Consciousness Raising or What the 70's Wrought

After leaving Philadelphia, leaving Anna and my brief recognition of my love for her, I traveled along my life through the thickets of motherhood and graduate school without a recurrence, or even an awareness. Too busy trying to figure out a way to live life as a wife and mother without disappearing completely. The seventies were fertile years for women starting to wake up.

I joined a consciousness-raising group. The members were as follows:

  • Judy, a plump weaver, married with two young children. In treatment for cancer.

  • Fran, a UCLA PolySci professor, married with two young children.

  • Phyllis, the wife of a UCLA Law professor, former social worker, mother of four.

  • Barbara, the wife of a UCLA English assistant professor, mother of two.

  • Kit, a former school nurse, wife of the LA Times Architecture section writer, mother of four

  • Catherine, wife of a composer for film and television, mother of four

Totals: women 7, children 21!

We met once a week to talk about our lives as women in a male-dominated world. Fran, the only one among us working in a full-time career, offered ballast. We could see that

something more was possible. We had all read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and we fit her target reader perfectly:

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban [house]wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — "Is this all?”

As we shared our lives with each other, we began to see the patterns that Friedan had described. We were responsible for all housekeeping and child-rearing tasks and many of us had no further training or education. I was trying to dig out by going to graduate school. Kit and Phyllis had their careers on hold, but at least they had them. Judy, Barbara, and Catherine had only dreams of other lives, Judy as an artist, Barbara as a writer, and Catherine as a physician.

Now these forty years later, I look back in wonder. Judy’s dreams soon went awry, and after a valiant fight, she died of cancer. She wove a beautiful mohair blanket for me before she died,

and it bears testimony to her art. I asked for the ocean, a blue ocean blanket, and this is what she created. I use it every night even now as I watch tv.

Fran went on with her academic career but we lost touch. Phyllis went back to social work, Barbara divorced and became a writer, published two books and many articles. Kit went back to being a school nurse, and Catherine never quite made it to med school.

But for me, that time was loaded. I knew my marriage was not going well and I tried valiantly to save it, but the restlessness I felt was constant. I needed breathing room, I needed to be something other than wife and mother. I also needed to figure out what those strong feelings I had for Anna were, as they were again starting to rise to the surface. I still didn’t let myself know about those feelings however, and I concentrated on the need to be able to breathe as a whole person first. We tried a separation for a few months, then got back together. But even buying a new house and trying very hard didn’t work. It was over. The children had to be told. It was a terrible time for all of us. I felt enormous guilt for breaking up the family. My consciousness was raised, all right, but my guilt was raised even higher. What a price. But if we had tried even harder and stuck it out, what would our lives have looked like? Who knows? Would I have ever become a lesbian, a computer nerd, a wildlife photographer? Would my kids have had a less difficult road? Who knows. The seventies were what they were, and my life took a turn in that decade, a huge one.

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