There is a scene in the film “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio” starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson that struck me like a bolt of lightning. They are the parents of ten children just living their lives in a small town. She is a housewife and he is a machinist.
The era is the happy days of the fifties spilling over into the early sixties.
They call each other mother and father, after all that is what defines them. No, that’s not what hit me hard. First the back story:
Mother was all smiles, never lost her temper, and handled every situation with ease and grace. Father hated his job, the burdens of providing for his family and would handle this with alcohol and an occasional outburst of rage.
There is a moment when mother was walking into the kitchen with quarts of milk in glass containers, there was an angry comment by father, she slips, glass shatters and she slides across the floor. She needs to have some cuts tended to at the emergency room. She then returns home.
OKAY, HERE IS THE SCENE about shaping and reshaping, holding in and letting out: she asks her husband to help her out of her girdle that was wet and had some of the shards from the bottles. Why she didn’t take it off at the hospital is beyond me; that was however, the nature of the times. In any case, this is as intimate as the film gets. He helps her wiggle, twist and turn to get out of the harness.
So, what’s the big deal? Follow my train of thought for a moment. It was not long after this that Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique”, that pioneering book about ignited the women’s movement came on the scene.
We burned our bras and threw away our corsets. And the question is : so what has really changed?
Back to Juliette and Woody. That girdle symbolized how tightly she herself in, held onto the traditions of the times. Women bit their lips and colored within the lines. There were no real dialogues, no real discourse on partnership, no questioning of authority. They were both caught in the girdle she wore.
So, where are we now, after all the marches, all the legal battles, all the changes? This is the subject of a Women’s Leadership Program on March 2 and 3 in Pennsylvania; women reinventing ourselves.
I would love to hear from you, start a next level discussion. How do you see yourself in relationship to your family and your culture? How does your self-confidence compare to that of your mother and grandmother? What do you see different with the young women today, our daughters, granddaughters, and colleagues at work? This is a time for really exploring what changes are needed even if we have turned in our girdles for spandex.
Where do we and our male counterparts still need to take off the girdles, the ties that bind? I look forward to hearing from you.