Betty Duffy

Friday, October 30, 2009

Damned Ladies: In Quick takes


In the Spring we took the kids downtown for a parade, and it was so hot and sunny, I sat in the shade behind the bleachers with the baby. Near me stood two women, apparently in the “business” of looking sexy. They both had artificial boobs and impossibly skinny hips. They were “done” with manicures, pedicures, glitter on their skin, tans, fancy sunglasses and sex hair.

They were accompanied by two tan men, in their fifties, with gold bracelets, smoker’s skin and pot bellies. It was all so weird to see professionals at work. They are not civilians. All the wives nearby cast cynical glances in their direction and tattooed men ogled them with neither shame nor tact. One whisky nosed gent circled the area like a hungry lion, unable to avert his attention from the sex for sale. They are women of a different breed, set apart, for a lifetime it seems by this career path they’ve chosen.

I taught for a year at a ritzy private school here in town, where local celebrities like Bob and Tom and Isaiah Thomas sent their children. Faculty were required to sit at lunch tables with the kids, to ensure good manners and behavior, but parents also came to school often to dine with their kids.

One afternoon, I found myself sitting at table with a mum who met her CEO husband when she jumped out of his birthday cake. Here she was, years down the line, no longer in the biz, and the mother of two children. But even still, and maybe more pronounced by her Cinderella ascent into money, she was set apart by her silicone perfection. I can only imagine that marrying her former client made her perhaps doomed to a life of constant sexual performance—that her marriage was somehow a vow to the lifelong continuation of her profession, as much as to the man. At the lunch table, she pulled a small bottle of skin glitter out of her purse and dabbed it on the forearm of a little girl sitting next to her. “Isn’t it pretty?” she said.


BBC’s The World, Have Your Say, asked the question yesterday, “Is gender equality an impossible dream?” The question was fueled by this article last month on the Huffington post, suggesting that women are less happy than they were 40 years ago, while men have gained happiness over the same time period.

People calling in said, “No—it is not impossible. We just need better, affordable childcare, more equality in the workplace. We haven’t accomplished gender equality yet, but when we do, we’ll be happy.” Happiness is always just over the horizon, even as our quantifiable happiness trends downward.

I wonder why we are so reluctant to say that the women’s movement has not been as successful as we hoped. Women are less happy than they were forty years ago–perhaps because the women’s movement HAS benefited men more than women. Sex is free for men, but women still become ensnared if there is any fallout (and the polls would suggest that having more access to contraception and abortion doesn’t free us from that fallout). Motherhood has been relegated to another (often less dignified) lifestyle choice among many, when it is, in fact, a latent quality of our womanhood. If we choose to embrace that quality and stay home to raise our own children, we face isolation and disdain. If we leave our children to go to work, we do so at considerable cost to our consciences. There is conflict with any decision we might make.

Still, I'm not sure what we could do about it now, were Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem to come out and say, "Sorry, we were wrong."

From a letter I wrote to a friend and Catholic dissenter:

I don’t understand why feminists desire to be the workhorses of the economy, the family, and the bedroom. And I don’t understand why they would have such an aversion to the essential qualities that make them who they are—their fertility, their femininity, ability to be mothers, which is in a deeper sense, their ability to shape humanity. Women are endowed with such power, such influence, such dignity in the Catholic faith—and they prefer a sham. I assume you are referring to the fact that they cannot be priests when you say that the church doesn’t accept women. And this, to me, is another reflection of a secular outlook which places all things masculine at the pinnacle of achievement. The priesthood is endowed with the characteristics of fatherhood and maleness—and why a woman, who is offered such a richness of feminine vocations in the church, would prefer the male ones—speaks to a loathing for what is inherently feminine that is the product of pop culture and modern feminism—not the church.


mrsdarwin said...

I don't know that I'll write about it as elegantly as you, but I once attended an office holiday party (Darwin's office, not mine) at which another of the guests was (reputedly; I didn't ask) a porn star. She was a model of silicone perfection, with a great deal of tanned skin on display, both fore and aft, and her hair was carefully blonde. Her shoes were carefully sexy, her dress was carefully attached, and her smile was carefully come-hither. She spent the evening on the arm of an older, expensive gentleman.

