Imagine a world where men filled nearly 70% of America’s jobs.
That was the world of my youth.
Back then it was the men, wearing shirts with either white or blue collars, who left for work each morning with the sole weight of the family finances on their shoulders.
As for women, they stayed home—the married ones anyway. When I was young they were known as housewives, as if they were married to their houses.
This was the way things were. Men were the breadwinners. Women stayed home and tended to the children, the shopping, the dishes, and the floors.
Some women worked outside the home, but men usually made more money for the same job. There was little argument, since it was understood that men had families to provide for, and working women didn’t.
Motherhood, so the rationale went, was such a noble cause that it must be tended to full time. Besides, the logic ran, a woman’s presence would disrupt the workplace.
And during those years there was no shortage of ministers and pastors who readily supported the female status quo with scriptures that made it clear where a godly woman’s priorities should lie.
This was before the first stirrings of feminism in the 60’s, or, as it was pejoratively called at the time, “women’s lib.”
Today it all seems quaintly ridiculous. But many who are older, including me, lived through the years just before the one-size-fits-all approach to womanhood began to unravel.
The world is now a different place. Women care for home and children, while also developing a career. Men do the same.
I bring this up not for the benefit of those of us who have lived through the years of transition, but for those who haven’t—for you younger ones for whom the idea of an entire gender relegated to the kitchen and nursery is shocking, and utterly beyond your ability to imagine.
But it was only a little more than fifty years ago, back when black and white television was just a new-fashioned thingamajig, that women were married to both their husbands and their houses. Then along came the women of my generation, including my wife, who fought the battles that opened up doors to approximately equal opportunities, education, and pay.
You are their descendants, and are the first full generation to live in this golden age of feminine opportunity.
Unlike your parents and grandparents, you were not told what you must be, but taught what you could become.
Only in the last few decades have you been given virtually the same access to education and power that men have enjoyed for the last 5,000 years.
Yes, problems persist. There are still a few battles left to fight. But please understand why many of today’s older women look at you with envy, along with a sense of personal loss. They can’t help wondering what they might have achieved if they had enjoyed the same opportunities, resources, and societal expectations you enjoy today.
How many women of a certain age longed in their youth to be a veterinarian, or an engineer, or an astronaut, but could never find a path leading to the destination they sought? How many of them mourn the loss of what they could have been?
So please, you modern women of today, when you meet older women who just missed this great cusp of history by a decade or two, don’t look down on them for what they didn’t achieve in worldly terms. Don’t think for a moment they didn’t have the same hopes, dreams and passions you possess.
To succeed, dreams must cross paths with opportunity. For you, such intersections are everywhere. For them, they were nonexistent.
And in the absence of opportunity, many older women put their dreams aside and gave their life’s best efforts to the noble cause of raising children. And it remains a noble cause today. If you choose it as your life’s work, celebrate that it’s your choice—not your marching orders.
Because the truth is that despite today’s challenges, you, and the choices you are free to make, are the envy of five thousand years of women who preceded you.