Blog

The Road Not Taken

POSTED ON Oct 24th 2013 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Feminism, Friendship, The Federalist Links

Most of my articles start out as a conversation with a friend. My latest Razing the Village piece started forming after a dinner conversation with Diane about a year ago, but I only mentioned the point that prompted my thoughts in it.

Diane and I agree on very little outside of rooting for the Longhorns. Over sushi and prior to whatever geeky movie had just come out, we were debating feminism, specifically the denigration of the housewife, when she asked me, “But would the women’s movement have been successful without the spurring from Friedan?”

At the time, I intuitively answered “Yes, only more slowly.” But now that I’ve spent hours thinking and researching, I can give a fuller answer.

Trashing the housewife wasn’t a necessary evil, and in fact, as I came to realize, it laid the foundations for the life long worker bee mindset that we have started to rebel against.

Women in the 60’s did have a strange stirring, a problem with no name. Post-war advances in technology and medicine had given them options outside of childbearing and domesticity for the first time, but the idea of women en masse, in peacetime, outside the home was so new that society wasn’t set up for it. An evolution about how we thought about women’s lives was undeniably necessary. But denigrating the old roles wasn’t.

My original copy had a Georgia O’Keeffe cover. I loaned that one out years ago. I don’t remember to whom.

Compare Friedan’s “comfortable concentration camp” rhetoric and calls for domestic rebellion to the advice offered in another lesser known work published a little after The Feminine Mystique. Advice to a Young Wife from and Old Mistress had a narrower scope than TFM, it focused on love and marriage, but the works had many topics in common: [rearranged to make sense in excerpts]

Life comes as daily usage even to heads of state and great artists; they too must have clean socks and a cup of coffee, and sometimes must provide it for themselves. But menial necessities are not a reason to be living, and energies tied down to such service are blinded from perceiving even that they are tied.

There is no need to make heavy weather of keeping house, or even raising children, and only a mind otherwise unengaged would whip up a storm around it.  A wife does not need to be a career woman, but she needs to be a whole person with brains and hands.

In the nature of things, we meet and marry long before we are full-scale identities, but that is no excuse for staying incomplete. We love most those who make us fulfill whatever greatness lies in us, not those who induce us to resign it. Remember how it was at first, how you went around pouring out, and refill your reservoir from the same springs as before you met, for that is what brought love to your door.

We are all required at last to accept full responsibility for our own events and conditions, and only so long as we evade it, crying after some other arrangement, are we fragmented, lost, unquiet, and unloved. The men and women who see this fact without blinking, and set out to master it, are the most attractive people on earth. They will always be loved, whether they will it or not, because they have learned how.
Study something, learn something, risk more than you think you can, care something, become something–if in truth you wish to be loved.

One is born female, but being a woman is a personal accomplishment.

This advice did not provoke women to reject what they already had, but to add to it, to take responsibility and become something more than they assumed they could be.

We can never go back and test this ‘what if.’ We can never prove, or disprove, that following Drury’s advice would have afforded women the same opportunities.

But we know that the housewife in the 60’s was restless. She was seeking…something, more. I speculate that Drury’s advice to become something more than you think you can be would have spurned women to seek education and endeavors outside the home just as much as Friedan’s did, only without the nasty backlash against motherhood or the single-minded devotion to paid employment.

And without those, where would we be now?

10 Comments



  1. Maggie Magdalene said:

    I hesitate to respond to this because it brings up overwhelming emotion for me. Not just my own emotion, I think, but the emotion transferred to me by a very young mother frustrated, confused, angered, bored, belittled by a role she fell into at a point she was being told there was so much more available to her. She was 17 and a half when I was born. It was 1969. Three siblings followed within the next three and half years. There are these emotions and my own, both those I recall from my own experience of becoming a mother to four young kids, and now as a mom adjusting to having four school-aged kids and figuring out where I fit. The what ifs are hard. I’ve been working through a number of them in the past few years, especially this year. There are so many things that could have made a huge difference in how I felt/feel about myself and my role (a role I longed for) as a mom and a wife. I struggle with the what-ifs. I beat myself up over them. I know the only thing I can do is take them and share them with as many new moms as I can now and teach my kids(both boys and girls) as much as I can. I don’t know if they’ll hear me, and that might be the hardest part of all, but I’m praying they do.

  2. Leslie Loftis said:

    Its actually the rampant what ifs that have clarified for me this question of whether it was all a necessary evil.
    Right now on ramping issues are coming from all directions. On ramping discussion come up with friends at least a few times a week. I have an email I posted a few weeks ago (scroll down on the homepage) about this. The first of us GenXers who delayed childbearing and went home, our children are getting older, more self sufficient, and we are starting to look for more much the way I assume the mothers of the early 60’s did. The need to engage in the larger world that we feel as our children grow was the same strange stirring the Second Wavers felt.
    Recognizing that we no longer have the same assumptions that this is all there is, that we might be a little more pro-active because we know it can be done, some of use are starting to work together to engage beyond motherhood. (Now we don’t fight the old assumption but instead have to fight against some problems of our own making. In particular, the mid career and motherhood combo is a multipurpose wrecking ball.) I think those mothers in the 60’s would have done the same.

  3. Maggie Magdalene said:

    I was asked what I was wishing I had when my kids were younger, or had done, or whatever it is that perhaps I am longing for with what-if thinking. What I most regret right now is that I did not take more joy in our every day lives (I’m still struggling with that now, but I think, at least some of the time, I’m better at it). I felt guilt, mostly because I worked part time (which was hard, because while it might seem the best of both worlds to be able to work AND stay home with ones’ children at the same time, it mostly made me feel scattered and distracted and wasn’t “really” being there for my kids a-la supermom). At the same time, my student loans accrued more and more interest because paying them from my part time income or my husband’s income simply was not possible all the time. So now, I am faced with a student loan that started at around 65,000 and will cost/will have cost me hundreds of thousands by the time I pay it off. The payment is bigger than my mortgage payment. I realize this is another issue altogether, but it is something else to consider when we think about where motherhood is going to fit in our lives. I did not want to return to work full time when my baby was born. There was no question. And, until the day he was born, I really thought I would.
    How I and my husband expected this all to go down was much different than how it did, and I don’t think we cluelessy jumped into having kids. And, even when we have felt we were doing the best thing possible, those ideas about what “should” be happening have crept in and left us uneasy and dissatisfied, when, really, we should have been able to simply embrace the beautiful thing that we have.

  4. Leslie Loftis said:

    Among moms who want to quit work but can’t, it’s usually one of three things:
    1. Buying a house on the assumption of two incomes,
    2. Student loan debt, especially for advanced degrees in philosophical subjects from private institutions, or
    3. Health insurance tied to employment.
    And all say something about “if I’d known then what I know now.” That’s the part that really gets me. It was all avoidable with planning. And it’s all planning they encourage us not to do. Get the formal education at all costs and maintain your own income and professional autonomy without exception. Separate and equal.

  5. Maggie Magdalene said:

    ***how my husband and I expected. Somehow, my big cup of green tea I poured this morning is still sitting. Running on no caffeine…

  6. Linda said:

    My mom, a wife since ’59 & mom since ’61, didn’t feel restless by her account. She does, however, recall the attitudes from the professional females that worked with my Dad, when she admitted to being a housewife. It didn’t make her not want to be a housewife. It made her not want to go to work parties.

    The growing feminism of the time did, however, change her attitude regarding her own daughters. She told me once that she made more a point of us going to college, and working, then trying to find a husband. Really, I don’t remember much of any advice about either. But anyway, I think feminism did make its impact. I did indeed get those degrees & that “career” before getting married, having children.

    So I’ve never really had those “what could I have accomplished” regrets b/c I know exactly what I left behind and believe me the family is more rewarding. No client, company nor audience could ever hold a candle.

    Instead my regrets have been more along the lines of, oh dear, I should have made more time for more children. Started sooner. The “what ifs” are hard, especially since they are an entirely pointless exercise. Perhaps we should all just let them go.

    Cheers and have a great weekend ladies.

  7. Leslie Loftis said:

    Those I would’ve had more and wish I’d started sooner are common regrets as well. I’m with you on all but letting the what ifs go. I agree they are a pointless exercise for us, but they are essential for figuring out what to tell our children. I’ll want to warn them about my mistakes, especially the easy to avoid kind.

  8. Maggie Magdalene said:

    I fall under #2. I even used student loan money to buy a car (a cheap, crappy car, mind you, but a car) and paid for some of my wedding with it. I may be totally mistaken, but it seems to me when I went BACK to the financial aid office to request ADDITIONAL student loan money for living expenses, they just said, “Sign on the dotted line.” Not, “Hey, you may not want to do that if you can possibly avoid it.” And, I won’t mention the credit card debt accrued throughout my college career for fairly basic things on credit cards for which I applied in order to get free two-liters of pop or something similar. Just a tip: if you can’t afford to go buy a two-liter of pop, you probably should not have a credit card in your possession. Did I say I wouldn’t mention that?

  9. Maggie Magdalene said:

    So, extremely poor financial decisions, but never any thought at all–actually disdain–for the idea of working in order to PAY for college as I went. Why would I do that when I’m going to have this great job that pays my bills when I’m done?!

  10. Leslie Loftis said:

    Comments cut and pasted from before I added Discus. (I didn’t know it would cover old comments. Annoying, that.)

    Linda
    Submitted on 2013/10/27 at 2:41 pm

    So, extremely poor financial decisions, but never any thought at all–actually disdain–for the idea of working in order to PAY for college as I went. Why would I do that when I’m going to have this great job that pays my bills when I’m done?!

    Leslie Loftis
    Submitted on 2013/10/26 at 3:59 pm | In reply to Linda.

    Those I would’ve had more and wish I’d started sooner are common regrets as well. I’m with you on all but letting the what ifs go. I agree they are a pointless exercise for us, but they are essential for figuring out what to tell our children. I’ll want to warn them about my mistakes, especially the easy to avoid kind.

    Maggie Magdalene
    Submitted on 2013/10/26 at 1:31 pm

    I fall under #2. I even used student loan money to buy a car (a cheap, crappy car, mind you, but a car) and paid for some of my wedding with it. I may be totally mistaken, but it seems to me when I went BACK to the financial aid office to request ADDITIONAL student loan money for living expenses, they just said, “Sign on the dotted line.” Not, “Hey, you may not want to do that if you can possibly avoid it.” And, I won’t mention the credit card debt accrued throughout my college career for fairly basic things on credit cards for which I applied in order to get free two-liters of pop or something similar. Just a tip: if you can’t afford to go buy a two-liter of pop, you probably should not have a credit card in your possession. Did I say I wouldn’t mention that?

    Linda
    nooneofanyimport.wordpress.com
    Submitted on 2013/10/26 at 1:02 pm

    My mom, a wife since ’59 & mom since ’61, didn’t feel restless by her account. She does, however, recall the attitudes from the professional females that worked with my Dad, when she admitted to being a housewife. It didn’t make her not want to be a housewife. It made her not want to go to work parties.

    The growing feminism of the time did, however, change her attitude regarding her own daughters. She told me once that she made more a point of us going to college, and working, then trying to find a husband. Really, I don’t remember much of any advice about either. But anyway, I think feminism did make its impact. I did indeed get those degrees & that “career” before getting married, having children.

    So I’ve never really had those “what could I have accomplished” regrets b/c I know exactly what I left behind and believe me the family is more rewarding. No client, company nor audience could ever hold a candle.

    Instead my regrets have been more along the lines of, oh dear, I should have made more time for more children. Started sooner. The “what ifs” are hard, especially since they are an entirely pointless exercise. Perhaps we should all just let them go.

    Cheers and have a great weekend ladies.

    Leslie Loftis
    Submitted on 2013/10/25 at 7:17 pm | In reply to Maggie Magdalene.

