In the 1960’s women stepped out of the box. Gloria Steinem gained national attention as a feminist leader and spokeswoman for women. It had been a slow and arduous climb since our suffrage victory to vote on August 26, 1920, but the sixties would change all that. The sixties proved to be a time when women acquired the “freedom” to go out and work. No longer were they required to stay at home and “just” be a housewife and a mother. They could pursue their dreams and not have to feel guilty about wanting to work instead of staying home and raising a family. Go, Gloria Steinem! Go equal rights for women! YEAH!
So, in the sixties women tore off their June Cleaver apron and joined the workforce. Now women were bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan! But most weren’t prepared – most didn’t have a prestigious college degree or the tools they needed to earn a higher salary. Many women like my mother went to work in retail and factories doing menial tasks for little pay. My mom made $2.00 an hour in the shipping and receiving room of a department store. I can remember her rejoicing because she got a 10 cent raise. And although at the time she went back to work my brother and I were old enough to fend for ourselves, I remember missing her when I got home from school. She worked a long day, took the bus into the city because she didn’t drive and then arrived home well after 6:00. She was always tired.
By the seventies women were preparing themselves for the workforce by going to college to get that degree to get better jobs so they could make a better salary. A lot of my classmates who had the choice and luxury to go to college studied nursing and teaching because that is what girls did at that time. Those who didn’t continue on to college became secretaries and bank tellers and store clerks. Women were still not making the salaries they deserved, but at least they had a career. Besides, the thinking at the time was that they were going to get married anyway and their husbands would become the main bread winner.
Champagne wishes and caviar dreams led the mindset of the eighties as a “got to have it” consumerist generation. It was becoming a necessity for women to work, and moreover, it was now expected. Many women struggled with juggling work and family. It was exhausting. Most men had not transitioned into helping around the house. It was not considered macho to cook and clean and do grocery shopping – a throw back from those who were born in the fifties and had the Ward Cleaver mind set. By then, with the economy changing, it became a luxury for women to stay at home. Either way, it was a woman’s responsibility to run the household and take care of the family whether she worked or not. Now we had to work a full-time job and then go home to our second shift of running a home and raising a family.
“Show me the money” was more than a movie catch phrase in the nineties. Our nation was entrenched in consumerism. Most women were choosing their direction in higher education, studying a broader scope of careers. Men were finally seeing the light and taking more responsibility for sharing the household chores and family responsibilities. We even have some Mr. Mom’s staying home while the wife goes out and works. We are working our way to equal partnerships.
Onto the new millennium with an economy plummeting into the toilet, and here we are both husband and wife having to work and still having trouble making ends meet. Kids go to day care; people who make enough money have nannies raising their kids. For the most part men are sharing the household responsibilities – the newer generation of men, that is. A lot of men will just never get it. Being a stay-at-home mom is a luxury and not a choice, and it’s sad for those who would really like to just be a mom, but that’s not a job, is it?! I see young women heartbroken when their maternity leave ends knowing they have to go back to work and leave their infant in the care of others. Now we get to work, have someone else raise our kids, struggle to make ends meet and try to keep up with the other responsibilities of running a household. This is liberation! But it’s what we wanted and what we fought for. Or is it?
Yes, I am all for equal rights for women – that’s a no-brainer, but I feel that women have been forced into leading stressed out, overworked, underpaid, got to get out there and just do it all lives whether they asked for it or not. Our world has put us into a position wherein if you don’t do it all you are lazy and not stepping up to the challenge of what our suffragette sisters fought for so long ago. It’s not a free choice. It’s survival. As far as I’m concerned, it didn’t turn out exactly as planned.
Be careful what you wish for because what you get is not always what you want.