Women’s History Month: Yes, it certainly matters

So here it is, Na­tion­al Wo­men’s His­tory Month. Did you know? Do you care?

I know — and I care deeply. Frankly, I care bey­ond the 31 days of March, but I’ll settle for that fo­cus, however lim­ited.

I care be­cause I’m the moth­er of three daugh­ters, the grand­moth­er of three. I’m a sis­ter. And I’m a wo­man with amaz­ing fe­male friends.

So I’m think­ing about wo­man­hood: my own and oth­ers. Those thoughts al­ways bring me back to the world I knew, and the one my three daugh­ters have in­her­ited. I as­sure you that they are vastly dif­fer­ent places. Al­most ali­en plan­ets.

When I was a young wo­man, we were still liv­ing out the last gasp of the Oz­zie and Har­riet era. We were sleep­ing on hair rollers, be­liev­ing in hap­pily‑ever‑after that came pack­aged only in mar­riage. And we spent a lot of time and anxi­ety won­der­ing wheth­er we’d be lucky enough to be chosen, and when.

We couldn’t have ima­gined what was com­ing. The sexu­al re­volu­tion. Liv­ing to­geth­er. Ba­bies, then mar­riage. Wo­men break­ing down the bar­ri­ers of the Ivy League and strategiz­ing ma­jor ca­reers.

My daugh­ters in­her­ited that world, and feel a cer­tain en­ti­tle­ment to it. And even though I re­mind them of how hard-won were those gains, they didn’t live any of it. It was handed to them. And that may be lucky, but it’s not in­struct­ive.

I wish I’d had more dir­ect ex­per­i­ence with the wo­men’s move­ment my­self. But at the height of the Age of Aquar­i­us, I was too busy di­aper­ing ba­bies and re­cit­ing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to be march­ing for equal pay for equal work.

While the Vi­et­nam protest was heat­ing up, I was in my kit­chen pre­heat­ing the oven. No, I’m not proud of my passiv­ity. But it was a fact of fe­male life for so many of us who now look back won­der­ing how we slept through the 1960s, the dec­ade of tu­mult — or rather, how we wandered through it sleep­less from 2 a.m. feed­ings. 

I have so many friends from that era who learned bit­terly that Oz­zie can pick up and leave Har­riet for a wo­man with no semb­lance of mid­riff bulge or hair go­ing gray at the roots. 

I think ours was the last gen­er­a­tion to earn­estly be­lieve that Dor­is Day and Rock Hud­son really did sing in har­mony in white cot­tages be­hind white pick­et fences.

The wo­men I know and love have spanned two civil­iz­a­tions: the one be­fore Betty Friedan soun­ded her clari­on call for equal­ity, and all that has come since.

So yes, I look at Na­tion­al Wo­men’s His­tory Month with a his­tory of my own, one that seems an­cient, al­most pre­his­tor­ic, along­side my daugh­ters’ ver­sions.

And yes, I do some­times won­der what might have happened had I been born just a few years later.   

But I’m more curi­ous than bit­ter, more en­vi­ous than angry. And I re­mind my­self that wo­man­hood, even 1950s-style, has been richly re­ward­ing for me.

My best and most im­port­ant work has been, and will al­ways be, moth­er­hood. 

A long mar­riage has giv­en me what I needed and al­ways wanted.  

So I cel­eb­rate Na­tion­al Wo­men’s His­tory Month reas­on­ably con­tent with what was. 

But as a wo­man liv­ing in a still-new cen­tury, I also wait breath­lessly to see what will be.

This I know: Sis­ter­hood is power­ful.

And it still needs to be. ••

You can reach at pinegander@aol.com.

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