Women: Finding a Life of One's Own
For those of us who passed through high school in the firm belief of the future: we could have the best of our own "liberation," Radcliffe offered a particularly reassuring image of the man's and the woman's world. Mary Bunting continually stressed her image of the ideal Radcliffe girl: wife, mother, career.
Our minds formulated vague and happy pictures of warm homes with interesting tweed-jacketed or blue-jeaned husbands who "respected our minds," kiddies diligently manipulating creative playthings, and also, vaguer still, some fulfilling, creative "work."
But what's wrong with that? Since obviously one would have to be maladjusted to even suggest that such a goal would be undesirable, let me begin at least by describing how it is impossible, even for those Radcliffe women who are assumed to be of the economic elite and therefore able to employ more exploited women than themselves to do the unpleasant house-hold chores.
One of the main problems is of course our own heads, as they have been formed by our entire social education before we ever reached Radcliffe-the role of women in our own families and high schools, those roles which we were taught we must act out in order to be a "good woman" -whatever else we were .
Whatever else we might be, we were told, we must remember that the true fulfillment of a woman is through a man, that what our husbands chose to do would be ultimately more important, that we would want to marry a man "more intelligent" than we were, and that even if we were more intelligent, we should never let him know it for fear of being considered a "castrating female."
We tried our best to be sexy and interesting, feminine and creative. Why then were the Harvard guys always the more creative musicians and writers, the more dynamic political leaders, while we had the obviously inferior merit of "getting better grades?" We, accepting even the humor of male-dominated Harvard society, laughed at the Radcliffe grindiness
guarded a secret contempt for outsters who were insecure enough to work hard, and strove to be pa? of male society.
Those of us who, without realing it, were becoming female Uncle T?s succeeded to varying degrees in becoming partly accepted as equal by some of the men we knew. We ?er asked why women were more gr?dly and less interesting-why we?urselves were less interesting that ?ny number of men we knew.
I never realized the degree to ?ich I held these attitudes until I left Radcliffe, and even more important until a movement began among women which made me realize how ?sely my lot was bound up with their with the most "privileged" and the most oppressed, and just what the Radcliffe image of the emancipated fem? had done to my mind.
The important thing to reali? from the outset, is that it is impossible to be inferior and equal at the same time: it is impossible to consider y?r role as a "good woman" to be that of ten-derly supporting whatever n?e you happen to be with in what ever he wants to do, and at the same time make plans for your own cr?ive existence.
Ultimately the feeling of t?porariness included by the knowledge that you will undoubtedly live were your man wants to live, that your ?ork will of course be interrupted by children, etc., means that women o?en have great difficulty applying themselves to a long term task or occupation, and tend to restlessly take up occupations and leave them, developing what some psychologists have recently dubbed "the will to fail."
That is, women observedh? a wide variety of occupations performed significantly less well where ?en were present than in situations were there were all women. Why? The fear of being a "castrating female"
At Radcliffe the situation is more complicated, because women do have the desire to succeed academically-but it must be remember that academic success per?se is a significantly inferior quality in a community where creativity and brilliance at the ideal, where men pride themselves on their capacity to spend a semester directing plays, then walk ? to an exam and do as well as a woman who has spent the semester gri?fing.
Working hard?t tasks defined by others is the qu?ty of a submissive creature, and ? have always been taught to be the submissive than men. This in ?way means that women do not become revolutionaries-indeed, our re?is all the more profound and a?entic when it does occur, because ?ur entire lives have been spent, invariety of subtle ways, in a service oubservent capacity.
THE TENINCY of women to go into social ?k, teaching, nursing and other s?ce-type work can be seen in some?ys as a positive value in a society ?ich puts little stress on social we?e. But it results from a situation o?mdamental inequality.
Men run society, are politicians, corporate ex?ives, leaders, and creative artists: women are secretaries, waitresses, ?ers and housewives-public or p?e servants.
Many of would not want the solution to?s problem to be for women to me as manipulative as politicians businessmen must be in the present ?em. We would like to see a society which men could serve in the best ?se of that word, could see their as developing a better society for and in which women could do all as serve-that is, plan create, dir.
As for women traditionally have not creative, some of the social rea? are obvious, and have been brily analyzed in Virginia Woolf's ?m Of One's Own . According to golf, a woman needs, as a bare n?um, financial independence, an?me of her own, and a room to in, things she has never had tradlly.
Some now may have a bedroom o? own (although living space alcliffe is distinctly less plentifu? at Harvard), but we do not ?om-real psychological room ?th to function.
How of us have determined to trav?r own, seeking the kind of free ? space in which to observe, i?, write, only to find that a wom? ever as free as a man to bum ?ountry or through Europe? ?y to sit down in a park with a book or a sketch pad for more than five minutes without some character feeling it his obligation to make an attempt at picking you up? Of course you can get rid of him but your peace of mind is shattered for that day.
THE POINT is, to create you need to be able to lose yourself in things and ideas around you, to forget your physical presence for a time. For a woman this is virtually impossible.
