Saturday, December 4, 2010

Talkin' bout my generation

Betty Friedan studied psychology but became a writer for women's magazines. She also read magazines, of course. At some point in the 1950's, she began interviewing women. Eventually, right around 1960 or so, she wrote "The Feminine Mystique," a book that changed American society, or at least lit a fire under the cushy butt of post WWII America, subsequently kicked the women's movement into high gear.

Inspired to pick it up again recently, I am in awe of Ms. Friedan. What a book. If you have never read it, and especially if you're too young to remember the women's movement, it'll sure give you a heads-up on why the movement unfolded so dramatically. Wow.

What I'm thinking about even more than the "problem that has no name," is about what happened before the Baby Boom. Revisiting the idea of taking a journey to Krakow, Poland, has opened in my heart all the complicated emotions and reactions I experience every time I think about the Holocaust.

Energetically, the Holocaust feels like a black hole that opened up in Germany after the devastation of WWI. That black hole sucked everything in its vicinity into the darkness. I used to blame various individuals involved, but I now feel that no one could withstand the gravity of that dark storm. After WWII, people worked like crazy to reverse the effects of that black hole. I believe the creation of the state of Israel - the way it was done - was one of those efforts, slapping a band-aid over the black hole. How I wish the creation of Israel had been more carefully thought out, God. But that's the 20/20 of hindsight, eh?

I get a little crazy when I enter into the still unwinding energy of the Holocaust. I have to be careful when I do this, very careful. Some of my friends and family have suggested that I turn away from the black hole and its effects, face the future. I really get that approach. Swimming with the whales in Maui is a beautiful way to embrace life. The thing is, I'm kind of scared of whales, and not crazy about tropical climates. Also: I dislike swimming.

There is some more work I need to do with the energy of the now fading Holocaust, but I promise, I'll be careful. I'll keep my feet on the ground, and keep polishing my heart while I think about it. What I'm interested in are the healing efforts that followed the Holocaust, not the storm itself. I'm thinking about the nuclear family in the nuclear age here in America, women giving up careers and college in order to marry young and have so many babies. I'm thinking about my mother, also about all the Lucys, Wilmas, Mrs. Cleavers, all of whom surrendered their identities and bodies to bring a big ole generation into being. I'm wondering what THAT was all about. Betty Friedan is helping me, my friend Renee, too - but there are layers upon layers here.

All I can say is: wow.


Reya Mellicker said...

A big chunk of my family died on August 9, 1941, gassed to death in volkswagons in the Polish/Russian/Ukrainian shtetl of Visgordek or Wyzegordec (I'm sure there are other ways to spell it because the borders shifted often during its existence.) After they killed everyone, the Nazis bulldozed the town. But because they were such fanatical record keepers, all these facts were carefully written down. I learned the history of my family based on a scrap of paper my Aunt Edie gave me the last time I saw her. The word "Vitzgoreedik" was on the paper. The librarian at the Holocaust Museum was fantastic, recognizing immediately the misspelling. He helped me recover that tragic chapter of my pre-history that was both traumatic and healing all at once.

Rose said...

I think we should remember the stories of our ancestors. But remembering them is far better than living them. I think your ancestors would be honoured if you went.

I went to Germany in my teens and at that time I was studying the holocaust and the World Wars at school. That holiday resonated with my desire to witness and learn. We visited Dachau, which was horrific. Birds were singing outside the gate but inside, silence ruled, it was like a vacuum.

I remember in some restaurant where everyone sat on long bench seats, jumbled together, I met an old man. We spoke of the war. He had been in the Luftwaffe and he cried. His guilt was so heavy. At school a Jewish survivor came to visit and talk to us.

These memories are precious in their own way. My own family history appears much less dramatic and much less traumatic. If your heart tells you to go, go. Be a witness for your family.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks Rose - for the encouragement and for the stories. What is remembered, lives. Sometimes I think too much emphasis has been placed on remembering the horrors rather than the now lost world of old Jewish Europe, and what came after.

I will NOT be visiting any camps. Just Krakow, with my friend. That's it.

lakeviewer said...

Reya, swimming with the dolphins may not work at all if you are not a swimmer. With the memories and feelings you hold, give yourself permission to "swim" however you can. Have you written about this? Writing our memories seems to be quite liberating.

Whitney Lee said...

The Holocaust has always touched me-and horrified me. What I so love about 'The Diary of Anne Frank' is the reminder that each and every one of these people were people-with the hopes, dreams, and fears that that entails. I think that was part of the problem back then, that it was all too easy to see them as a group instead of individuals. Why else would they have stripped them of their hair/clothes/etc?

I, too, visited a camp several years ago. Rose is right, there is a silence that's almost eerie. For me, the energy was respectful, much like what one finds at a cemetery. Which I found appropriate. I think because it was all so recent, historically speaking, the energy is pretty heavy. Thinking about it or viewing my photos can still bring tears to my eyes. Considering your sensitivity, I'd say avoiding the camps would be a wise choice.

