We're talking about feeling unfulfilled, and someone says "That's what they told us, isn't it? Didn't feminism teach us that caring for others, raising children, doing housework were worthless activities? Wasn't that the message of the 70s and 80s - that women were wasted in the home, that any woman with a brain would look down on such menial activities?"
The next voice chimes in. "I think women raised after feminism were sold a bill of goods. We were told that we can have it all, and we can't. It's not possible to raise my kids the way I want to and run my house the way I want to and be the sort of professional I was taught to be. I can't do it all".
And I sit quietly and drink my wine, wondering if my face actually looks as flushed as I feel, and if the other people in the room can hear my heart pounding. I sit quietly because I know if I speak I will either scream or cry. I come home and go to bed, only to wake up in the middle of the night, wondering what I should have said, what I should have done. Wishing I could find a way to speak my truth calmly and really hear what others are saying. I want to transform my silence into listening, but all I can do is scream in my head:
After feminism? It's over already? Could have fooled me.
It wasn't feminism that devalued the work of the home. Raising children, doing the grocery shopping cooking and cleaning - that was all menial work well before Betty Friedan, before Gloria Steinem, before Bella Abzug. No one had to tell our mother's generation that their work wasn't valued; all they had to do was look at their bank accounts, or try to apply for a loan in their own names, or try to get a divorce for any reason save abuse or abandonment. If money is how you keep score, then you need money to even play the game. Staying home isn't a choice unless you have another option. The second wave gave women other options. The changes during the 60s and 70s got us onto the playing field.
But we're not done. Far from it.
The second wave marginalized women of color and queer communities, and we're not making a whole lot of progress even now on our attention to intersectionality. We haven't abolished the patriarchy, and we haven't even openly challenged most of the fundamental assumptions. Work is more consuming than ever. Some things are worse than they were. We've exaggerated the presumed differences between men and women and punished men for any hint of femininity. The women who've been most successful have managed to fit in to the culture, not revolutionize it. We've fetishized motherhood to make it appear the "natural choice". And we've turned on each other in Mommy Wars rather than look outward in alliance to see the forces still oppressing all of us.
I do believe that parenting is a valuable activity, and that someone has to pay attention to how things are going at home. I realize that on average, women are more comfortable in those roles than men are. Why wouldn't we be when our brothers aren't taught how to care for themselves?
We've all been sold a bill of goods if we believe that men have to be straitjacketed into jobs they hate, and women have to be stuck in the homes they keep. We've been sold a bill of goods if we believe that our jobs should take up all of our time, and if they don't, we're not living up to our potential. We've been sold a bill of goods if we believe that every child has to have thousands of dollars worth of toys and clothes and computers in order to be happy. But we didn't buy it from the feminists; we bought and swallowed it whole from the patriarchy.
I couldn't say all that at the party. I let my anger simmer just under the surface. It's safe to vent it here, far away from the villages on the slopes of the volcano, and maybe having let off a little steam I can figure out how to have the conversation for real the next time - because there will be a next time. It's not over. Not by a long shot.