Saturday, June 12, 2010

Are Women Ready to Leave Feminism Behind?

Emma and I have had some unusual experiences lately regarding our ideas on modesty and marriage. We're still trying to understand what happened.


We had been shopping at a Houston thrift store. When we finally narrowed down Emma's purchases of dresses, skirts, blouses, and jumpers, it was near time for the store to close. This meant that a long line of people squeezed together at the counter to check out. As the clerk held up each of Emma's items to fold it, I noticed all the ladies in line staring at the clothes. Then they started glancing at Emma and back to the clothes.

They began commenting.

The clerk held up a modest but very feminine long white dress with pink bows--"How cute! how sweet!" the ladies exclaimed. Then the clerks joined in. At this point I could tell that something emotional was going to happen. Emma turned to smile at the ladies in line. That did it.

"Oh, God bless you!" a little old black lady said. A tall white lady behind her seconded her emotion.

"And you're with your mother! Praise God! How old are you?" the black lady asked.


"OH GOD BLESS YOU! I lost my son last year, and now I am all alone." Emma and I each gave her a consoling hug. The atmosphere was so emotional now, that it reminded me of a Baptist tent revival. As we completed our transaction and exited the store, all the other ladies were beaming at us, and the black lady continued to bless us. It was hard to leave her! I felt like we ought to put her in the car with us and take her home.

Emma and I got to the car, looked at each other, and basically said, "WOW! What was that?"


A few days later, we went to Emma's pattern drafting class. The teacher had invited everyone to swim in the pool, so Emma put on her swimsuit. She made it a couple of years ago for the Beck summer camp. It is made out of Lycra and is completely lined. It has a knee-length, swingy full skirt with built-in long shorts and a separate t-shirt style top with built-in bra. When the sewing ladies saw it, they swooped down upon her and started bombarding her with questions while pulling at the skirt and analyzing all the sewing details. They could not stop talking about her workmanship or the cuteness or the modesty of the suit. It went on and on and on. I was beginning to wonder if they were going to let her swim. Finally, they let her go, after making her promise to bring her swimsuit pattern the next week.


At the next class, one of the ladies told Emma that she thinks about her often and wonders about why she dresses so modestly. She wanted to know if Emma dressed that way because I made her, or if Emma wanted to herself, or if it was because of religious reasons. Emma told her that she dresses modestly for all three reasons. Then the lady asked Emma what she was going to do for college. Emma told her that she would either study music or get her fashion design certificate. Immediately, this lady told the teacher that Emma was interested in fashion design and asked her to advise Emma.

The teacher looked thoughtful and then said very seriously, "You're going to have to get a lot meaner, Emma. And you're going to have to develop a killer instinct." (This is the lady who told Emma that she has a flashing neon sign on her forehead that says, "I'm innocent and naive.")

"I don't think I can do that," Emma admitted softly.

I could see that the ladies were concerned now. They were worrying about how Emma would be able to support herself if she couldn't get mean and competitive enough to be successful.

Taking the plunge, I told them that Emma had no plans for a career. She would utilize the music and/or the fashion design skills at home, as she wanted to marry, stay home, and have babies. I waited for the uproar.

None came.

I was amazed. Except for one, the ladies all work outside the home. They all wear pants. Several are divorced. But they were completely supportive.


Things got quiet. Ready for things to return to normal, I turned to my book, Man of Steel and Velvet. Suddenly, I could feel the teacher's eyes on my back. "Oh, no," I thought.

Then it came--the dreaded question.

She asked me what I was reading.

I gave her the title, not wanting to discuss the subject matter.

"What's it about?" she persisted.

"Uhhhh," I said, floundering. It's-a-guide-for-men-to-teach-them-how-to-be- masculine-and-function-as-the-head-of-the-family," I blurted. "I bought it for my son."

"Oh, every woman needs a strong man," she answered. I peeked at her. She was calm and seemed to be sincere.

"Uh-huh," I agreed, still nervous.

"That's right," a couple of the other women chimed in.

"What next?" I worried to myself. I began to suspect that I had entered The Twilight Zone.

Emma left the room to try on her muslin.

"So when is Emma getting married?" the teacher asked.

"Oh, in a couple of years probably," I answered, knowing that Emma firmly believes that old maidenhood begins promptly at 20.

"That's perfect," the teacher said. "Here is my idea. We are going to design Emma's wedding dress as a class project."

"What? Are you kidding me," I asked.

She assured me that she was not. All the other ladies got excited. I was still in a state of shock. Somebody said, "Yes, that will give us enough time to do all the hand beadwork."

Emma came out of the changing room, and the teacher told her about the project. "Have a sketch ready next week of your preliminary design," she instructed Emma. I could see that this bewildering news had Emma wondering what all had happened while she had been changing clothes.

On the way home after class, I told Emma that those ladies must really care about her.

"I know," she said, amazed. "I can't believe they are willing to take on this project for me."

