So I’m on a little holiday for the first time in ages (I’m in my home state of Texas for a wedding) and I thought I’d take advantage of the free thought space. You might be surprised to hear that this post will have nothing to do with my (hot) temper, instead it’s filled with recent musings which I feel fit in nicely with Sof’s last post, and with current events. And to really give credit where credit is due, this post is largely based on a conversation I recently had with a very dear friend who suggested that this really was all blog-worthy. So, AB this one is for you.
Being something of an ex-pat, I rely heavily on social media to keep up with both friends and family. Mostly, I’m a Facebook addict but I also extend my gaze to Twitter, Pinterest and, like all prodigal children, I use Skype. I used to Skype my mom and dad at least a couple times a week, but an increasingly busy schedule on my end, coupled with their own complicated timetables has made this practice a near impossibility. Though it’s far from preferable, our conversations are now generally limited to only once or twice a month but as a result, are often quite rich and productive. A recent Skype sesh with my mom was particularly inspiring and I thought I’d share it–along with some resultant thoughts–here, with you.
After the traditional exchanges of what was new, and small commiserations in regards to piles of laundry, my mom and I moved on to discussing what it means to be spoiled. I’ve mentioned before that I was raised in a middle-class environment so there’s hardly any point in my trying to convince you that I was not at all spoiled; I certainly was. I suppose, though, as I’ve gotten older I have become less impressed with material spoils (thanks I’m sure, in no small part to my own anemic pocketbook) and I admittedly can be quite judgmental of those who still revel in social circles whose movements are fueled by being spoiled rotten. (Made in Chelsea cast, I’m looking scathingly at you). My mom, rather wisely, pointed out to me that this was perhaps unwarranted judgement because, ‘after all’, she purred, ‘you are also rather spoiled. Just in a different way’. Deft, mom, very deft; not only are you about to school me in something profound and life-as-an-adult-ish, but you also just zinged me. What a woman. After some spluttering and huffing on my part, my mom explained that I have been spoiled by being raised in such a way that not only enabled my feminism, but which made it almost inevitable.
‘You were never, ever made to believe that you couldn’t do something. No one in this house (or in your immediate social circles, if we could help it) ever told you that any of the conditions of your being were preventative of whatever you wanted to be and do. You were raised to believe that being a girl was just as good, if not better, than being a boy and that you could achieve anything in the world’, she explained.
She went on: ‘You know I see young women now a days who choose to move right next door to their parents, get married very young, and who give up everything else to be mothers to many. Don’t get me wrong! I think children are the most important thing in the world [and she really does!] and being a mother is really something, it’s really something. But I just don’t get it. They are passing up everything I fought my mother to get; they are giving away all of the battles we fought just so we could be anything and everything. Mothers, but not just mothers. You’ve never had to fight that with us, you were always going to be allowed to grow into a whole human being and that was your right’.
How does she get so smart? Surely this is something that, by 29.5 years of womanhood, I should at least have some loose familiarity with but every time she rolls this kind of stuff out, I just sit in wonder feeling like I know nothing about this world and that if I am ever deprived of my mother, I will simply cease to function. There are times when I’m visiting, and she reminds me for the zillionth time to fasten my seat-belt, that I respond with some smart-ass comment about how it’s a wonder that I can even tie my shoes when I’m away from her but, damn, I’m starting to think it IS a wonder.
