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Overcoming Friedan’s ghost

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Betty Friedan showed up in the sky above Seventh Avenue last week as Smartmom headed to Connecticut Muffin after the PS 321 drop-off.

“You have betrayed the foremothers!” Betty shouted, after listening to the moms discussing kitchen renovations, pre-school admissions, and whether there’s fresh kiwi at the Food Coop (there is, but it’s not always organic!).

“We didn’t struggle for equality so you could obsess over the PTA candy sale!”

But Smartmom, who once devoured Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” yelled back: “Just because I drop my daughter off in the morning, buy after-school soft ice cream with rainbow sprinkles at the Mojo, and make Kraft, er, Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese for dinner, doesn’t mean I’ve betrayed the feminist struggle!”

“Oh, no?” Betty screamed back. “Shame on you for stepping on the backs of your sisters who fought to give you freedom from such menial domesticity.”

Clearly, Betty was disgusted. With all the Bugaboos and the baby slings, she probably thought Park Slope circa 2006 was not too different from the suburbia she wrote about in 1963: “There was a silent stirring. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night, she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question, ‘Is this all?’”

Smartmom and her friends do put the comforter back on the bed in the morning, make organic peanut butter sandwiches and chauffeur their children to chess, knitting and hip hop dancing classes.

But that’s where the similarity ends. Smartmom and her friends are a well-educated, accomplished lot. Sure, some of them took a few years off to concentrate on their children.

But whether they’re on the job or on the Avenue, they’re movers and shakers, organizers and instigators. And none of them lie beside their husbands at night afraid to say anything.

Take Type A, a mom rushing by Smartmom in her Burberry raincoat, high heels, and a laptop shoulder bag as she headed off to her high-paying job on Wall Street.

Treading the same path was a cluster of other high-powered lawyer moms, a network television producer, an architect, a magazine editor, an award-winning radio journalist and a freelance writer. Smartmom asked Type A if she was a feminist. “Of course,” she said. “I always thought it was my birthright to have a career.”

Thanks to Betty and the other feminist pioneers, many Park Slope moms ascended the corporate ladder, the law firm hierarchy, the mastheads of magazines, the world of entertainment and the corridors of government. And just like their 1960s suburban counterparts, many of them asked the very same question — “Is this all?” — because they want more from life than just work. And you know what they wanted? Hate to tell you, Betty: Babies.

Coming of age in the mid-1970s, Smartmom never imagined that she would one day consider motherhood the most important thing in her life. As a teenager, she thought the dorkiest thing you could do was be someone’s mother. What a waste of a life, she used to say.

As a young feminist, Smartmom studied selfdefense and sparred with boys twice her size. She took women’s history courses, marched in pro-choice demonstrations, attended assertiveness training workshops, and never once shaved her legs or underarms.

After college, Smartmom entered the 1980s workforce in a Norma Kamali jacket with over-sized shoulder pads and became a professional in the high-stakes world of media.

And three months after Teen Spirit was born, Smartmom went back to her well-paying job and left him in the care of a trusted babysitter.
But oy, did she suffer. Seeing her son wave good-bye from the window of their fourth-floor walk-up every morning was heart-wrenching. And she couldn’t wait to come home.

Smartmom still loved her work, but the hours became untenable. She was stressed out, exhausted and angry all the time. She soldiered on because, well, that’s what Friedan would have wanted her to do. And she and Hepcat needed the money and the health insurance. None of her female co-workers at the women-owned media firm had children. They were completely hostile to her request not to work nights and weekends. Sorry, Betty, but this was woman-on-woman oppression.

Smartmom envied the women who were home full-time because she would come home too exhausted to get any “quality” from quality time with Teen Spirit.

But the stay-at-homers were exhausted, too, as well as high-strung, bored, and, if you asked Betty, disempowered because they weren’t making money.

So when the Oh So Feisty One came along, Smartmom didn’t want to miss out on the first year of her life, juggling playdates and IQ-enhancing activities (this was 1997).

And yet…

Smartmom still had moments when she longed to read the New York Times on the subway or go to a professional office all day. Sometimes she locked herself in the bathroom just to be alone and found herself thinking, is this all there is?

The good thing is that kids grow up. As OSFO has grown more independent, Smartmom has been able to be “ambitious” again.

So when Betty appeared in the sky again above Peek-a-Boo Kids, Smartmom was ready.

“I wanted you to see that there was more to life than husband, children and the home,” Betty said sadly. “So why are all the women around here pushing strollers and abandoning careers they got good educations to pursue?”

“Look,” Smartmom said. “I’m not the CEO of a company, the editor of a newspaper (yet), or a partner in a big law firm. But I am a writer, a mother, and a wife. I am someone who is passionate about her career AND her family! Am I not woman? Do you not hear me roar?”

Smartmom heard a giant sigh from up in the heavens, but when she looked up, Betty was gone.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Alma@takebackthekitchen from Montclair says:
God, you're good, Louise! Yes, we can be educated, accomplished in our career, at home feeding our families well AND obsessing over the candy sale. Thanks, Betty.
Alma
July 30, 2009, 1 pm

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