We started thinking about the events of the last few weeks: the ladies in the thrift store, the reaction to the modest swimsuit, and now not only the acceptance of Emma not pursuing a career but the encouragement to marry young that the wedding dress project symbolized. "What is going on?" we both wondered.

This is the theory we came up with: Women are finally recognizing that feminism is a failure. They are sick of all the ugliness, and they are becoming hungry for modesty and femininity. The problem is that they don't consciously know it until they actually see a young lady who dresses and acts that way. I think it has to be a young lady because she also has to represent hope for the future. Of course all this is just conjecture, but something is definitely going on.

What do you think?


Kristyn said...

These are beautiful stories, Wendy. I am sure I am no judge of what is going on in the world, but I do think that feminism has fallen under the category of, "Give her enough rope and she'll hang herself." Or as my mother would say, "The chickens have come home to roost." How many generations have the chutzpah to keep the charade up? It is so unnatural for a woman to strive to be like a man. At least in most places in the country, people are still horrified by an effeminate male, but the masculine, "killer instinct" kind of woman no longer shocks people... but there is something that happens when a truly feminine woman is around. Some women do get ugly---I have experienced that first hand. But I'll tell you, I've been wearing skirts, etc. for probably 7 or 8 years now and when I'm out I have doors opened for me and I'm spoken to politely. I have had rough looking guys come to my door asking about the neighbor's old truck, that immediately take off their hats when I open the door (and it's obvious they are not used to doing such a thing). I would never ask anyone to do it, either. It just seems that femininity brings out something good in people (unless they feel they must fight against it for some reason).
Well, this is your blog, not mine, so I'd better stop. :) This is an excellent, thought-provoking post; thank you for sharing these stories with everyone.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Yea for Emma!!! =D

Wendy Haught said...

Hi Kristyn,

Not your blog? I asked for reader thoughts. Thank you for responding! You always have wonderful things to share.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Ali,

Emma says, "Thanks!"

Tom said...

Well I won't say much but I'll at least give this. Now I can't give it as a quote because it escapes me at the moment, but Chesterton Says: Feminist want equality with man,they want to climb up the Social ladder, but if you ask me for Women to become equal with men it will be a few steps Down the ladder they are taking.( I must say I entirely agree) well I'll put up the actual quote if I manage to find it but that's pretty much what he says.

Emily G. said...

These are great stories! I am especially excited that all the ladies want to do Emma's wedding gown for her. It will be one very special dress.
I don't know if younger women are getting a clue, but I do think some older ones are starting to realise that feminism is not all it was cracked up to be. Or at least, they are suffering from its consequences though they do not put 2 and 2 togehter and realise why they are unhappy. I think of this often with my mother-in-law. She took a few weeks off her job to give birth to two sons, which she let her mother-in-law raise. Her career was her life. Now her children are grown and gone and they have no relationship with her. She does not know how to be with children, so her grandchildren don't care much for her. She has no experience housekeeping and does a job akin to that of a young bride, now that she is retired. She struggles to cook. I am so far ahead of her in womanly pursuits and I am 45 years younger than her. She is an unpleasant person, but some of her unpleasantness is due to her own uncomfortableness. She views herself as a man, basically. She is only comfortable talking about work, college, money, etc. She never talks about children or marriage or pregnancy, or cooking...she can't. I can tell that she is confused because now that she is retired she has lost her identity. She spent her life living as a man, and now she is forced to be a woman and she has no idea how. Though my husband and I do not care for her, we both pity her. And I know she is one of thousands of women in the exact same situation. I just wish they would wake up and realise what they did to themselves in the name of feminism. My mother-in-law certainly does not. She lives vicariously through the careers of younger women in her life, instead of attempting to embrace her womanhood now. I say better late than never, but she would not understand.

Wendy Haught said...

Gosh, Emily! What a sad situation with your MIL.

I agree with you that it is the older women who seem to be realizing that feminism does not deliver fulfillment. I think it is because most people, including traditional Catholics, have bought into the idea that girls must go to college. Once you accept that, you've pretty much bought into the career woman concept, whether you admit it or not. After all, college is a huge investment of time and money, and it is only reasonable to expect some immediate return on it. If you wait, then your skills are no longer marketable.

Ideally, the caring professions like nursing and teaching would be filled by nuns, single women, and women whose children are grown.

Having that degree to "fall back on" is an added incentive to ditch the marriage when times get tough. It's a very difficult idea for Americans to grasp, but dependency has distinct advantages. I'll never forget how happily surprised I was when I read "My Heart Lies South" and the husband reacted with horror and hurt feelings when the wife wanted something that was not customary--I can't remember if it was her own money or what. But he gasped and said, "You want to be independent!" Never before in my life had I ever heard that said with anything but admiration. I thought about his reaction for days, and it made so much sense to me. I think deep down I am a traditional Mexican from old Monterrey.