World's Oldest Mommy Blogger

Ms. E called around 12:45 this morning, excited about some new online learning programs she's involved in--languages and wine tasting. She took six years of French in school, but lost a lot, and wants to regain it, is a self-avowed Francophile. When she got a peek at Italian, she latched onto it as well, so looks like Italy may be our next port 'o call for a birthday destination. One of my oldest, dearest friends is a wine expert, and introduced her to a vintage from the year she was born--a Northern California Cab from 1976, utter ambrosia. She also introduced the idea that a good wine is the one that tastes best to you--my friend is ultra knowledgeable, celebrates birthdays with the oldest of the established wine families both in the US and abroad, but is down to earth and not snobbish in the least. Her gift is a richly developed memory for taste. Her tongue remembers what the grapes were like on a certain hillside in a certain year in any part of the world.

But that's not what I was going to write about. The phone call was also about a special on Billie Jean King we both saw, but more than that, about the feminist movement, and the implications of our generations vis a vis that movement. She was being born right about the time BJ was fighting for not just equal pay for women in tennis, but any pay at all for any woman in any professional sport. Just 15 short years later, when this photo was taken in 1990 in Princeton, NJ, girls thought nothing of having the opportunity to suit up and play such sports as lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, team rowing on Lake Carnegie, and to be able to compete on a mostly level playing field with their male classmates. It never occurred to them that their mothers might not have had those same opportunities.

Ms. E, however, cut her teeth on Ms. magazine, feminist theory, and heard both her mom and grandmother carry on daily about male/female parity, or the lack thereof, and learned from an early age to spot the inequalities that still seem to linger. She had the sense, even in the predominantly male field of scientific research, to not succumb to the tendency to play by the rules of the patriarchy, but to find her own path and remain true to her own authentic self. It has paid off for her, in terms of promotions and salary increases, plus keeping her stress level down in the otherwise highly competitive world of scientific research, and I'm proud and relieved that she figured all this out before it could crush her, as we've often seen happen to women in her field. She enjoys her work, sets her own goals, and is happy to reach them without having to step on someone else to get there.

This is a new turn on the evolutionary wheel of feminism. I was speaking with a work associate this afternoon about the early days of feminism, when "competition" meant having to play harder and faster, but still using men's rules. I noted that back then, women didn't really have a clear idea where they were going--there were few role models, few constructs to show us how it was done. We were so used to there being only one set of rules, we didn't know we could make up new ones. I think that was why there was a time when women were so fiercely competitive with each other--they hadn't yet figured out that we could get it done better when we cooperated--there was a residual fear, or tentativeness that wouldn't allow us to totally let go of the monolithic status quo and be OK with experimentation. Too much hung in the balance. We had to be perfect. We had to be RIGHT. We had to WIN, or else we were failures.

Now we know that this kind of thinking was just the birthing pains, the cracking of the shell, wriggling around in our new skin til it felt right, til we learned that failure was not the end, not death at all, but the first step toward finding what might work, what would eventually work, and work better. Perhaps it was the beginning of forgiveness, as well. For me, forgiving myself from feeling the pull of the masculine authority, the fear that I was nothing if I didn't please the man, whoever he might be. Forgiving other women for thinking that they had to be cut-throat to win, no matter the killer cost to themselves and everyone around them, for not seeing that there was a better way.

If I were to name my role models now, they would be my sheroes, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, many others of those strong women who are good and true to themselves and say what they think and are solid in saying so, and the younger generations who have grown up in an atmosphere of confidence and equality, with no leftover baggage from the chauvinistic, mysogynistic patriarchy that damped down so many great minds of my age, the young women of today like my daughter, whose minds are free of those shackles and whose visions of the future are clear enough to ensure a healthy equality for us all.