It’s probably telling that I had no interest in women’s studies in college. I was so young, so ambitious, and felt so many avenues open to me that studying only half the world seemed limiting. My disinterest was a sign of progress, I thought, suggesting that this kind of scope was a thing of the past, or more accurately a thing for those who were still struggling to have their identities and choices accepted by the mainstream.
I didn’t think I had one—a gender agenda.
Then I got married and gave up my job so my husband could take a better one. We got pregnant and I gave birth in a hospital where hopes for a natural childbirth were laughed at. I breastfed that baby in a country where it is still uncommon among the middle and upper class. I struggled to find childcare that did not offend my sense of what is fair and responsible as an employer and human being. I took on wholeheartedly the management and maintenance of a family and began to feel my identity slipping, sometimes in the direction of a wiser, kinder, more empathetic self but usually in the direction of a harried, brittle, lonely one. I cried a lot, thinking about my mom, the decades of meals and laundry she’d waited through until she could take up painting again.
One night, sick to death of the inflexible schedule of meals, baths and bedtimes I had constructed, I stayed up late watching a movie, reading books, thinking and writing. The time alone was narcotic; I couldn’t couldn’t stop using it. Just as I was crawling into bed with my clothes on, drunk on the life of the mind –the baby began to cry. I was tired past the point of reason but I had done it to myself. For my own stupidity, for my selfishness, for my utter indulgence, I slapped myself across the face.
And that’s how I discovered my gender agenda.
If you haven’t read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, you might want to check it out.