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Life Notes: I Am Woman
We’ve come a long way since the 1950s
By Sally Friedman

So here it is, March. National Womens History Month.Did you know? Do you care? I know, and I do care deeply, not only because I am a woman. 

I have three daughters, three granddaughters, a sister, women friends I love, and oh so many other reasons to care. Frankly, I care well beyond the 31 days of March, but Ill settle for the focus, however limited. 

All those thoughts bring me back to the world I knew, and the one that exists now. They are vastly different places. Almost alien planets.When I was a young woman, we were still living out the last gasp of the Ozzie and Harriet/Doris Day/Rock Hudson rom-coms. We were sleeping on hair rollers, believing in a happily-ever-after that came packaged only in marriage. And we spent a lot of time wondering whether wed be lucky enough to be chosen, and when. 

We couldnt have imagined what was coming. The sexual revolution. Living together. Babies, then marriage. Women breaking down the barriers of the Ivies and strategizing major careers. 

My daughters inherited that world and feel a certain entitlement to it even though I remind them of how hard-won it was.They listen, but Im not sure how seriously because they really didnt live any of it. It was handed to them.And while that may be lucky, its not nearly as instructive. 

I wish Id had more direct experience with the womens movement myself. But at the height of the Age of Aquarius, I was too busy diapering babies and endlessly reciting Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to be marching for equal pay or equal rights.While the Vietnam protest was heating up, I was in my kitchen cooking dinners on automatic pilot, emotionally speaking. 

Even cooking was so clearly my province that it never  

occurred to me to question the automatic assumption that my husband, ahem, worked” but I stayed home,” so I really didnt. 

No, Im not proud of my passivity. But it was a fact of female life for so many of us who look back wondering how we slept through the 1960s, and 1970s, the decades of tumult, or rather, how we wandered through it, sleepless from 2 am feedings. 

I have so many friends from that era who learned bitterly that Ozzie can pick up and leave Harriet for a woman with no semblance of midriff bulge or hair going gray at the roots. Ours was the last generation to believe that Doris Day and Rock Hudson really did sing in harmony behind white picket fences. 

The women I know and love have spanned two civilizations: the one before Betty Friedan sounded her clarion call for equality, and all that has come since. 

So yes, I look at National Womans History Month with a history of my own, one that sometimes seems ancient, almost prehistoric, alongside my daughters’ versions. I do wonder what might have happened had I been born just a few years later. But Im more curious than bitter, envious than angry. 

And I remind myself that womanhood, even 1950s style, has been richly rewarding for me. My best and most important work has been, and always will be, motherhood. A long marriage has given me what I needed and always wanted. My husband jokes that he lived in a harem,” but one made up of mighty strong women. He knows that his own perspective has been unalterably altered by the womens movement. 

So I celebrate National Womens History Month reasonably content. I have to remind myself that my own late, beloved mother was born before women had the right to vote. She told me more than once about how she cried when she first voted in a national election. And at 97, ill and weak, she got herself to the polls and pushed those levers. 

I needed a nap after that,” she reported to me, but it was worth it.” That would be her last election, and I think of her words and get a little teary thinking of her life and her profound gratitude for something that basic. 

So I am proud, and I am glad to be a woman. I am grateful that so many restraints from the past have been cast aside and disappointed that so many obstacles still need to be overcome. But asa woman living in 2019, I also wait breathlessly to see what will be.The only constant is change.Bring it on! 

March 2019
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