The Strong Woman and the Whale
The modern-day feminist is a strong woman. She’s sure of it. After all, she’s got a hardened attitude, an obsessive fixation on building her empire, and a ready willingness — even a joyous eagerness — to be rude or vulgar on a whim, particularly toward the men she tries (unsuccessfully) to emulate. What could be a greater sign of strength (not to mention grace) than such wonderful trinkets of personality as these? She can’t imagine any, so she compliantly keeps herself in conformity with the group-think of feminist dictates. After all, she’s a strong woman who can think for herself, thank you very much.
And kids? Well, those were a bit of a problem. A minor nuisance on her glorious path to the top of the world. Actually… they were a big problem. So big that she foregoes having them altogether, or she at least gets someone else to raise them for her if she does decide to have them. She can’t be bothered to take care of kids, even if they are her own. They require too much of her time, attention, and energy. It’s much more convenient to put the little, squealing tykes into daycare at the earliest age possible, and then let the state and the TV “raise” them from there, from Pre-K through high school. And after high school? Well, they can fend for themselves then; she’ll be free of them — finally — and life will be so much better.
Meanwhile, thank God, she can concentrate on more important matters. Like working in her office, for instance, under the comforting buzz of fluorescent lighting, while she breathes in the wholesomeness of recycled, refrigerated air and works under a constant barrage of deadlines and demands. “Yes,” she tells herself, “that’s ok.” “Everyone” does it, so what could be wrong with it? It’s just how society works, and we’re doing fine, so what’s the problem? To her, there aren’t any negative consequences of her behavior — at least, none so negative that she should materially change her behavior.
One day, though, brassy, overweight, and underpaid, she leans back in her inexpensive office chair and experiences a rare moment of introspection beneath the monotonous hum of those fluorescent lights. Something is wrong; something precious is missing from her life, but she can’t quite put her finger on exactly what that “something” is. Oh, she has a healthy retirement plan, and several employees report to her. She even recently bought herself a new car: a shiny, black Chevy Malibu with all the bells and whistles, which she proudly purchased without so much as informing her husband beforehand, as a deliberate and not-so-subtle act of defiance — a real kick to the groin of the patriarchy! She thrills inwardly as she recalls the look of dismay and anger that had been on her husband’s face! She had done her part to throw the family’s patriarchy’s finances into disorder, which it clearly needed, in order to right the past wrongs of a institution that had, historically, been grossly misogynistic. She was a good person. A just person, if a bit of a vigilante. But a good person.
But she can’t shake the feeling that her life isn’t going as she had hoped. Her husband had long since lost all attraction to her, and she can’t figure out why he wouldn’t be sexually attracted to such a strong, impactful, independent, masculine woman. Wasn’t he heterosexual? There were even some murmurings from him about getting a divorce, and that really caught her attention. “He’s probably just bi,” she thinks, “or maybe even gay, and he just doesn’t want to admit it to himself… or to me.” She writes it off as bad luck: She just chose Mr. Wrong; that’s all. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. You can’t fault someone for his sexual orientation. It doesn’t feel good to be facing divorce, either, but that happens, too. Such widespread disharmony between the sexes is normal in feminist society. Maybe even expected. With her face melted into its customary, permanent frown, she sighs, drums her fingers absent-mindedly on her desk a few times, and moves on to another troubling observation.
Her son, now a teenager, has grown more and more distant from everyone. And last week, she had inadvertently walked in on him shooting a syringe of something into his arm. He had been in the basement, not expecting anyone to disturb him. Clearly, he had been mistaken in his assumption. Dozens of studies had shown that having close familial ties reduced the likelihood of children and teenagers getting into drugs, but, hey, those were just the findings of pie-in-the-sky academics who knew nothing of the real world because they had isolated themselves in an Ivory Tower. Right? Right. She’s sure that those studies are basically flawed, or at least inconsequential to her, personally.
Having a healthy, loving family wasn’t — couldn’t be — that important! That was just silly, mushy stuff. Frills. Quaint relics from a backward, Leave-It-To-Beaver age that had been ruled by thick, brutish, ignorant men. All of that family-stuff? Not really important. She shrugs, waves a chubby hand vaguely in the air. You could easily dispense with it as you got down to business and pursued more important things — the real substance of life — like sitting in a plastic chair at your work empire and clocking in some good, solid hours. If you were lucky, as she was, you could be issued a chair that had nifty rollers and the most beautiful fabric covering for the seat and back. At higher levels, you’d even get a leather chair that could tilt all the way back! Her son? Her son. Well, that was… very unfortunate and concerning, what happened to him. Heart-breaking, truly. Her son had probably just fallen into the wrong crowd, “experimented” with the wrong things. That’s about all there was to it. You know how teens are. Especially boys. Nevertheless, to confront him is not an appealing prospect. She decides it’s better if her husband does it instead (but she’s still a Strong Woman, as she scribbles the term in her notepad, underlining it several times as she makes her decision).
