The Coming Backlash

Okay, so Treasury Bonds are being grabbed; gold is being hoarded; God is being called upon like never before to save us all from chaos, as He was in Houston a few weeks ago, by tens of thousands of evangelical Christians. Many have written about the problem of harking back to our belief systems, and our superstitions, and our specific faiths , instead of using better means to solve problems, like clear thinking, open-mindedness, conciliation, and negotiation. (See Frank Bruni, “True Believers, All of Us, The New York Times, August 6, 2011.)

I worry particualarly about women, vulnerable now to similar magical-thinking-solutions. I’m hearing young women talk about finding a guy to marry—quickly. I’m hearing older women talk about the futility of trying to reinvent themselves and instead figuring they’ll just hang on for dear life. As with trying to solve the world’s problems with faith and belief systems, trying to stay safe through all the old conventional means is dangerous to our collective psyche. When the economy is tight, and when men get scared, certain things happen like clockwork: There’s more domestic violence. Women tend to retreat; to return to the home, if not literally, then figuratively, as if the homely virtues ever paid off. We imagine that things were so much better long ago.

I’m feeling a backlash coming on. Before I read a new study showing that women are better off marrying earlier, or that men are happier with young women who aren’t focused on their careers,  or that corporate women are  leaving top jobs to “spend more time with the family,” I want to weigh in.  Throughout history, women have taken the heat for the culture’s fears, and in specific ways.  Whether they’ve left work so men returning from war can have the jobs, or raced into marriage before they’re “too old” or too successful, women have tended to feel powerless to avert the scary endings. and we’ve envisioned no bravery other than falling back into old roles.

Women, conventional goodness isn’t your friend. Maintaining your vision for the future is. If we do all the things we used to do when chaos frightened us with, oh, loss of love, loss of husbands, loss of social approval, loss of funds, loss of everythng, we lose something far more precious: We lose our hope for evolving as women. We mustn’t ever again let anything, especially a flagging economy, threaten our own ability to push through the confines of that old story, the Romance Plot, the one that hurls women back into the kitchen.  Yes, we all yearn for security, but it never did come in the form of  old ideas, old roles, old habits.  Don’t idealize what never was. We’ve spent years setting free a new narrative, one that promises forward movement in the home, in our relationships, inside ourselves. The old story that we fantasize as being magically problem-free, actually brought more women lifelong depression than it did safety and security.

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