Regardless of what time zone my WordPress blog is in, here in Cincinnati, Ohio, it’s still March 31—that last day of Women’s History Month. For my final post for this year’s Women’s History Month, I want to start with a scene from Mona Lisa Smile, and then proceed from there.
I gave a brief synopsis of the plot of Mona Lisa Smile in my post, Choice. Here’s what I wrote that relates to the scene I’m about to discuss:
On [the movie], Julia Roberts plays an art professor at Wellesley College during the 1950’s. She wants her students to be so much more than housewives. For example, she desires for the Julia Stiles character to attend Yale Law School and become a lawyer…The Julia Stiles character decides not to go to Yale and become a lawyer, but rather to stay at home with her husband and raise children.
In a scene in which Julia Roberts is pressuring Julia Stiles to attend law school in Pennsylvania, close to where Julia Stiles and her husband will be living, Julia Stiles asks her professor: “Do you think that decades from now I’ll be regretting not becoming a lawyer?” And Julia Roberts replies, “Yes, I do.” But Julia Stiles thinks that she’d regret missing out on her children’s lives and the company of her husband, so she wants to become a full-time homemaker.
I want to take Julia Stiles’ question as a starting point for my final post in Women’s History Month 2010, for that is really the crux of what I’ve been discussing this entire month. How are women fulfilled? Well, according to some, one way to find out is to look down the road at when you are older, and to ask yourself what choices you would like to have made when you were younger. Then, since you actually are younger, make those choices so that you’ll have no regrets!
Phyllis Schlafly says that many feminists have barren lives now that they are older, for they skipped marriage and children in order to pursue a career, and now they’re empty and alone, without grandchildren to enjoy. Betty Friedan contends that older women who lived their lives as full-time homemakers look back and wonder if they could have been more, and they regret not establishing their own identity in pursuit of their dreams.
Today, I watched A Woman Called Golda, a 1982 miniseries about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. It starred Ingrid Bergman, who played Golda during and after middle age (which was the height of Golda’s political career). The movie received three Emmy Awards and even more Emmy nominations. It was Ingrid Bergman’s final role, for she died that very year (1982). Her daughter accepted Ingrid’s Emmy on her behalf. Let me say this: My friend Felix said in his post, Give Morgan The Oscar! Two Thumbs Up for Invictus!, that ”Morgan Freeman seemed that he was born to play former South African President Neslon Mandela.” Well, I don’t want to detract from Casablanca, but Ingrid Bergman embodied Golda Meir in this miniseries, as if she were born to play that role!
But back to my discussion. Golda Meir regretted in her older years that she didn’t spend much time with her family when she was younger. She was busy working to build the nation of Israel, while she left her kids to relatives, or sitters, or day-care institutions. She said that she felt sad whenever she left to go to work, and her kids looked at her with sad expressions because they didn’t want her to go. When Israel finally became a nation in 1948, and people were celebrating, she encountered her husband Morris (played by Leonard Nimoy, for which he received an Emmy nomination), who no longer lived with her. At Morris’ funeral in 1952, she recollected that she loved Morris, yet she regretted the fact that her marriage was a casuality of her successful work for Zionism. In her older years, Golda got a chance to dote on her grandchildren, which she appreciated. Yet, she thought that maybe Israel would have been strong enough to survive without her.
But suppose Golda had chosen to abandon her Zionist dreams and to build a family with Morris, in Israel or America? Would she have then looked back and regretted not pursuing her dream for a Jewish state? I doubt that she would have thought, “Oh, I could have been Prime Minister,” for that was never an ambition of hers. She initially wanted to be a teacher, and her involvement in Zionism was what led responsibilities in the Israeli government to fall into her lap. Even when she was elected Prime Minister, she didn’t want the job, but so many Israelis were telling her that her country needed her, that she reluctantly accepted. But, back to my question: Had she chosen family, would she have regretted not pursuing Zionism? Zionism was an idea in which she firmly believed, due to her experiences as a child in Russia, where her family suffered from pogroms. She fervently desired for the Jews to have a country of their own, a safe haven in a world that rejected him. It was a huge cause, and one above herself and her own need for self-fulfillment. Would she have regretted not being a part of history had she chosen the path of family?
I think about women in my family. They were full-time homemakers at times, yet there were also seasons in which they did things outside of the home. My mom opened a health food store with my grandma, then went back to school for a B.A., then a master’s. My aunt sold tuppeware for some time, and eventually she opened a furniture store across the street from my mom and grandma’s health food store. Both of them may have been seeking fulfillment. Yet, my aunt eventually left the furniture business because she didn’t want to miss time with her family. (For my mom, we were around her all the time anyway!) In whatever they chose, they were trying not to miss out on something before it was too late. At least that’s my opinion. I can’t read their minds.
Something that I appreciated as I read Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan was that, in their own individual way, they favored balance. They realized that women could benefit from having a family, while also highlighting that they needed other challenges as well, opportunities to use their intelligence and creativity. How they formulated their conception of balance was different, but each, in her own way, acknowledged the multi-faceted nature of women.
On that note, I hope you had an educational Women’s History Month this year. Tomorrow, I will begin my celebration of Autism Awareness Month, for which I will read books on autism. Stay tuned!