    Among moms who want to quit work but can’t, it’s usually one of three things:
    1. Buying a house on the assumption of two incomes,
    2. Student loan debt, especially for advanced degrees in philosophical subjects from private institutions, or
    3. Health insurance tied to employment.
    And all say something about “if I’d known then what I know now.” That’s the part that really gets me. It was all avoidable with planning. And it’s all planning they encourage us not to do. Get the formal education at all costs and maintain your own income and professional autonomy without exception. Separate and equal.

    Maggie Magdalene
    Submitted on 2013/10/25 at 6:42 pm

    ***how my husband and I expected. Somehow, my big cup of green tea I poured this morning is still sitting. Running on no caffeine…

    Maggie Magdalene
    Submitted on 2013/10/25 at 6:40 pm

    I was asked what I was wishing I had when my kids were younger, or had done, or whatever it is that perhaps I am longing for with what-if thinking. What I most regret right now is that I did not take more joy in our every day lives (I’m still struggling with that now, but I think, at least some of the time, I’m better at it). I felt guilt, mostly because I worked part time (which was hard, because while it might seem the best of both worlds to be able to work AND stay home with ones’ children at the same time, it mostly made me feel scattered and distracted and wasn’t “really” being there for my kids a-la supermom). At the same time, my student loans accrued more and more interest because paying them from my part time income or my husband’s income simply was not possible all the time. So now, I am faced with a student loan that started at around 65,000 and will cost/will have cost me hundreds of thousands by the time I pay it off. The payment is bigger than my mortgage payment. I realize this is another issue altogether, but it is something else to consider when we think about where motherhood is going to fit in our lives. I did not want to return to work full time when my baby was born. There was no question. And, until the day he was born, I really thought I would.
    How I and my husband expected this all to go down was much different than how it did, and I don’t think we cluelessy jumped into having kids. And, even when we have felt we were doing the best thing possible, those ideas about what “should” be happening have crept in and left us uneasy and dissatisfied, when, really, we should have been able to simply embrace the beautiful thing that we have.

    Leslie Loftis
    Submitted on 2013/10/25 at 5:07 pm

    Its actually the rampant what ifs that have clarified for me this question of whether it was all a necessary evil.
    Right now on ramping issues are coming from all directions. On ramping discussion come up with friends at least a few times a week. I have an email I posted a few weeks ago (scroll down on the homepage) about this. The first of us GenXers who delayed childbearing and went home, our children are getting older, more self sufficient, and we are starting to look for more much the way I assume the mothers of the early 60′s did. The need to engage in the larger world that we feel as our children grow was the same strange stirring the Second Wavers felt.
    Recognizing that we no longer have the same assumptions that this is all there is, that we might be a little more pro-active because we know it can be done, some of use are starting to work together to engage beyond motherhood. (Now we don’t fight the old assumption but instead have to fight against some problems of our own making. In particular, the mid career and motherhood combo is a multipurpose wrecking ball.) I think those mothers in the 60′s would have done the same.

    Maggie Magdalene
    Submitted on 2013/10/24 at 6:35 pm

    I hesitate to respond to this because it brings up overwhelming emotion for me. Not just my own emotion, I think, but the emotion transferred to me by a very young mother frustrated, confused, angered, bored, belittled by a role she fell into at a point she was being told there was so much more available to her. She was 17 and a half when I was born. It was 1969. Three siblings followed within the next three and half years. There are these emotions and my own, both those I recall from my own experience of becoming a mother to four young kids, and now as a mom adjusting to having four school-aged kids and figuring out where I fit. The what ifs are hard. I’ve been working through a number of them in the past few years, especially this year. There are so many things that could have made a huge difference in how I felt/feel about myself and my role (a role I longed for) as a mom and a wife. I struggle with the what-ifs. I beat myself up over them. I know the only thing I can do is take them and share them with as many new moms as I can now and teach my kids(both boys and girls) as much as I can. I don’t know if they’ll hear me, and that might be the hardest part of all, but I’m praying they do.

Leave a comment