My Mother’s Feminist Dream
As a child, I dreamed of being like my mother, a dutiful housewife, and I dreamed of raising beautiful and happy children.
Fortunately, I was born in the wrong house. My mother was a feminist, who grew up at a time in France before women could vote. And, until her 35th birthday, she wasn’t allowed to get a job or open a bank account without her husband’s approval.
While I dreamed of becoming the perfect housewife, my mother was hoping that I’d grow up to make my own choices and live the life I wanted.
Growing up, I watched her while she was cleaning and cooking, eager to emulate her. But she kept sending me away, encouraging me to read books or play with my sister. No matter how many distractions she found, I kept bugging her to teach me how to be a dutiful wife.
Finally, she relented. One day, to my surprise, she said, “Having a dream is a wonderful aspiration. However, if you want to become a dutiful wife, you need to learn the basic principles.” With this she handed me “The Good Wife’s Guide,” which she herself had received as a wedding gift. Published in 1955, “The Good Wife’s Guide” was a handbook on how to take care of a husband’s needs and how to make him happy.
With great anticipation, I grabbed the book and began to read: Your goal is make your home a place of peace, order and tranquility – a place where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.
WOW, this book was a lot more serious than I had expected. I wasn’t exactly sure what it all meant, but I continued anyway. Before your husband returns from work, take a 15-minute rest, touch up your makeup and do what you can to look fresh.
I liked this advice, especially the makeup part. I wasn’t yet allowed to use makeup and I was very much looking forward the day my mother would let me do so.
You must listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.
This advice gave me pause. While I knew that listening to others was important, (my mother was always telling me not to interrupt), I had great difficulties not saying what was on my mind. But with a bit of practice, I felt I could learn to let my husband speak first. Moving on.
Don’t question him about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house. You have no right to question him.
Now wait a minute! What was that supposed to mean? What was I supposed to do when I didn’t agree with him? My mother had taught me from an early age to speak up when I felt something was wrong. I had taken this lesson to heart and often voiced my ideas with great enthusiasm.
While I understood and accepted (more or less) most of the advice in the “The Good Wife’s Guide,” the idea of not being able to speak up when I wanted to made me very uncomfortable. I slowly began to understand my mother’s lack of enthusiasm about my dream.
For centuries, women were expected to attend to men’s well-being and even pamper them, often at the cost of their own well-being. Paying attention to her comfort as well as the comfort of others was also part of my mother’s aspiration. And she was determined to share with me her feminist dream of caring for the well-being of other people, as well as my own well-being.
Today, my mother is smiling in heaven, watching her feminist dream become a reality. In addition to learning how to take care of my own needs, I’ve also learned to question my partner’s opinions… with a smile!!!