I’ve picked up the book Wonder Women, several times, read a few dozen pages and put it down again. Half-way through with it, I’m still not sure what I think of it.
I make an effort to read books from people who have a very different perspective from me. Most recently, I finished “Tell My Sons”, by a career army officer who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Highly recommended. It was interesting to see how strongly he felt about the army, how much it was part of his identity. His take on many things, from his view of his father to marriage were different from mine. I understand how people can argue a lot and still be in love, and I appreciated his openness about that. The Invisible Developer and I never fight, just because he’s the calmest person in the world. I see people out on the lake ice fishing all of the time, and see kids building snow forts in the winter. I hate cold weather and the I.D. and The Spoiled One both are far more into watching Game of Thrones than building any castles.
The jarring note I keep running into with Wonder Women, is where she talks about women of her generation. We’re five years apart and almost everything she has said doesn’t apply to me. I never had Barbies – we didn’t have money for things that weren’t necessities, which certainly included Barbies. Despite her saying that every little girl, even the one she adopted from Russia, wanted Barbies, I’m pretty certain I never did. (Barbie gets a lot of press in this book.) I never recall anyone saying or even implying that boys didn’t like smart girls. Probably some didn’t but they were the really, really stupid boys I wasn’t interested in anyway.
She talks about how impossible it is to be happy, successful, division 1 soccer champion and get excellent grades, be a mother and an executive. I won the world judo championships, finished college at 19, earned a PhD, founded a few companies, raised three kids (working on the fourth). I’ m pretty happy. Some of it has been hard, sometimes damn hard. As I always tell the kids I coach about winning, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
Perhaps there are two big differences between Spar (the author of Wonder Women and president of Barnard College) and me.
- I expected life to be hard. There are some things, like your husband dying, that it is impossible to be prepared for, but if you expect to have to work to exhaustion some times, for life to be unfair, for some men to be jerks, for the opportunities and expectations for women and men to be far from equal – it is perhaps easier to deal with when reality is that way.
- No one ever expected me to be perfect. In fact, I think people were more likely to expect me to be in prison.
One of the things that bothers me about Spar’s book is that so far she hasn’t mentioned that schools like hers are part of the problems she perceives. Some how or other, Washington University in St. Louis accepted me as a 16-year-old freshman based on nothing more than kick-ass SAT scores. I got an F in sophomore English because I thought the book of Chinese poetry I was assigned to read for a book report was stupid and I turned in a report on Anna Karenina instead. Then there was that episode in ninth-grade where the vice-principal was going to give me swats (yes corporal punishment was allowed then) and I told him that if he hit me, I would hit him back. I got expelled.
My ‘permanent record’ was far from perfect.
I wonder how many schools now would give someone like me a chance. What Wash U perceived (I guess) is that I had potential. When you are 16, you aren’t supposed to have achievements, for heaven sakes, you’re a kid. The Spoiled One plays soccer. Someone asked me what her goals were, to get an NCAA Division 1 scholarship or what. I said, “I think she just likes to play soccer.”
On a PRESCHOOL application, one of the questions was “What are her extracurricular activities?” Darling daughter number one was tempted to put “playing with my little ponies.” Instead, she decided to apply to a different preschool.
My point – no one is a success at five or sixteen. Maybe if schools like Barnard (and Harvard, where she taught previously) realized that, Spar wouldn’t have needed to write a book.