And today, sitting in the library, I found tears running down my face. I had written a bit, revised a bit, done a quick online search for a promising source, and studied the images I have already collected for the chapter on childhood. It wasn’t frustration that brought on the tears, it was the question I had been pushing away for the last several weeks. Was my mother happy being a woman? According to the advice literature I have been researching, she was bombarded with the message that it was her duty to raise me to love my sex and to embrace femininity. Failure meant a masculinized daughter destined for confusion and unhappiness.
She died twenty-two years ago this month, so I can’t ask her. Instead, I look at my childhood self and ask, “Was I happy to be a girl? Did I look forward to becoming a woman, a wife, a mother?” The honest answer is “not really”, but I want to reassure my mother that it was not her fault. .
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with being female. But fitting into the cultural idea of “girl” never suited me as a child, and as an adult, I rarely think of myself as a “woman”, except when ordering clothes or choosing a public restroom. Mostly I just go through my days and weeks being me; I am more aware of being white than female, and that’s not saying much. Deep inside, I truly believe that the “problem”, to the extent that there is one, is not me, or the way my mother raised me, but illfitting cultural and societal expectations.
I am in in the midst of reading “Modern Woman: The Lost Sex” (1947), an anti-feminist bestseller that lays out the solution for “the woman problem” (which was considered by the authors to be at the root of every societal ill since the Industrial Revolution). Women must embrace their roles as mothers and homemakers, and society and government must support them in these roles. To say that it is infuriating is an understatement, but it is also sad. It is a tragedy that my mother’s generation was told that they should find complete fulfillment in being a wife and mother, and that to do otherwise was neurotic. And it shakes me to the core that my mother tried her best to instill those lessons in me, all the while not truly believing it was right. Because I don’t think she was happy being a “woman”, either.
So that’s where I am. And in the meantime there is the book I am trying to write. Not to be confused with the book that is trying to be written.