Last week, after Jewish writer Tillie Olsen died at the age of 94, I picked up a copy of Tell Me A Riddle, her first collection of short stories published in 1961. Last night I re-read “I Stand Here Ironing,” a story that recounts a poor working woman’s ambivalence about her parenting skills and about her eldest daughter’s future during the Great Depression.
When my mom started college in the 1960s to pursue a B.A. in Math, she was told by her advisor that “Women don’t major in Math at this university. Choose something else.” And so, she did.
Yes, we’ve come a long way since “math is just for men.” It’s doubtful that many Americans in the 21st century still consider female doctors and female lawyers as something particularly “radical.” ndeed, professional opportunities have grown exponentially and women have seized them furiously. But we’re fooling ourselves to believe that women and men are now occupationally on par, particularly in the corporate world in which the gender gap remains glaringly static.
Last month, Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts school in Lynchburg, Virginia, opened its doors to men, ending the college’s 115-year-old legacy as a women’s institution. Students at Randolph-Macon bitterly opposed the changes with petitions, protests, and lawsuits. Yet sadly, due to the financial pressures to win applicants, little could be done to reverse the decision.
With Simchat Torah this weekend, I am reminded of endings and beginnings. During this holiday, we will finish reading the final portion of the Torah and start reading the Torah once again from the beginning.
Twice a month, I have a “domestic worker” (no one says “cleaning lady” any more) come help at my house. By that I mean, she does all the tasks I stink at: removing the excess cat hair of three cats; de-griming the tub; and sweeping Cheerios from the bizarre places my two-year old drops them. Each time this woman comes, we sit for a little while, and share parenting stories and laugh. And even though I pay her well, I still feel guilty when she comes. Is there some reason I can’t manage to clean my own home? Am I spoiled?