As has been pointed out by the women's liberation movement, the plain woman is continually burdened by scorn and abuse, while the even moderately attractive one is the butt of infinite routine seduction attempts. The initial pleasure of this kind of attention soon wears off when you realize that in many cases it has nothing to do with you personally; it is not your fascinating presence that has drawn the men, but rather the simple fact that you are a woman.
Our tendency to romanticize encounters derives in great part from the fact that we are essentially passive in the love relationship-waiting is always fraught with fantasy. Even at Radcliffe one must generally wait to be asked to be married.
The passive waiting for a man to enter her life and magically transform it is something that the intellectual woman has been taught to desire as well as to fear. Is it any wonder that we get "hung up," resentful, are constantly being accused by men of expecting more than they are willing to give?
Of course they are right in one way-we are expecting them to fill the vacuum that exists in our lives by what we assume to be the fullness of theirs. And yet how few men are actually capable of accepting a woman who has her own life, who asks that he give her the support and help in her work that he has always demanded of her.
I have met many college educated women who tell me apologetically that they have given up work on their MA or PhD or are not working because "My husband doesn't like me to."
I can already hear some "independent" Cliffie protesting "But why does she take it? It's her fault." I probably would have said the same thing while I was still in college and hadn't yet seen just how difficult it is to do something about it yourself, how difficult it is to make it on your own as a woman in this society facing the psychological and physical pressures of bad affairs, social intimidation ("What's wrong with you, are you promiscuous, don't you like children, are you frigid, didn't anyone want to marry you, etc."), and, even more important, lousy work possibilities.
Try entering medicine, law, or academics and see how women, even Radcliffe women, are treated. Or try simply getting a job after you graduate-any kind of a job that isn't totally mind destroying.
English majors I knew who graduated from Harvard went almost immediately into editorships at publishing houses, or reportorial jobs on papers like the N.Y. Times . Their female counterparts became readers in those same publishing houses, or, if they were lucky, got to write for some Women's Page.
AS FOR the woman who happens to get pregnant, in the absence of decent abortion laws, or adequate child care facilities, she is faced with two possibilities: raising the child herself and working at the same time, or turning to dependency on a man.
Of course the problems of a Radcliffe girl confronting these things are far less than those of a working class woman or welfare mother-and yet even for the middle class woman they are traumatic and difficult.
There is a myth that it is possible to hold down a full-time job and have children.
Even if you are willing to work twice as hard as any man, it is untrue unless you can I) hire a more economically oppressed woman to do your shit-work for you 2) work out some kind of communal arrangement (difficult in most communities where people still adhere religiously to their notions of family privacy) or 3) make your husband or man share equally in tasks like cooking, cleaning and child caring (I defy the wives of most "emancipated" men to tell me this is easy).
The existence of an autonomous women's liberation movement has helped many women, including myself, in one important way. It has given us the moral support to say once and for all that we are not inadequate human beings, selfish mothers, or castrating females for making the justifiable demands on men and on society that we be treated as full human beings, not as sex objects, nurses, or servants.
It has done this through revealing to us that problems we considered to be our own hangups are shared by other women-to some degree by all women-and that they are part of a particular social structure rather than the inevitable outcome of biological differences.
THIS IS NOT to say that honorable relations with men are impossible, even under the present structure; simply that they are very difficult, and above all, they can never be a substitute for a life of one's own.
Women, like men, should have the option to live alone if they wish, without men, with one man, with many men, or with other women, and still feel like fulfilled people. They should know that having a child is a fine experience, but not the only fine experience a woman can have, nor necessarily the best.
All of these things can only come about for women, along with economic liberation, if we have a social and a political revolution in this country involving a change in the nature of work both for men and for women.
AT RADCLIFFE the exploitation of women is less obvious but just as deep as in other areas of American Society. At the outset, the "ideal" of Harvard elitism, borrowed heavily from the English universities, is basically one of male intellectual clubbiness-thus some common rooms are still closed.
to female tutors, and there are ?cu-ously few women on the facu?.
Fortunately, fewer and fewer Harvard men are drawn to this particular safe areas which have been already notion. Radcliffe women are not obviously passive in this community-indeed, we are often incredibly active, even while "waiting" for the right man to come along.
But we are active in precisely those laid out by men and male attitudes. Like blacks, we must behave like the dominant group in order to be accepted by them, and at the same time cater to their assumptions of our inherent weakness and inferiority (this extends to the sub-societies of radical political movements, and the editorial board of the Harvard CRIMSON).
Radcliffe women may no longer join ladies clubs to fill their time (though some may be active in their local PTA) but our attitude towards men and our own lives may not be significantly different than those of women who do.
Finally, in the mind of one who actually believed it, the happy matron-career woman notion promoted by Radcliffe is a dreadful illusion, and one which if taken seriously can keep us not only from developing our own possibilities, but from relating to other women. The contempt and mistrust women have for each other, even when they are "friends," is the counterpart of the excessive awe we feel towards-men, and part of what makes us sense that we would be utterly desolate without a man in our lives.