Last night I went to see Anne Lamott discuss her new book, Grace (Eventually). She was reading at Barnes and Noble in a fancy schmancy suburban mall, and the place was packed. Seriously—hundreds of people lined the aisles, trying to get a glimpse of Anne and her crazy dreadlocks. (The fifty or so people who actually got seats had been there, waiting, for two hours!)
My questions: Did B&N not expect so many people? Did they not care? I don’t know. But all those bodies in such a small space made it excruciatingly hot, and of course, since it’s been an annoyingly cold April, I was dressed for winter: a heavy sweater and jeans. Sweat was, literally, dripping down my back for the better part of two hours. (I know—TMI.)
Still, it was worth it. I had never seen her read or speak, and she was exactly what I expected: funny, self-deprecating, irreverent, political. She read a chapter about forgiveness, made us laugh, and answered questions and just talked. The thing she said that struck me most was this: “It is an act of resistance to demand the right to be heard.”
I’m sure she said lots of other wonderful things last night, but that is the one thing that stuck with me because I’ve been thinking about this, how hard it often is (and how hard it has been) for women to find a public voice, to find the courage to speak about private things in a public sphere, or to speak at all.
Last Saturday night, I got into an argument with a friend. (Argument is maybe an understatement, but I’ll get to that in a minute.) D. and I were at our friends’ house because they were having a small get-together. Well into the evening, the husband starting talking about how hard it is for women these days if, after a graduate degree or two, they decide to stay home with their kids. Everyone judges them. (This happened to his wife.) Wasn’t it easier, he said, when there weren’t so many expectations on women? (Meaning to me: when we were expected to stay home and take care of the kids and not have careers at all.)
Of course, there is only a small portion of our society that can afford to make this decision, and I know they are often judged for it. I also know that women who go to work when they could stay home are judged just as harshly. (I’ve seen as much Parenting surveys.)
I flipped out on my friend. Seriously, screaming. The thing that made me so angry was his assumption (or so I gathered) that because the general public and men didn’t hear about the struggles women had (because these were private struggles, because we didn’t have the options we have today, and because we weren’t allowed a public voice), that these struggles didn’t exist.
Should women be judged for deciding to stay home or work—of course not. But I’ll take that—as I flip the f***ers off—rather than not having the choice. I think about how hard my first year as a mother was, and I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have made it through if it were not for my writing, for poetry, and for the promise of returning to graduate school in the fall. If I thought the crying, the reflux, the lack of sleep, and the constant worry was going to be it, I don’t know what I would have done, really.
I would not feel whole if I didn’t write, but I didn’t even realize I wanted to write until I was in my late twenties. And this is what I imagine: in 1950, I married a man. I stayed home with the kids. I was fine, probably, but was there ever an emptiness? Did I ever wonder what if?
I have to return to Adrienne Rich here, even though I recently posted about her. In Of Woman Born she writes: “I have a very clear, keen memory of myself the day after I was married: I was sweeping a floor. Probably the floor did not really need to be swept; probably I simply did not know what else to do with myself. But as I swept that floor I thought: ‘Now I am a woman. This is an age-old action, this is what women have always done.’ I felt I was bending to some ancient form, too ancient to question. This is what women have always done.”
She writes: “I became a mother in the family-centered, consumer-oriented, Freudian-American world of the 1950s. My husband spoke eagerly of the children we would have; my parents-in-law awaited the birth of their grandchild. I had no idea of what I wanted, what I could or could not choose. I only knew that to have a child was to assume adult womanhood to the full, to prove myself, to be ‘like other women.’”
Don’t ever tell me that we’re worse off.
This is my dream: that all women can someday make these choices for themselves and for their families. That all women have the space and resources to discover their hearts. That all women someday demand the right to be heard.