When “the girls” get together in farm country, the conversation can cover more subjects that you can shake a stick at: local issues, food, politics, the school, food, books, family, husbands and food. The chemistry is different with no men around, so the language is looser, more colorful, less edited. It also stays in the room, so the gloves come off and the hair gets let down. Truth blossoms, and we laugh a lot.
Last week the subject was the wives of the presidential candidates, and if Lee Atwater or Karl Rove had been listening, they would have left with a whole different arsenal of dirty tricks. The wives, more than the candidates, represent to us the real difference in the issues, and we all thought it’s too bad the wives don’t debate.
If anything tells you about a man, it’s his first wife. His view of the world is colored by his view of his wife and mother, and his idea of the classic Jungian archetypes of females gives a peek into his weltanschauung, as it were. (Yes, we talk like that.)
One or the other
Women are supposedly either Lilith or Eve, the Wicked Witch of the West or Glinda the Good Witch, Scarlett or Melanie, the seductress or the comforter, the dominator or the doormat — you know the examples. Michelle or Ann: the smart lawyer mom of two girls or the mother of six boys (I can’t imagine the level of testosterone in the household). Of course, they both worked, whether they had servants or nannies or mother upstairs or what. They didn’t make either of their lives alone. They both look great, as you can when you can afford to take care of yourself. Their children are well-behaved and they have causes they pursue. Good for them.
But what of the rest of us American females, especially those of us who were there when Betty Friedan taught us that our discontent wasn’t just “crazy hysterical us” but was endemic to our patriarchal culture? Those of us who went to school, got jobs, had children, kept house and entertained, were active in our communities — we had it all. Some of us did more than others, but then nobody told us we couldn’t, so we did. When my second son was born in 1963, a (male) friend congratulated me on “fulfilling my duty as a wife and mother — to bear sons.” For one of the few times in my life, I was speechless.
Then when we went through menopause and got cranky as our lives changed again, we looked forward to the comfort of a mature, loving companionship — unless, of course, that companion was going through a mid-life crisis of his own and traded his 50-year-old in for a couple of 25s. It takes a strong man to live with a strong woman.
Alice Walker tells the story of a tribe in the Amazon jungle where the sexes are equal but very different, and duties are according to strength and skill. The men do the heavy lifting and tree-felling and canoe-hollowing and animal-killing and war-making. The women tend the children, home, garden and domestic animals; gather the medicines and use for tribal health.
But the women have an additional most important task: They tell the men when to stop. When enough trees are cut down or animals killed or fighting with other tries, the women say “enough.” When those natives are brought to our so-called civilization, they look at how we squander our world and ask where the women are that tell the man to stop.
The current presidential candidates seem to have very contrasting views of the world. Patriarchy as opposed to matriarchy is a bit simplistic, but it does indicate who sets the rules and who is in charge. I suspect, as do my neighbor women, that the guys (by count, mostly Republican) would love it if we would all just shut up and get back to the kitchen were we belong. A good wife knows her place. We’re supposed to serve man.
Then one of the women reminded us of the old “Twilight Zone” episode of that title [“To Serve Man”], about an alien invasion that promised paradise to humans who agreed to return with them to their home planet. They even had a book with that name, about their philosophy and purpose. It wasn’t translated until the episode’s final punch line.
Depending on who is elected, that president and his party, Cabinet, Congress and Supreme Court’s view of women and family could become the standard for our society. Laws and religion have a way of changing behavior, and the fear of being different, or punished, is a strong motivator. You are either the harvester or the harvested, the user or the used, and how you view our Mother Earth and our society, our resources and our humanity determines our thought, laws and actions.
Some women may be put back in the kitchen, but you might be reminded that “To Serve Man” was a cookbook.
Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.