Alexandria , VA – My mom had three brothers, no sisters. Between them, there were nine children, my cousins — seven girls and two boys. Three of us girls, one older and one younger than me, were divorced. I think it was more than a coincidence.
I know I want to write about the changing status of women in my lifetime. It’s such a big subject I would have to either start researching it a quarter-century ago or live a lot longer than is likely. Still, I want to commit some of my musings to paper.
It’s possible, even likely, that I will return to this subject at least once, maybe more.
I grew up thinking I wanted someone to watch over me. According to Wikipedia, the song of that title was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin to commemorate Ira’s marriage to Leonore in 1926, a dozen years before I was born. Somehow that song, those lyrics, were still on the radio I listened to as a young girl. I still remember the words:
I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood.
I know I could always be good
To one who’ll watch over me….
By the mid-70s, I was twice divorced and had assimilated many of the messages of Women’s Lib. I traveled frequently for the association I worked for. I was less than polite to restaurant servers who offered the wine cork to the men at the table to sniff and approve. I was angry when bills were automatically offered to men at the table. I wanted equal job opportunities and equal pay.
But in the 50s and 60s, I was caught like a fly in the spider’s web of love, marriage, and baby carriage. As a teenager, I daydreamed of the boy who would choose me for his own. Note, he would choose me. I wanted the little band of gold. I wanted to take his name. After the second divorce, I wanted my own name, a name not related to any man. When I created the name Tisara in honor of my grandmother Sarah, I vowed never to change it again.
In the 60s, my husband and I bought a new home in Temple Hills, Maryland. It was finished to our specifications. I remember the excitement of selecting the style of the house and the lot it would sit on. We chose the color of the appliances and the bathroom fixtures. Consumerism. We were all, myself included, consumed by consumerism.
As I ponder what changed me, I remember a former high school creative writing teacher who said when critiquing one of my stories that people didn’t just decide to change, that life forced them to change. He was right. I was forced to change, from the girl who married at 18 and had four children in six years to the woman responsible for their day-to-day care who worked outside the home to meet shared financial responsibility for them.
It wasn’t only the crucible of my personal reality. The 60s and 70s were times of massive social change. It was the time of “the pill.” According to history.com, the FDA approved the pill on May 9, 1960. It is estimated that more than 10 million women now use the pill (www.verywellhealth.com).
It was the beginning of the Women’s Liberation movement with the message that there was more to a woman’s life than being a homemaker. (The name had changed from housewife. According to Google, “Homemaker” had pretty thoroughly replaced housewife by the 1970s, but it already sounded old-fashioned by the 80s.) The message was that women had not only the right but the responsibility to be fulfilled, both inside and outside of marriage.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April l968. Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June of that year. The very ground we stood on was shaken. The killing of Kent State University students by the National Guard occurred in May l970. Heart-rending photographs of the Vietnam War appeared daily on newspapers’ front pages. The war ended with the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
As I said at the beginning of this column, I would need a long life to research and understand what I want to say. What I want to suggest now is that people, men and women, make choices and choices have consequences. Now I think that women can have a lot, but we can’t have it all, whatever “all” is.
I would be grateful to hear from you, my readers, about your experiences and thoughts of those times. Write me at [email protected].
Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria