Thursday, November 26, 2015


My best friend from high school was teetering on her stilettos.

Swathed in white tulle, she might as well have been handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser for all her ability to accomplish everyday tasks.  She needed help to eat a sandwich, help to pee, and help, in this case, to lace up her shoes.

And I, according to the photographer, was on deck.

I frowned down at the shoes, which sported, amidst their rhinestones, a length of lacing that filled me with despair.  I'd dodged at least three other such tasks, hanging back as each bridesmaid, in turn, stood for their handmaidenly photo-op.  Sashes had been tied.  Buttons had been buttoned.  Makeup had been made-up.

I gritted my teeth, held my breath and went in for the kill.

"No, wait," said the bride, a wise woman who has known me a very long time.  "Not Anne."

Another bridesmaid bent over the shoes.  I sagged with relief.

"Well,"  the photographer cracked,  "what good are you?"

It's a fair question.   What good am I?   

I am not a good shoe-lacer.  I am not a good sash-cincher.  I am not good with buttons or make up or hair.  I once gave a good friend a haircut and she, after looking in the mirror, didn't speak to me for a month.  I am not a good cook.  I cannot craft.  I do not decorate or host or sew.  I'm lousy, if you must know, at a vast, ravening, marauding horde of things, and as I move deeper into parenting, I've begun to notice how many of these things fall under the rubric of homemaking, motherhood, or  "women's work." 

I do know that I'm not without talents.  I didn't answer the photographer's quip, but I gave a damn good toast at the wedding reception.  I can write.  I can play some music.   I can speak in public and fake a British accent and read maps and chat with strangers on planes.   I can tell what a student needs or wants and give it to them.

But none of these are things I would have been encouraged to do a century ago.  And the work that would have been mine by fiat- the childcare and the washing, the cooking and the folding- is work in which I would have been forced to confront, day in and day out, not only my lack of excellence, but my lack of interest.  One hundred years ago, it wouldn't have been the photographer asking what good are you?   It would have been me.

So on this Thanksgiving, I offer my thanks to the women who cleared the way for me.  I am so grateful to every brave woman who fought and toiled and wrestled over the years to remake the world into a place where, in 2015,  I can put my son in daycare and outsource my cleaning and not give a damn about dinner parties.  A world in which I do work that matters to me.  A world in which a man can ask "what good are you?" and I have an answer.

Thanks, ladies.

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