When I picked up the phone and heard Marcia’s voice saying, “Can I please speak to the Rabbi?” I knew it wasn’t time for chitchat. Buzzing through to my husband on the intercom, I told him, “Marcia’s on the phone and it sounds like something really bad has happened.”
When he came out from his office, I expected to hear of a parent’s death or a serious illness. Instead, he said that she had a question about how to make her new house’s kitchen kosher. Although Marcia and her husband were new to our congregation and I didn’t yet know them well, I was shocked at how I misread her voice. I soon learned that she always sounded like tragedy was sitting on her shoulder. I can’t pretend that when they relocated again a year later, I missed her.
I was reminded of Marcia when I read the introduction to and beginning of Betty Friedan’s classic book, The Feminist Mystique. How unhappy she makes women sound back in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The problem is, today, very few women have the housewife, stay-at-home, focus on husband and children life that she thought was making them so unhappy. Yet, everywhere I look, I’m still reading about how unhappy women are. They can’t find a good man to marry, or their bodies don’t provide pregnancy on demand when they are ready for it, or their employees aren’t accepting their need for advancement despite fewer hours at work or their spouses don’t do enough housework or, or, or…
Could it be that, like Marcia and her perennial voice of doom, women are just complainers regardless of what is happening? Could it be that women expect full sexual freedom, gentlemanly behavior from men, love, marriage, family, lucrative work, fulfilling careers, “me time,” “girlfriend getaways,” with some exciting fireworks, soothing cocoa, designer kitchens, chefs on call and so much more thrown in – right away and right now? Anyone expecting all that would be unhappy when life turns out to run by different rules.
My mother, aunts and their friends didn’t seem miserable to me. They expected life to have challenges and they balanced their needs as best they could. My friends, daughters and their friends don’t seem miserable either. They are too busy juggling lots of balls and recognizing that there is a limit to how many they can manage at one time. They see happiness as their responsibility and not a gift to be delivered by society. I don’t know what factors developed Marcia’s voice into the gloomy cavern it was. I do know that our culture breeds discontent, encourages entitlement and produces women no more attractive or desirable than Marcia. She was an individual in a community of upbeat people, who were striving to grow and flourish. Her presence stole peace of mind from those around her. Today, the media, academia and many politicians encourage all women to be Marcia-like. Those of us who wish to be happy need to inoculate ourselves against that virus, surrounding ourselves with women looking for realistic joy rather than victimhood. I want to thank my friends, family and readers who provide that antidote to me.