Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When Everything Changed. The Amazing Journey of American Women

With my" swapees" enjoying perfect weather and the Tucson house, dogs and I de-camped town and are up at the cabin. Whenever I arrive here a slowing down mechanism takes over. I snuggle back in bed with morning tea and lap top and scan the NYT; once up I throw on old jeans and discarded sweatshirt and the manana rule comes into play.

It's cold! and the glass fireplace doors that have been in the repair shop all Summer are still not ready which means no blazing log fire. Without the doors the chimney doesn't draw and after one "what the heck" futile attempt at living with smoke I learned that lesson. I have the gas heat on - cringing all the while knowing how much that propane races through the pipes to keep me snug. That's where the dogs could prove their worth. Hamish always creeps onto the bed here - never at home. The two big ones, with more body heat to offer, are reluctant to warm my toes - they give me accusing looks as though I'm abusing them. And yet the moment I get out of bed or leave the cabin they are up on the bed. Fickle creatures. It's definitely a Three Dog Night.

In my slow motion state today I made bread and the Pumpkin Bisque from the recipe that Roxanne Garcia shared this month. I have friends arriving tomorrow for the weekend. The smell of pumpkin and spices mingling in the soup pot was all I needed to curl up with a book . A really good book - When Everything Changed. The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 To The Present , by Gail Collins. It is riveting and as "can't put down" as the travel sagas I tend to favor when in hibernation.

This book has hit home home hard. I came first to the US in 1964 on a graduate fellowship. I set sail from my native shores armed with a steamer trunk full of books, a romantic view of America and all the self-confidence in the world. Apart from being dissuaded from studying archaeology at university on the grounds that "nice gals don't leave their family for months on end," nobody, certainly not my parents, suggested to me that there was anything I couldn't do. It never occurred to me that I part of a vanguard - that I was a pioneer of sorts.

It's true that I got my come-uppance on occasions as the wife of a very junior naval officer being told that I really should wear a hat to luncheons and adhere to other "women should be pretty help-mates" rituals. And I did struggle into Playtex rubber girdle to smooth out a concave stomach! But not working was never in my mind and much to the chagrin of my husband, I pretty much did my own thing. People excused me because I was "different", not American and besides, I had such a "cute" accent I could charm moss off a rock. Once my first child was born ( I was referred to as an "older mother" at 27!) I took her to work with me. I didn't ask; I didn't think I was doing anything unusual. The biggest shock to my self-worth came in the 1970's when I was employed by a Jesuit University. I was informed that I could not use the faculty dining room as the "men like to relax". I was also pregnant with my third child, and a fellow faculty member suggested that I use an outside, metal fire escape stairway to reach my fourth floor office rather than interior stairs that had landings opening onto freshman dorm rooms. "I don't think we want the boys to see you in that condition," he said.

Reading the stories researched by Gail Collins, told with grace, and not in the least preachy, I realise now that other women were on the picket line , taking the blows (literally) paving the way for me to be blissfully unaware of the realities. It's also fascinating in this book to see documented the attempt during the civil rights movement that ran parallel with the growth of the womens' movement, to bolster the role of men and keep women in a subservient role. Highly recommended reading.

The Orion Meteor Showers are in full swing. The night skies up here are inky black, the stars brilliant. I got up at 3 a.m., pulled on a woolly robe and stood out on the front porch looking to Orion. Not one meteor! Frozen, I headed back to bed which the dogs had kindly kept warm. Got wise though with an Eureka moment today and made up the bed in the loft where I'll sleep tonight and scan the skies from under a down-filled duvet.

I'd throw another log on the fire , could I light it! Instead I'll have a bowl of soup, pour a glass of wine, turn James Taylor to mellow, and get back to my book. And before I go to bed, I'll raise my glass to the remarkable women who made it all possible for you and me.

1 comment:

  1. It's a powerful book. Almost finished it. I'm passing it on to my mom and sisters and driving my office-mates nuts by quoting from it every break time! Did you see the recent Time magazine article questioning whether women had really made progress?


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