Now I am trying to read Her Mother's Daughter by Marilyn French, one of those feminist writers of the 70s whose novel, The Women's Room, I read a long long long time ago. I keep it on my bookshelf, next to the even more elderly wimmen's novel The Group by Mary McCarthy, to remind me of how weirdly and oddly females/society/whatever used to (? maybe still do) think, and also because Women in Groups are among those odd flocks that I observe with a kind of horror-show fascination from the fringes. So competitive, so bizarre. Nothing like the gentlemanly I-say-old-chap backslapping of Chariots of Fire, although I'm sure a good bit of that ubercool 'tude was a big pose too, except maybe from the missionary man, who had God on his side, and the saints and apostles backin' up from be-hind. Women historically seem to compete for self-esteem, which is whack because you're supposed to manufacture your own endless supply from within, it's not something you can steal from other people by stealing their man or their savoir-faire or whatever.
But, I digress. Digressi High. Uhm...the thing about Marilyn French is she seems to labor under this delusion that men are fucked-up, unenlightened creatures who through their stupidity cause wimmen no end of pain and annoyance, and that wimmen have the choice to (a) accept said pain or annoyance, or (b) try to make a new life in which they try to Live Like Men but in doing so lose some of the essential "mother love", family structure, or other whatevers of being "female". Occasionally her wimmen characters do strike out and try to do something off the beaten path, but always end up brought down, usually via their love for some stupid man, and in some cases meet rather sticky, violent ends, and in almost all cases are miserable. I think there are a few happy lesbians left at the end of The Women's Room, riding off into the sunset here and there.
I don't know anything about Ms. French's life (I should probably look it up) but if it's anything like her books I feel extremely sorry for her and would like to kick her about the room until she understands gender neutrality, in the sense that People are People and that being a man or a woman does not automatically condemn you to some kind of specialized genderiffic restroom of hell, but I doubt she'd get it.
I have had this cheap paperback book Her Mother's Daughter for a few years, and not been able to read it because it was too depressing. I threw it under my desk at my old job with a bunch of other books, thinking I'd get rid of it by releasing it into the Free Book rack in the cafeteria at some point. Ended up getting rid of all the others, couldn't let this one go, felt like I had to read it for some reason even though it is basically about women who are mishandled by their loving mothers, and continue the pattern with their own daughters, and so on. Betty Smith with more edge.
Here is what I don't understand, not being a mother. Why does it always have to mean either Sacrifice for the kids, or Guilt over having not so sacrificed? Sacrifice is not the ideal of love. At least, not for all people it's not. Christian ethos and especially the Catholic Church like to emphasize the sacrifice Jesus made for us as proof of great love. Thing is, Jesus was in the garden beforehand asking God if there was any other way to accomplish this task without him having to do this. Apparently there wasn't - that happens sometimes, there's no other way except to lay down your life, or your Self, etc. - so he went through with it. The point is, Jesus recognized there might, in less extreme circumstances, be other ways to accomplish the goal of doing good. And, from all accounts, Jesus enjoyed life pretty well. He had friends. He had family. He hung out in the park and ate meals and socialized and went sailing. He fully appreciated what he was giving up, before he gave it up.
I'm not saying sacrifice is per se bad or that we can always get out of giving it up for our kids or other loved ones, but I am saying that too many people rush into it. Rush into that self-immolation because it seems like they aren't taking note of the fact that there are a lot of other ways to live. Maybe they like it, the destruction and negation of self. It's a form of socially acceptable suicide, like eating disorders where everybody applauds you for being thin, at least up to a point, while you are slowly malnourishing yourself and expiring. Certainly society encourages self-sacrifice, especially for certain groups of people (women, Catholics). I suspect that preaching the death of self is a lot easier than helping people BUILD strong selves. I understand what Bishop Sheen said about when you make the circle so small that only YOU yourself are in it, then it's a trap, you have to go to a psychiatrist to get you out. I'm not talking about that kind of extreme self-centeredness. I'm talking about a healthy balance. The kind that doesn't produce suppression or rage. The M word as usual. MODERATION.
Short of heroism in war or prison camps, nobody should have to give up themself on a daily basis for their kids or their spouse, within reason. And nobody should have to feel guilty about that, within reason. Love means you take the other person as you find them. (Like the Plaintiff, hehe. eggshell skull and all.) And a strong self-image might be the greatest gift you could pass along to your offspring or to others. It's a good example, and certainly preferable to the leeching and guiltmongering and eventual rage that many people fall into under the guise of Trying to Show Love and Expecting to Get Love.
I reject the concept of love as a constant sacrifice. The possibility is there, if it was necessary I would do it. If the house was on fire I might go running in there to pull somebody out without a second thought. But as a reasonable person, in reasonable circumstances, I will stop and think, I will weigh consequences, and when I feel I am losing too much of myself, I will step back. Nobody loves a drained shell. And I can't love myself if I'm a drained shell, and when you're trying to keep yourself alive, loving yourself right may well be the greatest love of all.
And don't go trying to tell me that if I ever have a kid, I'll feel differently. People tried to tell me before I was married that when I met "The One", I'd feel a whole lot of differently about a whole lot of things too. People don't live in my head, they don't think like me nor feel what I feel. I know my own mind and emotions. I know what it feels like to love another person more than yourself, or almost like an extension of yourself. I've had a taste of that with people who didn't come out of my physical body but have felt oddly like my children. I even practice on the pets. (If, at this point, you're laughing and saying a pet is NOTHING like a child, get the hell away from my journal and my world right now, because we have nothing to say to each other and also I think you're stupid. )
I just don't see where giving up yourself, for anybody, gets you anything more than a whole lotta pain, rage, misery, unless you do it with 100 percent free will like some of the saints. And I don't think subjugation of self is the only way to sainthood. It is A Way. It is not THE ONLY way, and may not even be THE PREFERRED way.