Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It Comes in Like a Sufragette and Goes Out Like a Lamb

Earlier this week, my children were dong their homework. Big pat on the back to me because for once they were doing it at the kitchen table rather than in my car while I was driving to some sport or activity. One of the boys was working on spelling and the other was dealing with fractions. I tried to avoid eye contact with that one hoping he wouldn't call on me for help. That trick doesn't work any better now than it did back when I was in the fifth grade. My daughter did ask me for help with her homework. That should have alerted me to something strange afoot. She never asks for help. On that particular evening, however, she said she had to interview me. I figured I could answer a few questions while grilling cheese sandwiches and opening cans of soup. ( Don't judge!) After a few questions along the lines of, "When you were a girl, what career did you aspire to?" and "What is the most challenging thing about being a woman?", I had to ask what kind of homework this was. She informed that it was for Women's History Month. How did we get three weeks into Women's History Month without my realizing it I wondered and isn't it Black History month my son wondered aloud. Back to the interview questions. I had a problem with the one about what I find challenging about being a woman because I don't think my daughter's teacher really wants my honest response. Does she truly want my daughter to read aloud her homework to other fourth graders, telling them about her mother's issues with her period, approaching menopause, body image, and the high cost of bras? I didn't think so. So I lied or at least gave a wishy washy answer, but I didn't feel good about it.

Interesting to me, is the fact that I have read two great books this month about the challenges of being a woman. For my book club, I read Maggie O'Farrell's novel, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. It is set in Scotland and is the story of an elderly woman released from the mental hospital she was committed to as a teenager. She is released into the care of her grandniece who previously had no knowledge of the woman's existence. The plot held me in its grip from start to finish. I read about Maggie O'Farrell and her inspiration for writing this book, as the protagonist has been put in the mental institution on the flimsiest of causes. In one interview, the author cited other examples from history. It was sad and horrifying and an addictive read. I cannot wait to hear what the ladies in my book club have to say about it!

Speaking of the ladies in the book club, several of them also suggested Kate Walbert's novel, A Short History of Women. Mmm hmm; I was reading a novel with that title without realizing I was dead in the center of Women's History Month. Although I didn't enjoy this one as much as The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, it is quite good. It follows four generations of women in one family beginning with a suffragette who dies as a result of a hunger strike in England during World War I to her great granddaughters in the United States post 9/11.

So nobody can say I failed to provide a Women's History Month post. And for the fourth graders, I would much rather recommend a good book, such as The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate that I have written about on this blog, than to give them some half truths about the challenges I face as a woman.

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