As much as I admire Hillary Clinton, as much as I acknowledge she is a role model for upcoming generations of women, as successfully as she’s mastered numerous tasks, from First Lady to United States Senator, to Secretary of State, to becoming a creditable candidate for the nation’s top political office, seeing her straddle her many worlds and knowing she is judged not only for her skills but as a woman, I’m inclined to take a wistful, backward glance to simpler times. Times, when, as Debora Spar, president of Barnard College writes, a woman was defined by simple expectations: “look pretty, get married, have babies and cook dinner.” (The Tyranny of Perfect,” by Debora Spar, More, February 2016, pg. 55.) Oh, did I forget, “and look eternally young?”
The Woman’s Movement was meant to free females from those expectations and provide an open road to new opportunities. But as Spar writes, these new opportunities weren’t meant to become new duties. No one said a woman had to do it all. Yet somehow, opportunity became an obligation and instead of making choices, women added new baggage to the old. They leaped into boardrooms and politics while attempting, “to be good wives and mothers. To cook and to clean and be pretty.” (Ibid pg. 53) In other words, their role model was Wonder Woman. That’s a hard act to follow and sadly, when women fail, they add guilt to their burden.
The picture gets worse. I had coffee the other day with a woman who gnashed her teeth that her daughter is not only attempting to have it all, but is also supporting her husband who has decided to become a house husband. Unfortunately, the “house” part got lost along the way. He neither cooks nor cleans and expects his supper on the table on time just like the good old days. The daughter never complains. Instead, she wrings her hands for falling short of perfect.
Spar encourages women to drop the notion they have to be faultless. (Ibid pg. 103) She suggests letting the kids do the laundry or provide a simple dinner. Have fun with the family and forget about the dust silting on the coffee table. Mostly, women should forgive themselves for imagining they can be perfect.
Good advice. But guilt is a tyrant and I’m not sure women who are sugar and spice and everything nice can shrug off their past lives. If they could, would Martha Stewart still be selling her magazine?
(Originally posted 2/12/16)