I’m quite the zoo creature here in the palace of the sultan. Or, more properly, this luxury hotel in the Orient.
Despite staying at the nicest hotel in a very modern town, I stick out like a giraffe in my Armani suit and Hermes scarf.
The working women here (that is, the flight attendants and restaurant servers) wear uniforms based on Western women’s business suits. But the other women are resplendent in their flowing garments, some are veiled to the eyes. They glide through the lobby surrounded by their husbands and children. They are beautiful and feel … protected.
I have a twinge of jealousy. This society demands protection of its women, gives them the shelter necessary to fully focus on their children. This is a protection that I and so very many women of my American generation were denied.
More than half of U.S. women with graduate degrees are the family breadwinners. According to the U.S. Census, women are the primary or sole wage earner in four of ten households with children under the age of eighteen. Women are the primary breadwinner in nearly a third of dual income families. The bulk of American mothers younger than 25 are opting out of holy matrimony altogether – three of five of today’s kindergarten students have single, never-married mothers.
Less than two hundred miles from here three girls were shot for attending school. Every morning the newspapers tell of women beaten to death, burned alive, stoned for leaving the house without permission, choosing their own husbands, insisting on schooling, or otherwise defying the patriarchy.
We in the U.S. have no need to feel superior. Our female freedoms are hard fought and under attack. My own grandmother could not attend school. No less than the author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson promulgated a law making it legal to kill “unattended women or negroes” while in the Virginia House of Burgesses.
When my grandmother chose her own husband, her father disowned her for failing to respect his choice of mate. When her husband refused to bring his money into the house – in an era when “ladies” did not work – she grew a big country garden, raised chickens, and took in sewing to feed her five children, one of whom was my mother.
My own mother did not go to college because her mother – who herself had been denied an education – refused to spend money educating a daughter. My mother was the last generation women who — nearly without exception — stayed at home with their children. Her children were her Ph.D. thesis, her thriving corporation.
American women who dared to go into the workplace risked severe sexual harassment, or, worse, rape and assault. Pre-Anita Hill, we second wave feminists crashing the glass ceiling in increasing numbers brushed off unwanted sexual invitations, groping, even the occasional exposure of a man’s naughty bits as just a part of the job.
“I am a feminist!” the glamorous beautician in this south Asian hotel proclaims proudly. We smile. I pound my heart with my fist – like a revolutionary. I can’t help myself.
My choice to be an entrepreneur and business owner may feel exhausting. There are days when I cry from guilt that my children have been terribly shortchanged because of my need to support us. If I had had the protection of a wage-earning husband and the ability to have additional time with my children, how much more successful might they be?
But I can travel to the Orient. I can pick my own mate. I can earn my own money. I can be my own person. Like my working women counterparts here, I am proud to be a feminist.
Photo from Pixabay.com.