Friday, November 30, 2012

The Girl I Left Behind

1980, undated later edition, from Macmillan
Jane O'Reilly
The Girl I Left Behind: The Housewife's Moment of Truth and Other Feminist Ravings
Original price $10.95, purchase price unknown
OK condition hardcover

In the last chapter, O'Reilly says, "I like being forty-four....I know my own mind.  I know who I am and what I can do.  I know what I want to do and what I won't do.  I will learn to tap dance, I will not learn to ski.  I might still be angry, but I will not be depressed."  I obviously relate to that.

Later, she imagines herself 21 years into the future, when she's 65, having a conversation with a 15-year-old granddaughter, trying to explain the battles.  To the question, "But, Granny, were you happy being a feminist?", she replies, "Of course I was happy being a feminist.  After all, consider the alternatives."  And I relate to that.  I related to it 21 years ago, too.

At the time of this book, O'Reilly had a teenaged son, so he'd be older than I am now.  And, though it's closer to 31 years later than 21, she does have a teenaged granddaughter.  Back in 1958, O'Reilly took her final college exams in a long raincoat, to hide the fact that she was heavily pregnant.  Unmarried, she gave the baby up for adoption.  She doesn't write about that here, and in fact she didn't see her daughter again till the girl was 32. 

I learned these facts from the Internet and I mention them because O'Reilly's own life shows that motherhood is not the simple, straightforward matter that Phyllis Schlafly and others pretend.  (And indeed Schlafly's gay son is proof of that.)  O'Reilly discusses the complexities of motherhood, and marriage, and housework, and paid work, and politics, and so much more.

I love that in a 2008 article, O'Reilly "said she devoted herself to the feminist cause, firmly believing that eventually the issue would be solved and she 'could take a nap.'"  In this book, she tells of that same fatigue.  And yet she kept going, still keeps going.  She's not as well known as some feminist writers, but I do admire her more than most.

She's also got a great turn of phrase, as with the "Clicks!" of realization, and the "Clunks" of blindness.  Sometimes it's just her combination of wryness and sense, as in the section on Upward Failure, as epitomized not only in Gary Hart's rise from the ashes of the '72 McGovern campaign but in George Bush:  "George Bush so well illustrates the rewards of loyalty that he has become the basic case....Question not, and ye shall not be questioned.  Instead, ye will be considered 'experienced' and hailed as a possible candidate for president of the United States."

I disagree with her on the issue of pornography.  Yes, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS sounds like a horrible movie on every level, but I don't think all porn is bad.  This is partly a generational issue, which is not to say that all the feminists of her generation thought one way and all of mine like I do, but rather that the terms of disagreement have shifted in the last 30 or 40 years.  As has of course the technology of porn.

Even more than Nowak's, her book shows the beginnings of the backlash that Faludi would write of a decade later, but here, too, there is optimism.  We weren't and aren't yet where we hope to be, but we are better off than we were in O'Reilly's youth.

No comments:

Post a Comment