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Long ago, I wrote a screenplay I registered under the title WHITE APRONS. The symbolism wasn’t original to me. Women in the Old West often wore their aprons as they walked across the continent beside Conestoga wagons to remind themselves of the society they were leaving. They wanted to remember predictability and safety and the roles in the family they had learned from their mothers. Frequently, they traveled in the company of men who had failed at establishing farms or businesses during hard times. The wives were often relocating against their wishes. The trip west was an act of desperation by people ill prepared for the hardships of the wilderness such as the madness of the endless prairie, the hasty “burial” of family members, and the abandonment of family heirlooms. The women reintroduced civilization in their wake—churches, schools, the importance of courtesy—because they wanted to believe they could reinvent a sense of home. When their husbands died, they forged on, scratching a living from the dirt or with the practical needs (such as laundry or cooking) of fellow immigrants to provide for their children and themselves. If they didn’t, they were left with few options for survival beyond prostitution. A small number lived successfully as men…because life was easier that way.
As I watch the women today who espouse the vitriol of the Far Right extremists—cursing at young clerks who ask them to wear masks, celebrating outrageous lies they could easily expose, threatening innocents who attempt to moderate the use of guns, and encouraging or even participating in uncalled for violence and destruction—I wonder what their ancestors would think of the way in which they use the rights women fought so hard, so long to earn. For some, gone is an innate sense of responsibility for enhancing community—the voice of Mom telling them to do what’s right. Biologically, women are born with a greater potential for empathy and communication and less proclivity for violence than men have. (Check out The Female Brain, by Dr. Louann Brizendine.) But perhaps our electronic environment or pollution or something is eroding that advantage? Do increasing numbers of modern women surrender the age-old urge to civilize in favor of bullying and prejudice and hurtful self-interest or does it simply seem that way? Does being mean or crude feel like empowerment to them?
Certainly, history offers us the stories of many women from diverse cultures who managed Machiavellian plots or the roles of warriors or chiefs with great success—at least temporarily. Women have always been adept at adaptation. But those women rarely headed movements of savage females, ready to murder and pillage. They generally led men who relished war. Today, we appreciate the more democratic leadership skills of women from many walks of life, women who know how to use their natural intelligence and cooperation in place of brute force to serve the greater good. Some men try to subvert their work, of course, because men have schemed to keep women in subordinate roles for thousands of years—to balm their own egos? But modern women who haven’t slipped into dark expressions of themselves are doing their best to civilize institutions perverted by greed for power or profit. They’re happy to work beside ethical male counterparts, each contributing from their own strengths. The Civilizers (both male and female) have inherited a great mission—to reinvent the United States as a safe home for us all. Watch for them…or be one.