Modern civilization has made woman a little wiser, but . . .
she became the victim of the present; . . .In the past she walked
blindly in the light, but now she walks open-eyed in the dark.
He was shiny clean, even dressed in cutoff shorts and an old T-shirt. An old bicycle held a worn bag of tools. The red setter with him wagged a friendly greeting, unimpressed by my dog's bold challenge from behind the safety of the screen door.
"I trim palm trees for a living."
Like a conditioned reflex, the rent increase, high utility bills and other financial demands crossed my mind. My answer was sharp and automatic: "I'm sorry. I'm renting, and I paid for those trees to be trimmed last year, but my landlord. . ."
"You weren't repaid. I'm sorry." Warm brown eyes told me he really was sorry. There was something about his physical movement and speech that hinted at a slight handicap of some kind, but his manner was open. And by the sincerity of his answer, there was no handicap on his heart.
I closed the door firmly on Arizona's summer heat. Then it hit! Why hadn't I at least offered a cool drink of water to both the man and the friendly dog? Was my heart handicapped? Something tight snapped inside me; I felt a sudden rush of tears. I also felt shame. But when I ran outside to call him back, he was already way down the block. I watched the bicycle and dog turn the corner at the end of the block.
I tried to check the tide of rising shame I felt by logic. I'm not a cruel person. I keep a birdbath filled; I help strays, both animal and human, if I can. But something inside wasn't fooled. I saw with lightning clarity how completely I'd fallen into the trap. Money. Everything measured and weighed and decided by its dollar outlay. And the defensive fear this creates when the outgo always seems to exceed the income.
I wasn't always like this. Once I had an inner knowing that saw past appearances, beyond spoken words to read the heart of others no matter what the situation or circumstance. Yet the constant expense to keep an old car running, a demanding job and, most of all, the pressure of being a woman alone with the full responsibility of a child had dimmed my sensitivity to the need of another.
I saw something else, mind-shaking in its impact. How many other women are experiencing this same change? Thrust into a competitively oriented society, struggling against many inequities, what happens to our nature? Our very unpreparedness for so many responsibilites works against us. Centuries of a role of passiveness and submissiveness have not equipped us to cope with so many new situations. Called upon to fill so many roles at once: breadwinner, homemaker, mother-father, housekeeper, errand boy, chauffeur, bookkeeper -- the list seems endless. Is it any wonder we sometimes feel we cannot cope with it all?
With today's high divorce rate some men may also be experiencing many new demands for the first time because for how how long did women handle the details that allowed their mates to concentrate on the business of earning a living. Getting clothes to the cleaner and children to after-school activities; handling deliveries, repairmen; settling sibling disputes before daddy gets home, taking care of a sick child, preparing endless meals and washing endless loads of clothes. How many women are still handling most of these details plus an outside job? And some are handling it alone.
How many men find these duties have now been added? I didn't meet many men during my after-divorce years who could handle all of it when children were involved -- even with the help of a housekeepr or weekly cleaning woman. A lot of them solved the problem by remarrying quickly if they could find someone who'd take on the job.
I also learned the hard way that equal education and ability were no guarantee I'd receive equal oportunity and pay. There were still too many men in managerial positions who believed: "Oh, she'll just work till she gets married again and some man will suppprt her. So why pay more?" Or the other cop-out: "Why take the pay away from a man with a family to support?"
No one ever explained to me why that didn't also apply to me when I had a family to support. This attitude may have been more pronounced in the fifties and sixties, but it still exists, especially in some large corporations. And I've watched a kind of Sisterhood gradually replace the touted female rivalry of the past. Was this much maligned competitiveness, mirrored in novels and plays, ever really a part of woman's true nature? Or was it forced on us by the limited opportunities women had, which guaranteed competition for male support and vicarious prestige? Are we still bowing before standards predicated on income, prestige, and power? What happens to the real strength of women when measured by these standards?
I couldn't stop the rush of insight or the tears. I didn't want to. I let the feeling of shame for my insensitivity to another wash over and through me -- full force! It was a cleansing flow; too long denied, too long delayed. I let the insight continue. I had some soul-searching to do; some hard questions to explore. If I had denied so much of my true nature, what I had already lost was more valuable than anything I had gained.
How and when had I turned my back on the woman of me and accepted the shallow measurement that uses a dollar as a yardstick of my worth? When had fear taken over as the prime mover of my decisons and actions? Had it secretly happened to other women I knew? If so, have we sacrificed the inner quality that is Woman's special contribution to the world -- our abiity to nourish, to sustain, to inspire? Great womem have always fought for human rights and the dignity of the human spirit rather than for their own aggrandizement or financial reward.
Our men do admirably in so many areas of life, but they don't have all the answers to the difficult questions facing the world taday. Nature reflects a polarity balance -- yin and yang, working in harmony to keep things straight. Women should reach for positions of authority and power, but only if we use these positions and power to balance human affairs.
Men have had centuries to learn how to deal with the situations many of us are facing for the first time. No wonder we sometimes meet situtations very emotionally; no wonder our stress indicator goes off the chart! We're struggling to find out who we are in this transitional age. We're developing logic and impersonal attention, but we are often still victims of too much empathy and not enough self-assurance and sense of self-worth.
The challenge is good! We need to balance our emotional nature with mental clarity and a degree of detachment and discernment. We need to be assertive when principles are at stake. There's a lot of down-home wisdom in the saying "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." But what are we doing to help the growing number of women who struggle alone to make ends meet? What are we doing to change an economic system that demands two salaries to have a home and ignores the result -- children, guardians of our future, often left to the care of others who may not be qualified for this important job?
Yet money always seems to be available to build more prisons!
And what about our confusing role in sexual encounters? The media tells us we are man's equal. But look at the physical difference in such an enounter. Man projects - woman accepts. He releases - she receives.
Receives what? That is the question she should ask.
The Women's Liberation Movement arrived on time because it has its roots in the needs of all people. It is a struggle for dignity, for a sense of worth, for the right to give and receive love and respect. The right to use talents and abiities constructively. Perhaps more is asked of women today than at any other time in our history because rigid rules have been relaxed, which creates new demands.
The world needs the wisdom of the heart as well as the wisdom of the mind. It may continue to be propped up by technology, but will it be worth occupying?
I opened the door one sweltering August day to see a childlike man and a friendly red dog. But they opened a larger door in me. A door I had almost forgotten.
I was the one who received a cool drink of water that day.
*The Broken Wings: The Citadel Press, Inc., New York, NY,1957. Translator: Anthony B. Ferris.
Copyright (c) 2007 by Anne Forrest Elmore