again to accommodate the commute while getting Kate back and forth to the sitter. I was lucky to have this arrangement, which was only afforded to me by the kindness and generosity of a boss who was willing to work with an employee in the throes of managing the massive dual responsibilities of career and keeping another helpless human being alive. At the time I was the only person in my small department of all women to have a child. But not long afterward, when my company sold off my division I found myself once again in the daunting position from a year earlier. Again I had to patch together some kind of system largely on my own with little margin of error that would allow me to work while also managing most of the responsibilities for another (very little) person’s life. Only now I had to do it without the benefit of an understanding boss.
With no daycare centers offering the hours I’d need to find full-time work in the city, where my industry existed and where I’d need to go to continue my career (12 hours a day with the commute) and reliable babysitters nearly nonexistent (my sitter couldn’t offer the hours either), I made the reluctant decision to stay home to care for Kate.
At home with no family, no friends and not even much of a husband around, my increasing solo responsibility for Kate became so absolute that my prospects for work or any kind of life outside the house dwindled to nearly nothing. Kate may have had two parents, but when it came to the day-to-day, demanding, ceaseless work of childcare, those jobs fell almost exclusively to me. I scheduled Kate’s pediatrician appointments and attended the visits. I ensured she ate the requisite amount of fruits and vegetables. I figured out when and how to potty train her. I kept track of and enforced her eating, sleeping and bathing schedules. I planned the birthday parties and sent out the invitations and wrote the thank you notes and bought the gifts. I read her books and took her to the library. I researched and visited all the preschools. I made the rules and set the limits. And, if I had a job outside the home, I was aware these childcare responsibilities weren’t likely to change. I couldn’t see how to manage it all. While my husband left the house early every morning and returned late, making rent, I was confined to the house and child. His life continued on as if nothing ever happened while mine had been completely upended.
How could this be? None of my college professors nor any of the mothers who had come before me ever mentioned a thing about this. At the age of 29 at the dawn of the new millennium, I found myself inexplicably and without warning in what felt like the era of my grandmother. Frankly, I felt duped.
While I was unprepared for a child when I had one, I recognized most women in the world, a large portion of whom worked outside the home, eventually do have families. My question was: How? When I tried to combine a family and a career as I had every reason to believe I would, I found it nearly impossible. I felt thrust out into the wilderness, left to piece together some kind of solution on my own. There was no structure, no procedures to follow, no actual system in place for people with families, which was odd since that segment of the population included nearly everyone on the planet.
The system we were going with seem to be every woman for herself. See what you can cobble together. Lots of luck.
After being home with my daughter for a few weeks, I stood at the kitchen sink, having cleaned up the breakfast dishes, and stared out the window. I wondered what ever happened to the women’s movement? In the plaintive tones of Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” I cried, “Where have all the feminists gone-on-on?”
We had a lot of unfinished business to take care of.
Undeniably, extraordinary advances in women’s rights have been made, allowing me to write this piece for example. Women do have the opportunity to work – just as long as we still manage to do everything else, a truth astutely noted by Arlie Hochschild in The Second Shift. But that observation was made in 1989. How at this late date did we still have no solution? Anne-Marie Slaughter wondered the same as late as 2012 when she wrote her notorious piece in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The article riled up plenty of women and caused a stir in the media, but Slaughter simply stated what I’d been experiencing for the past decade. And I was no policy director in the White House. The situation reminded me of the catch-22 situation of Cinderella and the ball. Cinderella could go to the ball as long as she got all her chores done, but of course the work would never be done. In the case of mothers the work involves the monumental, perpetual task of molding helpless human beings into capable, confident, productive citizens. It’s not to be taken lightly, can’t be glossed over and needs practical, viable, wholesale solutions.
For fifteen years I’ve been ready for the revolution. Waiting for women to rise up, demanding finally to be viewed and treated as equals in all realms, on every account, definitively. I’ve been wondering for years where the outrage and resistance was. On January 21 I found it.
But the revolution has only just begun. It continued with rallies in support of Planned Parenthood that took place across the country the following month. And today on International Women’s Day women will #resist with a strike for a “Day Without a Woman,” showing the world (and our families, bosses and coworkers) exactly what a woman’s worth is.
If one good thing is to come of this presidency, let it be this.
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