Friday, April 06, 2012

A woman of her time

Today is one of those Good Fridays that defy expectations. Today is sunny and warm. So far at least, but it is still early morning.

Later in the day the clouds might roll over and cover the sky, as was my expectation as a child on Good Friday, led there by my mother’s conviction that on this day at three o’clock in the afternoon at the same time every year when Christ was supposed to have died, our skies would be blotted out.

As an adult, Good Friday has long been a favourite day for me, a day on which - at least for the non-religious - nothing happens. The shops are closed. The restaurants are closed. The streets are empty. There is no requirement to perform in the game of life, beyond home and yet for my mother it is one of the greatest most cataclysmic days of the year, because she is a believer.

Even as a child when I too believed, I let it cross my mind from time to time that the skies across the world could not all be uniformly overcast at three in the afternoon. My limited understanding of the weather told me so.

Was it the centrality of my child’s eye view and of my mother's that wherever we were, wherever we happened to be each Good Friday afternoon, we believed we were at the centre of things, right up close to where the crucifixion took place, and we too shared the same skies.

I may have posted this image before. It features my bedroom in the mid sixties. Notwithstanding the obvious clutter, I include it again, to emphasize the iconography on the mantelpiece. On Palm Sunday the Sunday before Easter we liked to put a sprig of cypress - we could not get a hold of Palm fronds here - behind the body of Christ on the crucifix. The smell is with me still.

I’m wary of writing about religion. I worry about offending people’s sensibilities. People can become sensitive when it comes to religious belief. When it comes to beliefs of any sort. We want to believe something. It gives us the illusion of certainty and in this terribly uncertain world we do not want our beliefs challenged.

I remember when I was twenty years old in the early seventies and I first came across the notion of feminism and of women studies. It was one of those new age subjects taught at the University of Melbourne presumably to keep in touch with the times, but offered only as an elective in my social work course. It was not a compulsory subject.

This was the first time it occurred to me that I did not need to iron my then boyfriend’s shirts. That I could leave them for him to iron or let them give up their creases on the washing line. I need not take responsibility for a man, the way I had grown up believing was my lot.

Before then, I measured my love in tangible ways, such as the number of shirts I might iron each weekend for my love.

I bought all the books, Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, and Shulamith Firestone’s, The Dialectic of Sex. To this day I cannot get my mind around that word ‘dialectic’. It’s a great word, with a crisp feel but I cannot grasp its meaning. Perhaps that is why I did not read the book. I feared I would not, could not understand it.

I have my copy still. It is yellowed with age and the print size appals me. I expect I could understand now if I tried, but the books seems past its time for me.

Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch I read from cover to cover. This book I understood. This book shook me from my complacency and even then I remained a dedicated follower of whichever man happened to be in my life at the time, until I had babies and began to question the orthodoxy.

Even so, there are these deeply held attitudes that creep into my mind and dialogue, beliefs even. I know they are still there.

They infiltrate my blog. They shine a bright light on my personality even as I might want to hide them.

I am a woman of her time. A woman caught up in duty and responsibility towards others. A woman who would sometimes like to free herself from certain constraints and yet at the same time cannot. A woman whose roots are so deeply knitted into the deepest layers of soil that it would take a bobcat and hoe to dig her out.

Even death might not shake her from such complacency.
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