Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Women in Primetime

I'm terrible at keeping a theme here.  Also, I'm terrible at scheduling posts.  That Christmas presents post wasn't supposed to go up until yesterday.  What the hell, Blogger?

Anyway, I was working from home yesterday and turned on the first episode of PBS's America in Primetime, which focused on women in television.  It spanned the timeline of television: from Lucy and June Cleaver to the women of Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives.  I've always been a television watcher--it was way more interesting than anything going on in my life, even as a little child--so I recognized most of these characters, even if I didn't grow up in the original era.

I don't know if you've seen it, but basically it talks about women's roles in television.  June Cleaver was the (a)typical fifties housewife; Mary Tyler Moore as Dick Van Dyke's wife was a game-changer, as was her later role on her own show; Roseanne, Murphy Brown, Carrie Bradshaw--all were iconic in their own ways.  As the social scene changed, female characters did too--sometimes as a cause or an effect, depending on the situation--and there were very few examples of weak, dependent women who left lasting impacts on society (however, they focused on sitcoms only, so the reality television stars of today were nowhere to be found.  I've yet to think of any of them as a role model).

Anyway, I'm watching this as I'm peeling carrots and parsnips and garlic.  I'm watching it as I'm cleaning the giblets out of a chicken.  I'm watching as my boyfriend sits at his office, not even thinking about who will make dinner.  I'm watching and realize I'm actually wearing an apron.  And I'm listening to these women talk about how they didn't just want to be a housewife, how they wanted more, how what they did was good, hard work and how they loved it.  I'm thinking about how I used to yearn for that, and now all I yearn for is bedtime.  I'm wondering what happened.

I tend to be pretty domestic, either as a direct result of my living situation or as a way to cope with it.  Things like sewing, embroidery, cooking, baking--these are comforts to me.  I don't do it because I have to.  I could just as easily not go grocery shopping and buy a rotisserie chicken from Giant every night.  But I take on this role because the responsibility makes me feel important.  I feel like, because I'm not fulfilled in my career, I can possibly fulfill myself at home by making something with my own hands.  I think this is a wholly modern way of looking at this, similar to depression: we live in an age where we actually have time to assign roles and feelings to these actions.  One hundred years ago, that wasn't the case.  You cooked because there was no Chinese takeout.  You didn't have time to sit around and think about how you want more from life.  You worked, and you worked hard, unless you were wealthy and could afford to have others work for you.  Fulfillment?  What's that?

They also brought up the subject of children, and how many of these female television characters who we remember and love (any of the above I mentioned) either chose to not have children or had them, but were very honest about it.  Motherhood wasn't what they expected, and while they are fictional characters, they're voicing the opinions and feelings of millions of women who might not be able to admit it to their friends and families.  That, honestly, scares the shit out of me.  I am inundated with people and blogs who think motherhood is the end-all, be-all, and that's what all women need to do: nurture.  Everyday I read the mommies who seem to have a never-ending supply of fertilized eggs, yet still have time to make melted-crayon art and yarn sculptures.  They seem happy (of course, I'm reading this through a sponsored blog), but is this all it's cracked up to be?

My mom always worked.  I remember her being exhausted, too tired to deal with us, depressed, overwhelmed, overprotective, anxious.  I also remember her being a loving mom.  But there were no misconceptions about her life: it was hard.  It was probably the hardest thing she's ever had to do.  And from the time I was little, I thought, I don't want that.  I don't want to feel so tired and so futile everyday.  No matter what she did, how many Christmas cards she made on her day off or how many pies she baked out of stress, she still had to wake up the next day and do everything over again.  That was my role model.  I love my mother--she is who I trust the most--but she wasn't the omnipresent mommy blogger I see today.  Things were very different, and I wonder if that will be my life someday.  Do I want that?

I wonder if, because I don't like working and also because I don't like the idea of having children, I'll ever find that happy medium.  I couldn't be a housewife, at least not in the typical sense; I hate cleaning and would eventually resent Nicholas for getting to have an outside life.  But I also don't want to feel like I wasted my life because I had children (or didn't), and I don't want to realize this when it's too late to change.

Is it normal to feel so conflicted?  This angst should've left years ago, along with retainers and listening to the Velvet Underground.  I feel that, at 24, I should know what I want out of the next five, ten years.  In actuality, I have no clue.  Do you feel this way too?  Am I the only one left wondering?


  1. This was so well-written and honest. I've been having similar thoughts lately. I feel like, at this age (I'm 23), I should be finishing up the "What do I want out of life?" question. And even though there's no timeline we should all follow, it's hard to ignore that a lot of women seem to know what they want.

    The blogs make motherhood (indeed, WOMANHOOD) seem too easy. Of course, it's all edited and they can choose to leave out the depressed, exhausted moments. My mom sounds a lot like your mom. She worked hard and gave everything she could, but ultimately, she was too exhausted to enjoy us or any domestic pursuits. She cooked because she had to. She mended our clothes because someone had to do it. Likewise, she worked because she had to do that too.

    It's all a difficult choice. I don't think you have to decide one or the other, but both sounds exhausting.

  2. I'm so glad you don't know what you want either! I look around sometimes and see all these women (and men, for that matter) who know exactly what path they're on and have actual goals, and I wonder just where I messed up that I'm still sitting here, confused.

    I'm wondering if some women who seem to know what they want actually want those things or have come to terms with just accepting these things--unplanned pregnancy might lead to motherhood, or moving away leads to a new career path just to simply have a job. Then again, I might just be rationalizing my inability to make a choice and a decision and stick with it.


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