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BF, AF and The Interim Generation

There are so many of them and they take up so much space in the world that the Baby Boomer generation gets all the ink. Everyone older is usually lumped into a general “senior” category, and the younger generations don’t even get real names, just GenX and GenY.

As David Wolfe points out over at Ageless Marketing, these designations don’t make a lot of sense at least from a marketing point of view. In the boomer generation alone - those born between 1946 and 1964 - what do 40-year-olds and 58-year-olds have in common? You’re right, not much.

At 63, born in 1941, I fall into that generic senior designation, but for cultural purposes I have, for decades, considered myself a part of the Interim generation which encompasses, loosely, women born between the mid-1930s up to early-1950s. If men of this age are affected similarly, one of them will have to take on that analysis - I’m dealing with women today.

We of the Interim generation were raised to marry, have children and keep house. If we went to college or work, it was considered a time filler, something to do until we found the man of our dreams and moved to the suburbs. The words “career”and “woman” were not mentioned in the same sentence and the only “professions” open to women, usually “spinsters” who could not find a husband, were nurse, teacher and secretary.

Then something happened on our way to fulfilling our destinies as brood mares. Everyone believes they remember what happened in 1963: John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But there was another event that year, at first overshadowed by the death of the president, that would at a slower pace have a much greater effect on western culture. Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique was published.

Pick up that book today and you will groan. The writing is so dense it reads like cement and I have trouble imagining now how I got through it. But I did, along with millions of other women, and it changed not just our individual lives - it changed, in time, everything.

A couple of years ago, I ran into a snippy little 20-something just down from Cambridge with a shiny, new Harvard MBA making $150K as a Wall Street analyst. She told me that feminism is not relevant to her generation because they have evolved beyond the self-consciousness of labels.

Oh puh-leeze. Who does she think made it possible for her to go to Harvard, an all-male school when I was her age. Who does she think made it possible for her to become an analyst, an all-male enclave not so long ago. And who does she think made it possible for her to get a mortgage or any other kind of credit without a male co-signer?

Who did all that? We did, the women of the 1970s who got together in thousands of small consciousness raising sessions all over the U.S. to study Betty Friedan’s thesis and figure out how to put it to work in the real world. It was so radical then that many could not tell their husbands what we were doing at those meetings. Men made the decisions then. Men ruled the household then. Men even told wives how to vote then. And if your husband didn’t want you to read a certain book and have certain kinds of women friends, you didn’t.

So soon we forget.

Some of us were brave enough to risk the inevitable scorn of men and the media to burn our bras in that infamous symbolic gesture of demanding our freedom from domestic slavery. And others like me who were too chicken to risk that scorn and its consequences, cheered from the sidelines. For any of you too young to know or too old to remember, up until The Feminine Mystique took strong enough hold to make real change, women were forced into girdles and restrictive brassieres. It was not ladylike to jiggle in public.

Two years after the publication of Friedan’s manifesto, equal pay for men and women became law. Nevertheless, U.S. women today are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar men earn which is why it is a serious failing for young women to reject feminism. Although women’s strides toward full citizenship with men are numerous, we still have work to do and equal pay is only one item on the list.

While displeased with the attitude of today's young women, I am envious too of their unquestioning acceptance of their entitlement which, of course, is as it should be. Progress made in one generation should be the stepping stone of the next to improve life further. But those of us of the Interim generation, most of whom fought fiercely for our hard-won rights, will go to our graves with each of our feet in a different world. You could think of those worlds as BF and AF: Before Friedan and After Friedan.

It seems you cannot escape your cultural era. By methods I am at a loss to remember or explain, I learned the lesson well that I was expected to marry the man who would bring home the bacon I would cook for him while maintaining his household and raising his children. If those male pronouns surprise you, that is, in the 1950s, how things were said.

When Ms. Friedan’s book came along it was for me, as for millions of women, a revelation so right, so fitting, so obvious in its justice that there could be no appeal.

Women of the Interim generation were enthusiastic feminists, but old habits die hard. I have lived an independent life, but my first inclination is still, always, to serve the man. If I cooked at my home for the most recent one in my life, I never asked him to clean up the dishes. When he left his coat on the back of a chair, I hung it up. I made the coffee in the morning and brought it to him in bed if he was not up yet sometimes with freshly squeezed orange juice. I took on the responsibility of waking him when he had an appointment, and I let him read whichever newspaper section he wanted first, even if I wanted it.

I knew what I was doing and I was furious with myself. I wanted to blame him for being a man and making me do these things. But even though he made no effort to correct these minor inequities nor, as far as I could tell, even noticed they might be out of place, it wasn’t him. It was me. I have my own mortgage, I pay my own bills. I decide where to take holiday trips, and whether to take out a home equity line of credit just in case.

But I am still a member of the Interim generation - one foot in BF and the other in AF.


Comments

I remember. I still do these little clean-up, hang-up things for my spouse because he pays the lion's share of the bills. Maybe it's justification on my part, but it just seems that whatever work we do to make the household run--whether paid work to cover the house mortgage or unpaid work to clean that house, is still equality if all the decisions are made together.

When I was not quite 19, in love, and wanting to see the world, my boyfriend got a job in Colorado. My plans were to join John Denver and experience a Rocky Mountain High, sans marriage license. Oh no, says the Mother. Oh no, says the Father. You will be married or no leaving for parts unknown. I obeyed, as it never occurred to me to do otherwise. I went from being parented to being husbanded. Same set of rules. Perhaps they thought they were protecting me, or were embarrassed by what the family and neighbors would say. Was more important to them that the Favorite Son get a good college education, and they couldn't afford two college educations. My getting married was their perfect solution.

Forgot to mention the year was 1973. That's important to quantify.

I can't believe what I just read. There aren't many of us you know. I am glad you described us, and so eloquently, whatever generation we are. How well I remember reading Betty Friedan. She about knocked me out. What a concept. Now, I work at a college and notice that the girls do have a sense of entitlement. The choices they have. Even their professors are too young to have experienced it. We did pave that way. However, now I see that my stressed out daughters, with careers and children, work so very hard at the office and home, and sometimes I wonder.....have things really changed that much for us womenfolk?

Until Ms. came out, I had thought that I was the only wierd woman in the world--the only one who objected to having everyone else set the agenda for her life. How wonderful that Ms. brought me the thinking of so many thoughtful women, including Ms. Freidan.
Just as today's young women are reaping the fruit of the actions of our generation, we reaped the fruit from our mothers' generation. I just picked up a book from the library by Emily Yellin, "Our Mothers' War". So far in my reading, I've been pleased with the historical accuracy. My mom drove a bus in Tulsa during the war (WW II, that is), and worked on A-26 aircraft for Douglas. Without her example, I wonder what my own path would have been and am chagrined by my never having told her what an inspiration she was to me. Yet, I too was locked into the "serve the man" syndrome (at his insistence AFTER we married!) for some 19 years. Thirteen years of living on his own and doing things for himself made him a new man. Now (16 years into our 2nd marriage to one another), he sometimes reminds me "I will do that--you don't have to." when I display signs of relapsing into the syndrome.

I can see this was written awhile ago but I popped on here because I'm beginning to write a research article concerning ageism and feminism and I found this article to be such an inspiration. There are so many young feminists out there still that greatly appreciate the women that came before us and that know we have so far to come!! It was wonderful to read an article that recognises both how far we have come and how far we need to go!! I'm planning on focusing my article on the youth-worshipping culture we live in and how it is personified even within feminism. Any contributions, outlooks, or advice feel free to email me at Lyrielle@gmail.com

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