March 16th, 2008

ozarque figure

Are modern women miserable?; part two...

Yesterday I posted a link to Vicki Haddock's article, "Are Modern Women Miserable?", from the San Francisco Chronicle for March 13, 2008, because I felt that it was relevant for the discussion we've been having. [It's at http://www.alternet.org/story/79521 .]
I thank you for your excellent comments, and want to add a comment of my own here.

It seems to me that the basic reason for the phenomenon Haddock discusses in that article is the way that our culture still holds women responsible for caregiving. It's not the housework; it's not the job "outside the home"; it's the caregiving that is the very last straw. Especially now, when a woman may have not only her children and her aged parents to look after, but often one or more aged grandparents as well. Caregiving... from being the one who is relied on to remember every birthday and graduation and anniversary and take care of sending the cards or gifts that go with those occasions, all the way to being the one who is relied on to provide fulltime home nursing for an invalid family member.

Let me say first of all that there are men who are splendid and willing caregivers. I have a son like that; his caregiving skills, and -- above all -- his attitude toward providing those skills, can only be described by the word saintly. That truly is the only accurate word. I don't know if you've ever read In This House of Brede; there's a character in that book who confesses, with great sorrow, that she has done a service in so un-Christian a way that she'll never be asked to do it again. That sounds like me -- but that never happens with my son. In a situation where I'd be doing what was needed, but I'd be snapping and snarling while I did it, he is tender and kind. Endlessly tender and kind. My doctor's husband, who is also her Physician's Assistant, is a spectacularly good and devoted caregiver. The young men who were my nurses last time I was in the hospital were unfailingly patient and kind and caring. I'm certain there are many such men; may God bless them each and every one. But in the culture I live in, the significant difference is that such men are still felt to be extraordinary; we don't yet expect men to be like that.

When my grandchildren were infants, I refused to babysit them until they were able to walk -- because I was terrified that I'd be carrying one of them when an episode of my cottonpicking rotational vertigo hit, and I'd drop that baby. That was an absolutely logical and valid reason to refuse to babysit -- but you can't imagine the guilt I feel about it. When one of my grandchildren was about to be born, I trusted a man to do the caregiving; I should have been able to trust that man, and I know he meant well -- but every conceivable thing that could have been fouled up around that birthgiving was fouled up. The mother and the baby came through it with flying colors physically, but none of the emotional work was done. Not one scrap of it! That was more than twenty years ago, and the guilt I feel for letting that happen torments me still. I don't say to myself, "The man I trusted to take care of that emotional work was a fullgrown adult male, there were only half a dozen things -- none of them rocket science -- to be done, and I should have been able to trust him. It's not my fault that things went wrong; I thought everything was being taken care of." What I say to myself is: "How could I possibly have been so stupid as to trust him to take care of things?" And the women of my generation, if I were to talk to them about it, would not give me one inch of compassion. They'd say, "You actually turned all that over to a man?"; and they'd have a lot more to say about how stupid that was.

I don't know what women in their 50s ... 40s... 30s... 20s... would say to me. Perhaps they'd be more charitable. And if they were, I would have a strong suspicion that their charity had its source in their feeling that it was part of their emotional workload -- that they felt obligated to try to comfort an old woman who was obviously in distress about a past mistake.

I think we women, like Responsible of Brightwater -- who was properly named -- sorely need some magical reinforcements to help us with this problem.