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Women in Progress

March 20, 2012

A carpenter came to my house last weekend bearing wisdom. When my husband and I apologized about the mess in the basement, he said something marvelous. “I don’t see messes; I just see works in progress.”

Wonderful, isn’t it?

(I added the semicolon.)

So I’ve been using that as my mantra, now that the spring sun shines light on all the dust and problems that exist in my house. I’m even applying that mantra to the kitchen ants. They’re not gone. But their elimination is in progress.

This is not too different from women’s equality in our society, I suppose. The Right’s effort to colonize our bodies isn’t a mess, necessarily. It’s just that mutual respect and equality is, you know, an area that needs a lot of improvement.

And, amid all of these works in progress, it happens to be Women’s History Month.

Flash to last week. After perusing the measly selection of books about important women in my township library (right above the selection of cookbooks, mm-hmm), I wandered to the audio books. I haven’t been reading paper books a whole lot lately because I’m trying to write more, but I am enjoying audio books to keep me company on long drives to and from work. On the metal shelf, I found a title called Writers Speak! from NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, a show I listen to often. Great! I thought. Right up my alley. And then I looked at the selection of writers.

Note that the title didn’t say “Mostly, Male Writers Speak.” I find it hard to believe Terry Gross, short-haired feminist, hasn’t interviewed more women writers than two. But someone (on NPR, for godsakes!) decided that those other ladies just didn’t make the cut.

Add this to an article I read earlier this month by Randy Susan Meyers at Beyond the Margins, where she explained the connection of the contraception battle on Capitol Hill to the despicably low number of women being published in national and international literary magazines in 2011. (See: The Count from VIDA, Women in Literary Arts.)  And then this other one, from the Huffington Post, about gender discrimination in the book publishing industry.

Needless to say, this kind of thing really pisses a girl off.

So I did what I had to. I promptly picked up three audio books by and about women—which I have absolutely no time to finish before they’re due in three weeks. It’s my silent (audio) protest.

Cleopatra (Stacy Schiff), American Women (Gail Collins), Disaster Preparedness (Heather Havrilesky)

I thought a little more about history, about the way I never felt connected to it except when I began to study literature, particularly women’s literature. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge; it’s more that when I found out about Anne Finch and Mary Shelley and Elizabeth Browning, my eyes lit up a little wider. Maybe there was a place for people like me, too. You know. People with vaginas, even when those organs are buried safely behind mounds of Victorian cloth.

I thought about how little I actually learned about women in history classes, even the one I took sophomore year called History of American Women. The only thing I can seem to remember is that old adage of Abigail Adams, who spoke, apparently, so politely to her husband. “John, dear. Love of my life. Sweet, sweet man. Remember the ladies.”

I thought about how that conversation might have really gone, if no one was saving that letter for posterity. If it were a text message, perhaps, or a comment made angrily in bed. I wondered what may have led Abigail Adams—after reading, maybe, another piece of news about whorish women who don’t want to have a ton of babies and who would like a little acknowledgment for the significant value they add to society, namely, the fact that their procreative abilities allow society to function at all—to appeal to the morality of her husband and his friends as their ponytails bobbed through the cobblestone streets of Philadelphia.

If I were Abigail—and maybe I was—I would, no doubt, have started to speak to my husband politely, gently. (Men need protection.) Then I would have gotten fed up about the state of the house and my unnamed role in the Declaration of Independence, the thing I had practically drafted in my study one day and which John picked up and said, “Hey, can I borrow this?” I would have noticed my voice getting a little desperate as I spoke, the shrillness taking on a life of its own. I would have finally roared, “Don’t be an asshole, John!”and burned his socks on the front lawn.

See? Not a mess, exactly. Just progress.

Happy Women’s History Month! Feel free to use the comments section to share a woman in history who has inspired you.

Image: “the fun begins” by hummeline via flickr.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy March 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Okay – without pause – I must say Catherine the Great. She lived in a man’s world and was a fighter and kicked some serious ass. (And I happen to be named after her!)

Funny you should write about this though because I was at work the other day and at “Tea Time” (aka happy hour), one of the lead engineers was speaking to everyone about women in engineering and how she is leading the charge to increase awareness and participation. She was soliciting participation and I thought, “I could do that! Been there, done that!” And I thought of you – and how you would be dismayed at the extremely low percentage of women in engineering and how you would be happy there are organizations trying to change that.

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Jana March 20, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I’m flattered that you thought of me!

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coeliquore March 23, 2012 at 6:41 pm

The woman in history who has inspired me is Joan of Arc. The way she was able to lead a whole men army showed that a woman can do anything if she tries.

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Elizabeth Rago March 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm

I love this post and my favorite part is when Abi Adams burns John’s socks. Brilliant. :)

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