Still, it was terribly disappointing. She had sacrificed so much for her two kids. Didn’t they see that all of her hard work was for them? Didn’t her son know that she loved him? How could he have betrayed her like this? After all the times that she’d been there for him? She searches her memory for those times. Admittedly, there were some birthdays of his, and holidays, that she had glossed over during her majestic ascent up the corporate ladder, but there were plenty of other times, like… like…. She thinks back some more.
Plenty of times, like, when… for instance… he had gotten a bruise when he was five, and she had kissed it! Yes, she remembers that! And other times, such as… as… for example…. Her arm extends flowingly, wordlessly outward to her side, as if to herald the memories she is expecting will turn up.
But her thoughts trail off, as very little is forthcoming from that memory: a few tattered bits and pieces of years gone by, but nothing substantial. Blinking in silence for a few moments, she reluctantly calls off the search, having slowly realized the futility of trying to recall times with her son that, by and large, had simply never happened. Her arm floats back to her lap.
But her general absence from his childhood does not change the fact that her toil at work was for him! She takes some comfort in that. She had done the right thing, surely. With a pair of heavy eyes reddened by chronic fatigue, she gazes anxiously at a motivational poster hung on one of the walls of her disarrayed office. It’s a quote by Hemingway: “When you love, you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.” She wrings her hands a few times, but then notices what she’s doing with them, and abruptly stops. Yes. Yes, that is what she had done: exactly what the great Hemingway poster had suggested. She had been a strong, empowered woman for her kids, had sacrificed for them, had served them. All that she had done was for them…!
Only it wasn’t.
The realization alights upon her as gently and quietly as a bird. She tries to push it away, pretends it never touched her. For a while, she succeeds. But it gently flutters back again, just as quietly as it had a moment ago. And she begins to cry.
In her most honest hour, she is finally able to see it: She had been really sacrificing for, and serving, only herself. None of the other people in her life had asked for, or needed, her feminist lifestyle, her feminist philosophy, her feminist anything. Not one of them. The great iceberg of illusions that she had frozen around herself had finally begun to crack, and great sheets of it were tumbling down with every stifled sob. The other people in her life had been merely incidental beneficiaries of some of the extra money she had brought in as she pursued her own ends, but for every such benefit, they had paid tenfold — a hundredfold — in personal suffering and malformed lives: people who had been scorched, wounded, and neglected in her wake, people who had tried, with varying degrees of success, to bandage themselves and ease their pain in the only ways they knew how. It was really she alone whom she was most serving… or at least trying to serve. A simple tabulation of how and where she spent her time and energy would show this bias objectively, and she knows it. That stark realization tears at her heart.
Like Captain Ahab, she had been chasing a great, white whale, pursuing it with a religious dedication and obsession that had verged on insanity — and damn the consequences — while enormous, booming waves, large as houses, crashed and sprayed across the bow of her life, heaving and rocking it to and fro with frightening ease, utterly indifferent to her personal, feminist-inspired agenda. Thus, her family, wrecked; her son, adrift; her life, achingly empty, undeniably broken, as the sea-winds howled through her shredded sails and the whale continued inevitably, irretrievably on its way, fading into a misty, distant horizon.
+ + +
Her feminist ideology had told her that strong women were “the future.” Equality of the sexes (by which the feminist ideologues tacitly meant sameness or interchangeability) was the goal. “Labor for the feminist movement today, and strike a stake in the heart of the patriarchy, so that your children can live in a better future tomorrow,” those ideologues tirelessly urge, fastening a tiny carrot to the end of a long and unsightly stick, and digging their spurs into toughened, female hides. But tomorrow never comes, and the vision itself, taken to its logical conclusion, is rather simplistic, fanciful, and disappointing: The erasure of any meaningful distinction between the sexes is taken almost as a grand panacea, as if the solution to the world’s problems were just a short neutering of the population away. How myopic, how obtuse, how horrid a vision: a world of grey, androgynous citizen-drones who were shamed and conditioned out of owning — and even just wanting to own — their own gender, yet still saddled with nearly all the troubles and problems that they already faced in present times.
Meanwhile, those same ideologues fall eerily quiet concerning a far more effective way at building a better future: the raising of healthy, happy children. A better future lies, not in the latest feminazi magazine’s articles, but in the silent, powerless infant cooing in the crib; not in the service-to-self philosophy of headstrong, craggy-faced, corporate women, but in the joyous peals of laughter of tiny tots too young to speak. The modern-day feminist is glad to be rid of such little ones at the earliest possible opportunity, and so she turns her children, and future, empty away, all in the name of a supposedly higher goal. She has a whale to chase (or was it a carrot?), and she’s a strong woman. She’s sure of it.
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