Driving back to the apartment at night, the snow glitters in jagged edges like shattered glass. As I follow the bent road in the opaque inky blue of night, the lights of far off streets pulse red. It feels as if my body has been turned inside out and is splayed before me.
Last semester, I read Stephanie Coontz’s A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s for a class. I had previously read and enjoyed several chapters of The Way We Never Were for a different class, and so, was looking forward to reading the entirety of what I thought would be a book about real women in the 1960s U.S. I was thinking of myself when I thought of this book being about “real women,” but I now understand just how hollow my own understanding of that term is.
In the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of A Strange Stirring, Coontz writes,
These women—mostly white, mostly middle class—were at the eye of a hurricane. They knew that powerful new forces were gathering all around them, but they felt strangely, uneasily becalmed. They knew they occupied safer ground than their African-American, Latina, and white working-class counterparts, but knowing only made them feel all the more guilty about their fears and discontents. (xii)
There is a part of me that is sick inside—anemic from neglect. Watching films about Jewish life in Nazi-occupied Germany during my freshman year in high school, I would admire the courage, the wit, the style displayed by the protagonists. Then, I would feel the heavy slickness of my hair. My own skin seemed to burn. My eyes felt as if they were blinking, seeping a foreignness that had been forgotten. One paragraph in the school text about the need to fight the Korean War. In fifth grade (hell, throughout high school and beyond), my white friends would say to me, “I should have been born in the 1950s!” or some other such whimsical nonsense that yearned for our intolerant past.
But I have never wished to be any time but here.
Here is all that I know.
What bothered me about Coontz’s beginning note is the way she goes about trying to build sympathy and compassion for these economically privileged women.
Throughout the book, she convincingly argues that all women were second-class denizens in the misogynistic, pained landscape of the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. So, why start by attempting to hierarchically situate one group’s pain? “[E]ye of the hurricane” or not, this class of relatively privileged women did suffer, but just as today, part of their suffering comes from the way they were tied up in the oppression of others. I believe that their suffering comes from acquiescence in choosing the path of least resistance in a heterosexist, misogynistic, white supremacist, religiously intolerant, ableist, ageist, capitalist society. People of privilege must hold themselves responsible or live with the ramifications that come with willful ignorance.
“There she is!”
That’s what my granny used to say, smiling and looking directly into my eyes, when I entered a room.
“There she is,” is what I say to myself, sometimes when I’ve just finished putting on make-up, but mostly after I’ve washed my face for the night.
“There I am,” is an aching throb, my litany as I turn every page of Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. And, there it is, that bit of truthdignitypride come home to make me more whole, when I read about the way people of color have resisted white supremacy and women of color have resisted hegemony.
I have realized that this is me, too: messy; loving; tired; snow glittering dangerously out of the dark making street lights and lit up business signs turn sinister.