A 1960 wife (thank-you, convent-school)

I was sitting down with my little desktop sewing machine, hemming the legs of a new pair of trousers, and my Japanese friend thought it was a great opportunity to tease me about being an ideal candidate to be among 1960’s housewives.

“What half?” I asked her. “The first or the second?”

She was of the opinion that anyone who can make jam, and bake cakes, and sew, falls soundly in the first half.

Well, most of my life, I have been usually categorised into the other half, the half that fought for equal rights. It doesn’t matter, since I don’t think their dot product is zero.

I set aside my alarm and decided to go on with my sewing. One of the most useful lessons that convent-school taught me was  that of adaptability. If you know to sew, why not sew when you have a problem that can be fixed with a few stitches? Yes, my cross-stitch doesn’t bear looking too closely at, but it does the job. Ha, take that, American clothing manufacturers: even your extra-smalls might not fit me, but I will still make them fit with my dubious sewing skills.

It is sad that feminists today are viewed as people who’d rather shirk away from work, as people who’d avoid responsibility for failed relationships, as people who would rather exploit affirmative action instead of getting what they want through merit. It is sadder that some who claim to be feminists even believe that is their cause. That isn’t what feminism is about, and I feel terrible that an entire generation of men and women have grown up thinking that feminism is the root cause of their societal collapse.

Many of my early lessons in practical feminism came from convent-school. I find it interesting that what convent-school taught me (self-reliance) was very different from what Sunday-school tried to teach me (submission in marriage to the spouse). One was all about learning to do things for yourself, by yourself, without bothering other people about it, without expecting special concessions of any sort. The other was about…well, I don’t have a clue what it was about, since I auto-rejected whatever it was long ago.

The negative of convent-school, for me, is the auto-guilt mechanism, where I assume I am at fault before pausing to think about the situation. This has roots in Catholicism, where the first port of blame, and often the only port of blame, is yourself.  I think how much you buy into that is dependent on life circumstances, family and society. It is a dangerous tendency, even if you have self-control enough not to pipe up and tell other parties involved that you think (absolutely) you are to blame for whatever went wrong, because any accusation is automatically believed and that corrodes the ability to evaluate. Also, guilt makes you feel indebted to others, because you are aware that they are carrying on with you in whatever venture despite everything you are at fault for, and isn’t that immensely kind of them?

Traditionally, you feel guilty, you confess, and you feel absolved once you do the penance prescribed. For someone who does not believe, there is no absolution, and there is still the guilt hanging heavy on their minds day after day. It accumulates. Buying fully into the religion is better, ironically. A little conditioning is a dangerous thing. Being aware of it helps, greatly, but it doesn’t change the fact that it would be nicer not to have to deal with this in the first place.

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