I may pick up this book. I've wondered how I fit sometimes. I am far behind the Cleaver generation yet I feel as though the housewife/mother role is a great fit for me. I do not eschew all that the feminist movement gained for women, but I do choose some of what they fought against. However, I choose it only for myself and see how poor a fit it often is for others.

Hmm...quite a long comment...

Pauline said...

Have you read Sarah's Key?

I have not read Betty Friedan's book, though I came of age in the 60s when the attidude represented by June Cleaver was what my mother and grandmother believed in. As a young mother in the 70s, I espoused many of the tenets proposed by the Woman's Movement - equal pay for equal work, equal rights in all areas, the right to claim our bodies as our own, the refutation of the "weaker sex" myth. We still haven't convinced the male population of our worth - it's too frightening a prospect for many of them to embrace.

The Bug said...

I'm glad that I wasn't expected to be a June Cleaver - if I had been I would just have had to be a rebel. I am not suited to that life. As I discovered in a Facebook quiz - I am a Piece of Shit housewife (pardon the language). It's really true. Sigh.

Your discussion of the Holocaust & its aftermath reminds me of how I feel when I read about freed people after the Civil War. It is SO difficult - which made it extra hard for me to help Dr. M with his research for his dissertation. And it's what put him into a deeper depression as he wrote the thing. Hard history which must be remembered. God help us.

Reya Mellicker said...

THe energy of the Civil War is definitely still active, though fading more each year. The fact that we elected Barack Obama speaks to the healing that is taking place, slowly, slowly. Though, Dana, the energy of the Civil War battlefields has brought me to my knees any number of times.

Whitney - if you decide to read The Feminine Mystique, I would LOVE to hear what you make of it. It is definitely a period piece. As for the behavior of everyone in Nazi Germany, I think trying to understand any of it through the lense of rational thinking will only lead to dead ends. When a society is sucked into a dark storm, anything can happen - and did.

Rosaria, I have memories from past lives of course, but I was born in 1953, a few years after WWII. I remember my mother coming out as a feminist. I remember growing up thinking about marriage, then shifting from that idea to hippie-dom in a matter of just a couple of years. Whew!! Quantum leap!!

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks to all for these thoughts. I learn from my blog friends every day. Thank you!

ellen abbott said...

Many of those women did not go gently into that role, giving up their equality, freedom, assertiveness and independence. I think there were many mothers who raised their daughters to be fertile fields for Betty.

Reya Mellicker said...

Re-reading the book, I keep coming across her sense that the women, the magazine editors - even the husbands - are under some kind of spell. When one woman comes into feminism she says she feels like she's waking up from a coma.

Really interesting. Thinking about you, Ellen. x

LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

I visited the Japanese American Museum in LA's Japantown yesterday. They have a recreation of the Manzanar barracks that is chilling. That story is not quite equal to the Holocaust, but it is still harrowing to think such a thing happened in the U.S. At least we are finally properly calling Manzanar a concentration camp instead of more benign names used at the time.

Pam said...

I too was a '53 baby so find your insights and comments interesting Reya.
My mother was the only woman in our street who went to work (as a secretary). She and my father established a fund to send me to university, but promptly dug into it to pay for my wedding and chosen non-acaedemic lifestyle at 19! Truly,all I wanted to do was to stay home and have babies, but husband at the time, so very young himself, was terrified of the idea.
Divorced, I returned to university in the Feminist era,and the term "male chauvanist pig" was bandied around a lot there. Such energetically-momentous times.
Re the holocaust, having sometimes found myself there on the astral plane, I acknowledge that layer of past memory is indeed so silent and colourless. The silence is palpable.Where have the souls gone? Perhaps they are indeed mercifully resting in peace,or choosing the warmth of our own existence and familes.
Do what you must my friend. Your heart will lead you.
Thank you for sharing the story of your family at Visgordek. I feel such respect and sadness when I read tragic histories that are a legacy of war.

steven said...

reya - i'm a '57 boy. i grew up in a home that shifted from the father power figure to a level playing field. i was too young to appreciate the significance of the changes for women . . . i didn't realize that some part of the shift for my mother had to do with the larger societal picture. i just figured she liked and deserved the freedom to do what she needed and wanted to. she never really bought into the mum and wife thing.
my high school years were spent in a predominantly jewish neighbourhood. good, positive, tight families who fed me well when i visited. i envied the rich and open affection a lot! perhaps because of that personal experience i wish for you to really know the good rich deep history of your ancestors. their suffering can't be denied or overlooked and hopefully neither can all that they brought into the world. steven

Reya Mellicker said...

Steven I am so glad they fed you well! If you were here this evening I would make sure you didn't walk away hungry either. Is that a Jewish thing? Too much is almost enough, when it comes to food.

Hannah said...

I don't agree that all the mothers of the 50s "gave up" their bodies and their identities.

For many of us, being a mother is part of our identity and giving birth a reminder of the strength and power in our bodies.

Reya Mellicker said...

Hannah have you read "The Feminine Mystique" ? I am so NOT against motherhood, not at all. Neither was Betty. It's the way the role and identity of women changed after WWII that caught her attention. Wow.