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“I’ll have to ask my husband which one.” We were standing in the tiny, trendy shop where I was the clerk. The middle-aged woman’s husband waited outside the exterior door, chatting with a passerby. I had arranged the handbags being considered on the counter, noting they were all the same price.
“You have to ask your husband which one you like?” I asked in disbelief.
She giggled. “Oh, yes. He helps me with all my decisions.”
She called him in and he made the selection. I couldn’t help staring at the wife. I wondered when her opinions had ceased to matter to her or her husband—when she had dissolved into his shadow. What kind of partner could she be if she had no presence, no visible intelligence to bring to the relationship?
Many times I’ve wished I could hand over my big decisions to someone else so I wouldn’t have to own the consequences. Traditionally, women have been encouraged to do precisely that. My guess is a wife’s subservience can make the husband feel powerful. (Does he know what a high price his beloved is paying for his ego rush? More than once I’ve watched clever, ambitious women fade away when they marry a man who likes his woman to play back-up.)
But women aren’t the only ones who sometimes demure when the going gets tough. When the topic is difficult and fraught with conflict—such as politics, for example—many of us change the subject. Let someone else handle the sticky stuff. If I have to do it, some of the mess may stick on me and I hate conflict. Make the professionals take over. They’re being paid.
But sometimes we’re in the middle of the storm whether we like it or not. We can be buffeted to a helpless corner—bloodied, bruised and ignored—or we can act in our own best interest and the best interest of our children and grandchildren. We can do our own objective research to uncover our own opinions. Maybe we MUST take steps we REALLY don’t want to take (like voting or marching or talking to people who berate us)—because we’re adults and adults take responsibility.
Recently, my husband and I watched the excellent film A UNITED KINGDOM, based on the true story of the rightful king of a country, eventually called Botswana, who willingly gave up the ancient monarchy to consolidate the traditionally democratic practices of his government into a true democracy. With independence, his country could erase the color lines the “protective” Brits had imposed as they exploited his country’s resources.
I vaguely remember when birth control was illegal in the U.S., regardless of the woman’s religion, although I clearly recall when desperate women went to “backstreet butchers” to obtain illegal abortions (even if the pregnancy was the result of incest or rape or endangered the woman’s life). Often the woman died with the mangled fetus. I live near the site of the Ludlow Massacre where miners wanting to unionize, and their families, were attacked in their camp by corporate mine guards and Colorado Militia. Women and children counted among the dead.
Many old issues may rise again next year, depending on the votes this November. We have a government not chosen by the majority of the people, one that feels no need to prioritize public opinion because there are no checks and balances to call them to account. Many of us, the people, used to let our “representatives” tackle complicated problems for us. But this year if we don’t take the trouble to vote and be heard and resurrect America’s Constitutional checks and balances—hopefully, with friends and neighbors standing with us—our lives will change in ways no young people will recognize.
But I’m not young. I remember. And those times weren’t great.