When I was a young woman just starting out in the working world, I often worked with “older” women whom I looked down upon for being perpetually cynical, negative and hard-boiled. Often they were also the kind of women who might sit on stools at the bar in their fifties, sharing limericks (and possibly Tequila) with sailors. As a confident newlywed, I once admitted at work that my new husband and I had opted not to have a television at all.
“Ha!” one of them snorted. “I give you 6 months!”
Since I felt infinitely superior in my own lofty, more evolved sphere, I was able to let this kind of low remark pass but I remember thinking privately I will never become like them.
I don’t think I have, exactly; but post-divorce, much older now, I see the whole thing with a different lens, fully appreciating the loss of a soft, golden innocence, the piercing sadness of betrayal and the kind of resentment that can form hard, sharp crystals in the heart.
I also think how unfair it is for people (usually men) to offhandedly label women as “bitchy” or “menopausal” when often it’s actually a tipping point after thirty years of patiently performing the same thankless tasks year after year, making excuses for short tempers; always, always putting others first; still working while everyone else sleeps and when a day off finally presents itself, not even recalling what she likes best and investigating further just seems like too much trouble.
In her excellent satire on this very thing, Virginia Woolf skewers the poem ‘The Angel in the House‘ by pointing out that the “ideal” woman was “intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.”
My own mother certainly perfected this and as a wife in the 1940’s did not even consider “making a fuss” when her husband revealed in a kind of an afterthought way, that he had accepted an overseas position in South Africa that he had not even discussed with her.
She was also seven months pregnant at the time.
Just yesterday someone at work (another woman, incredibly) tut-tutted about the silliness of the recent protest marches and how it was best for them (as women) to just stay out of it.
I have no words for this.
What do you think? Why is it still so hard to be a Girl never mind an older one?