At the time, Darwin and I were riding the poverty line, and distinctly bitter about the lavish expense and posh setting of this bash. The starlet and I were both self-conscious: she because she was in her element, and I because I was completely out of mine.

Betty Beguiles said...

Excellent...every word! I especially appreciated the excerpt from your letter. :)

Otepoti said...

Germaine Greer is rethinking her position, but a bit late.

Betty Beguiles said...


Is she? Where did you read/hear that? I'd love more details.

Betty Duffy said...

From what I can tell, Greer hasn't done a complete turnaround, only constantly challenging what we think of as modern feminism.

She's against promoting birth control in the Third World, but also against notions of conventional families.

Camille Paglia has said something to the effect of feminists needing to make peace with pro-life feminists if they want to advance their cause. Encouraging.

I'll look for some links when I get a chance.

Betty Beguiles said...

Interesting...thanks, Betty D!

I must admit to having a soft spot for Camille Paglia. She strikes me as more intellectually honest, courageous and respectful of those whose opinions differ from hers than most of her peers (though the peers I have in mind may not actually consider her a peer).

Betty Duffy said...

I have a soft spot for Paglia too. Love her editorials on Salon. Intellectually honest is a good description. Won't bend reason to support ideology. But yes, seems to take a lot of flack. Naomi Wolf, too; if I don't agree with her on a lot of things, I at least really enjoy reading her.

Betty Beguiles said...

"But yes, seems to take a lot of flack."

I guess that's what you get when you acknowledge the humanity of the unborn. She really won me over with that concession. Some might be even more horrified at her pro-abortion stance given that she knows it's murder but, again, I appreciate her willingness to call a spade a spade (and frankly, I suspect most everyone knows it's murder even if they don't admit it). Gives me a lot of hope for her spiritual future, too. ;)

I'm not as familiar with Naomi Wolf. I'll have to check her out.

Otepoti said...

I was remembering a long magazine article where she seemed to be repositioning the family as central. However, I can't find any trace of this now.=, so I think I am wrong.


Betty Duffy said...

I'll keep my eyes open for it Otepoti. You're probably not wrong; it may just be buried in cyberspace.

This Heavenly Life said...

That excerpt from your letter was fantastic!

Marie said...

Women don't "need" the priesthood, as a group. Men need an excuse to consider piety masculine, these days.

A mom in our playgroup, I found out eventually, had a former career and met her husband when she was dancing at a strip club. It certainly colored everything she did, not so much because she was "marked" but because she never left behind the things that brought her to those choices. Her marriage she always looked upon as a utilitarian affair, her life as one of scraping to use what she considered her assets to get what she thought she needed. She died and her children, whom she loved, were left with the parents who raised her to be a pole dancer and the husband who married her because she was one.

Betty Duffy said...

Wow, Marie, that is a very sad story. I always wonder what it is that inspires women to go into the biz. There are proponents who say that the life empowers women, and allows them to dominate their oppressors with the almighty dollar. But it also seems that the history of abuse in the lives of sex-workers is just too common of a theme to ignore.

Marie said...

This woman definitely thought she was taking charge with her way of looking at the world. No nonsense, do what you gotta do sort of thing. She really did try to live the gospel she was given, I believe, really tried to do right as she knew it, as twisted as that was. But the beliefs she'd inherited were so warped, she didn't realize how monstrous it made her to try to be a good person. For example, in trying to be honest about the fact that her husband was a jerk, she wound up being a berating and castrating wife. But since her view of the world was so mercernary, loving a flawed man could never be part of the deal. It was all about the contract, you get a hottie and I get kids and a house.
Anyway, I guess the point is that the obligation fell on those of us who knew she'd been "taught" wrong to help her figure that out, and we never did, because we were so busy living and letting live and not wanting to be ungrateful for her friendship or make her "feel bad about herself" when she was clearly trying so hard to be a good mom. Frankly, we didn't trust her enough to tell her the truth, it was wrong.