Feminism means choices

Clare Marie Celano

I recently overheard a woman make a comment about the role of women leading a certain organization. She said this particular position would be better served by a man.

It wasn’t so much what she said that got to me. It was more my reaction to her comments that sent me to this computer to sort it all out — well, to maybe sort it all out. But really, how can you sort out an issue that has gone on for generations and still kicks women up a notch when we talk about it?

After hearing her words, I looked at her and said in a voice — foreign to me, actually — as I felt my blood beginning to boil, “Did you just say what I think you said?”

“Yes, I did,” she said with conviction.

“You just set us back 50 years,” I said in that strange voice. Apparently, it was all I could muster up at that moment.

What I wanted to say was, “My generation changed the course of history. We burned our bras, staged sit-ins and marches, and wore those damn padded shoulders so you wouldn’t have to. We did it all for you.”

But, of course I didn’t, or maybe couldn’t.

It was my visceral reaction, even more than her words, that sent me reflecting back to my own youth —a youth that muddled through the 1960s either furious, frustrated, elated or very confused.

Some of us read Kerouac’s “On the Road.” Others huddled under covers reading Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, and dreamed women could do and be all the things they read about.

And then there were those like me who never knew quite what to do. Maybe I was a closet feminist back in those days. Maybe I still am.

Sure, I wanted equal pay for equal work. Sure, I wanted that glass ceiling shattered, but I had a big problem with the Equal Rights Amendment and the military that carried its price tag of women being drafted and going into combat. After all, what’s good for the goose — well, you know.

It’s bad enough to think of my young son, who would eventually grow into brawn and muscle, having to sign up for wars. But my two little pink beribboned daughters? Uh … no, thanks. Maybe I’m a fair-weather feminist, and I can’t figure out whether that makes me weak or opinionated.

My generation of baby-boomer women were part of a shift, a movement that started decades and decades before us. And like it or not, we changed things — for ourselves and for our daughters, as well.

Better pay for our jobs, no more backalley abortions, no more having the man do the voting for us.

A passage in Anna Quindlen’s memoir, “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” illustrates just how far women have come and how our changing roles changed the choices our daughters have today. Quindlen’s daughter asked her if a man could hold the position of U.S. Secretary of State, which was a position Quindlen grew up thinking only a man could hold. She writes that in her daughter’s youth, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton all held that position.

This is progress, gals.

My generation was the first to make the transition from housewife and homemaker to working woman, en masse — moving from chief cook and bottle washer out into the workplace, the board rooms and the corner offices.

But not without a fight … and not without incident.

Marriages fell apart, families became fractured, latch-key kids came to be. And, in many cases, those who chose to stay home and take care of the kids were snubbed and thought less of, and, as they kept those home fires burning, some women began to feel “less than” themselves.

And, unfortunately, the worse culprits were other women.

Every revolution comes with casualties, and ours was no different. Maybe we swung the pendulum too far in the other direction in our desperate efforts to just get it moving.

We were the transition generation and believed the fallacy that we could do it all, have it all, be it all.

And then we found out … the hard way.

Yes, we could have it all, but not all at once, as many of us were led to believe. Someone has to be home feathering the nest and gathering supplies while someone hunts dinner.

And statistically, no matter the decade, women have been and still are responsible, for the most part, for cooking the dinner, doing the laundry and making sure kids get on and off the bus, whether she does it herself or arranges for someone else to do it.

Even today, 50 years later, in most families, it is still pretty much the woman at whose desk that proverbial bucks stop. Hardly any woman I knew back then or now gets a 50/50 division of household chores, including child care.

We all want to have our cake and eat it, too. But someone still has to clean up the crumbs, folks.

The bottom line is that if a woman wants to stay home and fan those home fires or have the corner office on the corner of Park Avenue, we as women need to support her choice to do either, and wish her a lot of luck for her efforts either way. And maybe, just silently remember those women who made it possible for her to finally be able to have that choice.