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Sunday, March 26

Turning Back the Clocks

I got to thinking about Jaye's post below regarding Texas's attempt to limit abortion. Then I got to thinking about Liz's post from the other day about the textbooks the Heritage Foundation sent to Rhode Island with all their sexist stereotypes and abstinence only sex education. Then I got to thinking about the post the other day on the Mississippi law to ban the sale of sex toys. Then I got to thinking about the objections of the religious right to the availability of HPV vaccine to girls under sixteen on the grounds that it promotes promiscuity. Then I got to thinking about the various (brilliant) posters and commentators on BlondeSense who posit, rightly I think, that all these various efforts are NOT about a "culture of life" and "moral values"; rather, they are all about forcing women to conform to decades-old notions about a woman's place in life: a wife subservient to her lord and master husband, a baby making vessel, someone with no place outside the home, someone who is dependent upon having the basics of life provided for her. Then I got to thinking about my mother.

My mother was a teenager in Germany when World War II broke out. She never finished gymnasium, as they call school in Germany. Her mother and several siblings perished during bombings. She, her father and one sibling survived the war. With her fine facility for languages (she spoke, read and wrote five fluently), she was working as an interpreter when she met my father, who was serving in the Army with the occupational forces. She had already born (borne?) one child to an American soldier, and that child had been adopted by the soldier and his wife back in the US. She emigrated to the United States after her marriage and became a housewife and mother to two children. She miscarried three times. As an Army wife, she moved house 18 times in 11 years. She was 43 years old when her marriage failed and she "won" custody of my brother and me. (Truth be told, my father wouldn't have taken us.) In 1970, she re-entered the workforce with no education and marketable skills. I believe she made $3.15/hour. After working an full 8-hour day (on the clock) at a local orthopedist's office as a physical threapy assistant, she would work another 4 or 5 hour shift at a local nursing home for a similar wage.

My mother was 44 years old when my father stopped paying child support and disappeared from the state of Florida. In those days, before URESA (the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act) was enacted, she would have had to track him down and then sue him for the child support in what ever state he happened to be located in. If he moved again, she would have had to start all over again in another state. Obviously, she didn't have the money to do that, so we lived on the money she made, such as it was. Meanwhile, as the child support arrearages mounted into the thousands, my mother was holding on with both hands to the only thing that was ever truly hers, and that was the house we lived in at the time. Whatever we went without, she made that mortgage payment, month in, month out, without fail.

Then came that day: the property taxes were due and she didn't have the money to pay them. It was a tipping point in her life, I believe. She was working like a dog and still couldn't get her head above water. She could barely put food on the table. She had no creditworthiness to speak of. So she did what she probably believed was the only thing she could do to survive: she became a prostitute. Oh, I don't mean one of those standing-on-the-corner-in-fishnet-hose type of prostitutes. You have to understand, even in middle age, she was a fantastic beauty. No, no, my mom only serviced the "best men" in town. These guys considered her their special "friend". I'm sure she was very successful at what she did; our standard of living improved noticably, mostly in the amount of food we had in the house, and the occasional outfit she would buy me. She must have done it for 5 or 6 years, I'm not completely sure. Then, she went crazy. The mental illness was, I strongly suspect, the result of the cumulative effects of her life: war, bad marriage, economic insecurity. Ultimately, the mental illness robbed me of my mother. The lights are on but no one is home. I hope there is an afterlife, and I hope she enjoys a better one there, because her life on this earth has been a nightmare.

What's my point? While my mother's story may be uncommon, I do not believe that it is in any way unique. No, I'm pretty sure that many women have faced the same choices my mother faced. My point is that no woman should ever be in my mother's position, forced to choose between the necessities of life and her dignity. To all those out there who preach that we women should return to leading the life my mother lead, I say: Bite me.

We are not turning back the clocks. We won't get fooled again.

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