I realized, of course, that she was entirely right. I have been raised and educated in ways which make my stridency, my anger, my convictions and my (often foul-mouthed) speech possible, ‘natural’, and non-negotiable. My mother was one of the first people in the state of Texas to get a Master’s degree in Special Education and by the time she had accomplished the degree, she was already a wife and a mother. She has never said to me that these factors–marriage and my brother–were a hinderance, but they were also never under consideration. There was never any doubt that they were essential elements to her progression as a woman. I bring this up because during my MA, I could hardly stretch my capacity to care about other human beings past only a very, very few people and none of them were actually dependent on me for anything, let alone life. Not only was my mom able to care for her degree, her husband, her child and lots of other children, she did so without ever being able to question or challenge her circumstances. I have been able to get ridiculous access to graduate education without ever once having to (seriously) justify my ‘single’ status; my choices have been choices, they have been all about me, and I have been able to execute them as an independent human being. (The fact that I have been able to take out loans–on my own, without a husband–is astonishing enough, in relation to the financial realities of just 40 or 50 years ago, to make me stop bitching about my debt). I struggle sometimes, to see my peers settling down, rapidly producing progeny and living the ‘domestic’ life; I ask myself if I’ve precluded the possibility of that life by making the choices I have (you know, just in case I ever wake up one morning a completely different person and decide that’s what I want). But this conversation with my mom–where she called me spoiled–has re-opened my eyes to the fact that this thought process is, in and of itself, a complete luxury. Certain types of men have always been afforded the opportunity to pursue their careers without ever having to question the merit of doing so, and most of them were also indisputably and simultaneously afforded roles of domesticity. I am now in the position to fully exercise the former, and perhaps most importantly, I may choose whether I engage in the latter. (Though having said that, I would argue rather forcefully that it is still much harder for women to have both, to ‘have it all’). And that is all without being cast as ‘other’, as a radical, a social dissident. Sure, there are tensions, and I feel them, I rail against them, but this is nothing compared to what my mother and her generation faced.
That sort of brought me to the realization that aside from being a spoiled woman–a phrase I am reading rather subversively and with relish–I am of a generation which is thoroughly spoiled. The progeny of the Baby Boom generation (I recently read we are being hailed as ‘the boomerang children’, a moniker I find rather pertinent) have been told almost unequivocally that we could be anything we wanted to be, we could go to whatever school we wanted to attend, and that there was no reason we too couldn’t someday become the President. (And again, let me quickly affix my usual caveat acknowledging that this is all rather class-specific and when one considers these social narratives from a position which also takes into account race, the coherency of these arguments rapidly unravels. So, of course, when I say ‘we’ I do have a very specific audience in mind… as shitty as that is). We are all struggling now, us twentysomethings, because we did exactly what we were raised to do: got good grades, played a thousand sports, were extracurricular rockstars, got into university and graduated with honors. Problem is, that hasn’t changed the fact that there are no jobs. We can’t get hired, in large part because our parents are still sitting in those jobs. I’m not trying to lay blame on the Boomers, I mean I might imply rather resentfully that this is the case, but my grasp of economic processes–tenuous though it may be–is real enough to know things are not that simple. The point is though, that there’s a lot of pissing and moaning about what we’re ‘due’, what we ‘deserve’ because of all of our ‘hard work’, and increasingly, I’m starting to think we need a time-out in the think-it-over corner.
We can’t actually be complaining about the fact that we were raised with shit-tons of positive reinforcement, and given access to good educations, can we? I mean not really. And I’m sure we’re not upset that most of us have never had to drop out of school to go back to the family farm to help through a depression. Certainly we’re not bitching because the vast majority of us have never had to stop living youthful lives in order to fulfill a draft, and therefore fight for the defense of our country. I mean, yeah it sucks when we can’t move into our sexy, sophisticated dream lofts with exposed brick walls, wood floors, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, but are we really complaining that we’ve had choices and opportunities shoved down our throats from the word ‘go’? Nooooo, nahhhhh, definitely not us. Look, I totally get that the economy sucks and a lot of the twentysomethings are stuck feeling like Rapunzel; trapped in a tower, literally bouncing off the walls, singing in sickly-sweet voices, ‘When will my life begin?’. But, come on kids, how spoiled are we reaaalllyyy?! That we can go to graduate school again and again when jobs fail to materialize; that we can shack up with each other instead of having to get married; that we are not being ripped out of society and forcibly enlisted; that we can make choices about when and if we want to start families; that we have parents’ houses to move back into when disaster rips the fucking rug out from under you… that’s all pretty lush.
I am particularly of the mind that Uncle Ben of Spiderman fame had it right: ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’. I think all of these spoils have to be recognized and used; jobs or not, we have no excuse to sit on our pampered laurels. The fact that this post only applies to a certain ‘we’ is indicative of how much work needs to be done. Inequities, injustices, and violence are still very real parts of this world. But we are not without privilege, we are not without life spoils. I expect a fucking lot from us… you know, once we get going. And we will. So maybe in the meantime we could winge a tiny bit less because really, when you have those rare moments of honesty with yourself, it’s obvious that we don’t have it that bad. I work hard, I have debt, I worry about never getting a job, I still have to fight for women every day but you know what? In the grand scheme, I’m a regular Veruca Salt.