I honestly don’t recall if I have written about it here, but a few years back I realized that I have always agreed with every bit of feminism I have encountered, including radical feminism. So, I have reordered my book-reading to match. Until I feel confident that I can understand history and the present-day through the lens of feminism, every book I read will be a feminist book. So far, I’ve read:
So anyway, I’m currently reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, and this idea popped into my head while reading:
In chapter one, Friedan is describing her 1940s perspective of a very real concern about regression to the 1800s, an almost atavistic return to earlier gender rolls where women lose: autonomy, dignity, education, personhood. This is frequently exemplified by the generation after Friedan choosing to sacrifice education, career, and fulfillment on the altar of premature marriage and stultifying domesticity. As a nation, we have a deeply entrenched default of that particular restricted and personhood-denying vision of femininity however this default is hidden under the effects of generations of economic contraction since Friedan wrote in the 40s. What I mean is this: women are marrying older, having fewer children later, forging careers — is this because we listened to Friedan? No. We, as a nation most certainly did not enthusiastically embrace, support, or push for feminist equality, laws, and reordering of the social fabric. The patriarchy of the United States still polices every facet of womanhood and denies her humanity. However, the economic reality of being a woman, where a vibrant life outside of constant work (much less heading a single-earner household) are near-impossibilities, where kids produce real economic hardship, these realities have produced different behaviors in the past few generations, and these changes in behavior, while appearing to show progress towards feminism on the surface, in fact cover up the nation’s unresolved and deeply entrenched anti-feminism.
So that’s just a bland stream-of-consciousness from me during reading. BUT. But but but: when I record the refinement of my understanding of feminism here, please know that it is not a contribution to the great discussion taking place across the decades. It is merely a bookmark in the reading list of my own growth. Don’t read what I’m saying, read what the women who live this shit daily are saying. Listen to them. Believe them.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our
lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we
are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a
net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a
worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of
time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed,
faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a
haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on
which you find yourself, decades later, still living.
All my anecdotes over twenty years of poor writing conclude with overwrought sentences of revelation and/or triumph. Scroll through the archives here and you can witness me try repeatedly to extract a profound conclusion or seismic change from stochastic tribulations. And so, I find my writing style to be annoyingly egocentric, and incompatible with a change in my philosophy, one that bends toward though hasn’t arrived at, nihilism.
Our human brains want, they thirst for, they need these confusing events of our lives to mean something. All of the restrictions, the death, the uncertainty, stress, loss, awfulness of the 2020 pandemic must mean something, right?
This human problem is not new. Here’s David Hume, summarizing Epicurus from, like, 2,300 years ago:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is
not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is
malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence
So let’s sidestep the Epicurean theology and try on a grossly simplified premise: bad things happen for no reason. It’s hard to accept, isn’t it? Part of you rejects it at face value. But you MUST grapple with it before you decide to take it as true or build up a giant, complicated worldview rejecting it.
What’s more, serious trouble arises when we try to make all the bad stuff mean something.
Step 1: something bad happened.
Step 2: let’s make it meaningful!
It can’t always be done.
Cognitive dissonance clouds our thought when we retell the story of ourselves to ourselves by basing it all on a manufactured, post hoc dramatic plot line. Things stop making sense when we constantly fight to force the main character (inevitably, ourselves) to emerge stronger from every vicissitude.
Bad things happen all the time. They happen to good people. They happen for no reason. Then, nobody learns anything or becomes any better whatsoever after they happen.
If I had any kind of advice to myself (is that even a thing?), I guess it would be this:
Imagine the arc of your life takes place on a small boat. Not like dinghy small, but also not a giant ship with its own center of gravity. A bit smaller than one of those fancy yachts where you can distract yourself from the fact you are on the open sea. On this boat, you always know and feel the swells of the ocean. The boat’s passengers are you and those you love. You can turn the screws, tack a bit in one direction, try to catch a current. Maybe you will. You know small changes now create big, unknowable changes later. You also know how small and vulnerable you are out on the open ocean.
You know you could exhaust a lifetime of energy planning and tacking toward a current you hoped to catch.
These days I’m having trouble thinking that tacking and planning are particularly important. My instinct says they are, but my logical brain says they aren’t. Sometimes one wins. Sometimes the other. The thing is, my loved ones are right there on the boat. I drag them with me when I chase currents. I suppose we all do.
So I feel something akin to acceptance of the vastness of the ocean rather than a resignation or succumbing to Fate.
All is big, we are small.
There are costs to trying to do things, and problems thinking we can do everything.
There are problems thinking we can do nothing.
We have been told for decades that the banks and the
people who work at Goldman Sachs and Fidelity and hedge
funds none of us have ever heard of are smarter than us,
that they deserve to be rich, that they should be the
ones who pull the levers on the economy, that they should
decide which companies are good and which are bad, that
they should be the ones who help make financial
regulations. All along the way they have gotten
fabulously wealthy and we have been stuck with stagnant
wages, record consumer debt, and financial advice that
tells us to wait until we are old to retire.
Once the Capitol was cleared, the solemn assurances that
“this is not who we are” began. The attempt at
self-soothing after such a traumatic event is
understandable, but it is delusional. Was Charlottesville
not who we are? Did more than seventy million people not
vote for the Inciter-in-Chief? Surely, these events are
part of who we are, part of the American picture. To
ignore those parts, those features of our national
landscape, is to fail to confront them.