I recently turned 54. As I look back on my life and that of other women in my family I believe that my generation of women has experienced more change than any other before or since.
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was born in the late 1800s. Although she graduated from college she was a stay at home wife. She committed suicide when her husband, my grandfather, left her for another woman.
My mother was born in 1917, three years before women earned the right to vote. She earned a college degree in music and had occasional jobs outside the home, but for the most part she also devoted her life to being a housewife.
I was born in 1953 during the heyday of “Father Knows Best” and Dick and Jane readers. I was a college dropout but went back to college after my daughters were born and earned both a bachelors and master’s degree. I have worked as an educator ever since.
My daughters, born in 1977 and 1978, are part of the first generation of women to grow up after the passage of Title IX. One is a lawyer. The other is a high school English teacher and is working on a doctorate in educational leadership.
Four generations of women. The generations that lived before me lived their lives in the shadow of men. The ones that come after me are creating their own destinies in partnership with the men in their lives. My generation is the bridge from the past to the future. The evidence is in the very different relationships I have with my mother and my daughters. When I’m with my mother we talk about acquaintances, clothes, and my mother’s most recent purchases. When I’m with my daughters we talk about our careers, books we’re reading, technological gadgets, the news, exercise, and the men in our lives.
When I was small, I didn’t know any adult females that had a career. I believed that, just like the characters in Jane Austen’s novels, I would grow up, get married and live happily ever after. I believed that once I got married, life’s adventures would be over but that it would be a tradeoff worth making because I would have someone to take care of me. Now I know the truth. I’ve learned almost nobody lives happily ever after. If you’re lucky you marry a man willing to work things out when you hit the rough spots and you end up taking care of him as much as he takes care of you. Life is a journey and you never know what’s around the corner. The hardest lesson has been learning how to step out of the shadows of previous generations of women and become the person I was meant to be – a lesson that has come much more easily for my daughters and their generation of women than for mine.
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