December 7, 2011 Women
Women’s Studies and Women’s History takes center stage this week, mostly in my reading, but also in my life.
First, I read The Queen of Water by Laura Rasua and Maria Virginia Farinango. It is the story of Virginia, a poor native farm worker in Ecuador. Her family sends her off to work for a rich family of Spanish Decent. Virginia becomes their slave as it was unclear if she was given, sold or stolen away. To read about how trapped she felt and the abuse she had to put up with was heartbreaking. Had she been a boy, she probably would have not suffered such a fate. Sexism was alive and well in Ecuador in the 1980s and 1990s. Because she was poor, uneducated and a women, she was treated like property. Luckily, Virginia learned to read and write. Her mistress was a doctor and a college professor. Once she broke free of her captors and returned to her family, she started going to school. Eventually, Virginia became the owner of her own business and traveled the world.
Reading her story reminded me of my own trip to Peru. So, I decided to type up my diary entries from 2001. The two week odyssey turned into 18 pages single spaced once it was all typed up. I added these pages to my other NC adventures and labeled them all Sous Rature or Erasure. It covers August 2000 to December 2003 and it fits snuggly between my Wings of Desire and Sehnsucht Volumes.
I also read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. It takes place in 19th Century China and follows the lives of Lily and her friend Snow Flower. A match maker introduces them and they become “Laotung” or “Old Samies.” They wrote on the fan in a secret language and sent it back and forth. They are more than pen pals though. Their bond reminded me of the Victorian notion of a Romantic Friendship. Anyway, both have to suffer many hardships. Foot binding is common place and so was the idea that women were property. Each girl could only hope to be matched to a husband who was tolerable and didn’t beat her. Their job in life was to be obedient to their husbands and bear them sons, not daughters. Girl Babies were, and sometimes still are, considered a burden on the family. It wasn’t unusual for baby girls to be abandoned or even killed.
Medieval Europe wasn’t much better. Women were often married off in political matches—especially if they were of noble birth. Though they might not have married for love, they had a little bit more freedom in the court. Sons were still expected, but a wise woman could still make power plays of her own. Philippa Gregory has shown what a large role women played in the English Aristocracy. Though history has long forgot women like Jacquetta Bedford-Woodville, Women’s History Scholars such as Philippa Gregory have rediscovered them and written about them in books like Lady of the Rivers.
Though some historical novels are long and boring, I find Gregory’s work to be quite readable. Her first person point of view makes the narratives more compelling and very intimate. It is easy to get swept away into her world and see England in the 1400s and 1500s through a woman’s eyes.
It would be nice to think that Sexism is only found in the past or in third world countries. The truth is women are still not equal. Once you get married and have kids things can quickly become unbalanced. If you are lucky enough to have a solid career or are rich prior to having kids, then it may not be a big deal. But if you started out poor and didn’t have much support, the sexism becomes obvious.
I think men and women both are in denial about the sexism that still prevails. Very few men realize just how much work it takes to be a super-mom. They work and come home, expecting their needs catered to. A stay at home mom has plenty of time, so if things aren’t perfect, it is because she is lazy. If she works all day and things aren’t perfect it is because she can’t manage her time or juggle everything effectively. The blame is always with the woman and never the man or society in general!
Anyway, I feel as if I were a man, that I wouldn’t be so stuck. As a woman and a mother, I am more bound to my children—more than a man and father could ever understand. I know men can love their children and be attached to them, but rarely would they spend 24/7 with them. They are usually not the primary caregivers. They are the breadwinners. If they work all the time then they can’t be the primary caregivers. They’d have to pay someone to watch the kids just as a single woman who is the breadwinner would have to pay someone. The poorer one is, the more that they rely on either their partner or their parents. Being poor and being a woman has severely limited my choices.