Friday, January 12, 2007

What I Meant

"The book came from somewhere deep within me and all my experience came together in it: mother's discontent, my own training in Gestalt and Freudian psychology, the fellowship I felt guilty about giving up, the stint as a reporter which taught me how to follow clues to the hidden economic underside of reality, my exodus to the suburbs and all the hours with other mothers shopping at supermarkets, taking the children swimming, coffee klatches. Even the years of writing for women's magazines when it was unquestioned gospel that women could identify with nothing beyond the home--not politics, not art, not science, not events large or small, war or peace, in the United States or the world, unless it could be approached through female experience as a wife or mother or translated into domestic detail! I could no longer write within that framework. The book I was now writing challenged the very definition of that universe--what I chose to call the feminine mystique. Giving it a name, I knew that it was not the only possible universe for women at all but an unnatural confining of our energies and vision."

Betty Friedan, 1973

As I sat thinking into my computer the other night, names like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Betty Friedan, Kate Chopin and Edna Pontellier, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Adrienne Rich, Jean Rhys and Bertha Mason Rochester, Virginia Woolf, even Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath came to mind. I've read these women, I've taught the literature of these women, I've claimed to understand these women. But I haven't understood these women--until now, age 36 and three children in.

This understanding versus a peripheral understanding has come with experience, the experience of being a woman, a wife, a mother. This leading to an understanding of subtleties, the yellow in The Yellow Wallpaper, the mystique of The Feminine Mystique.

In identifying with the struggles of some of these women, then, I'm paying homage. A tribute to any woman teetering on the edge. The Ednas. The Virginias. The wives. The mothers. The ones who make it, and the ones who don't. I intend to be one of the ones who makes it. To go skinny dipping occasionally when the air is hot and the moon is right. But to make it. Into the water and back out again. Into the water and back again.

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