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Simply but feelingly written, this could be recommended to just-turned-teenagers as well as adults, though the latter may be surprised at the somewhat ingenuous tone from a seasoned reporter. -- Francine Fialkoff
Simply but feelingly written, this could be recommended to just-turned-teenagers as well as adults, though the latter may be surprised at the somewhat ingenuous tone from a seasoned reporter. -- Francine Fialkoff
Unfortunately, the analysis is as slim as the book itself. Roberts sets her rather general tone by dividing the book into the generic roles women may play, beginning with sister and moving through politician—her mother was noted Congresswoman Lindy Boggs—mechanic first class, friend, wife, and mother/daughter, among others. Some stories are historical or biographical in nature, such as the chapter that examines the life of consumer advocate Esther Peterson. Others are more personal in nature, such as Roberts' musings on her sister, Barbara, who died not long ago after a bout with cancer. None are particularly pithy. In the section on the trials of juggling a career with her reporter husband, Steven, for instance, Roberts glosses over huge issues, such as finding day care or babysitting help in an era where few women worked outside the home. 'We've had many a `heated discussion,' as the politicians say, over the appropriate allocation of each other's time between work and family,' she writes in the chapter called 'Wife.'This is the historical reference for today's working mothers?
We Are Our Mothers' Daughters
Revised and Expanded Edition
A Woman's Place
A woman's place is in the house... And in the senate," the T-shirts and buttons proclaim at women's political events. "A Woman's Place Is in Uniform," trumpets a book about women in the military. "A woman's place is at the typewriter," declared Fortune magazine back in 1935. That was convenient for the economy and so it was decreed. A few years later a woman's place was in the factory or in the nursing corps because that was essential for the war effort. Then a woman's place was in the home. And now? A woman's place is anywhere she wants it to be. Fine, but who's taking care of the children? That's the question that keeps us roiled up over this issue.
Recently the country got all in a snit over the case of ababy apparently killed by his baby-sitter in Boston. Were people demanding the head of the baby-sitter? No, quite the contrary, it was the mother who came in for abuse by the radio callers and the editorial writers. She went to work three days a week, corning home at lunchtime to breast-feed, even though her husband had a perfectly good job. What kind of mother was she? Obviously, a selfish, greedy one who was willing to leave her children in the care of an inexperienced young woman. Wait a minute. Suppose she had gone out at night with her husband and left the babies with a teenager? What then? And didn't society just direct thousands of mothers to leave their children in another's care by requiring that we welfare mothers go to work? Could we make up our minds here, please?
No, probably not, because we're still confused about this issue of a woman's place.We're confused because we know that no matter what else a woman is doing, she's also care taking and we worry that a woman "out at work" might leave someone, especially her children, without care. That's what's at the heart of this sometimes vicious debate. Sure, a lot of other, much less noble, attitudes also underlie these arguments. Plenty of people still think that women are just plain uppity and they see a woman's place as someplace to put her. But I think it's the question of the children, and now old people as well, that truly troubles us. And women with children often find whatever choice they make uncomfortable.
That wasn't always true. For most of human history menand women worked together in the same place and each one's work complemented the other's. No one thought the farmer's job was more important than the farm wife's. Neither could manage without the other. Teenage relatives often moved in to help care for the children, to protect them from household hazards like open fires while the busy mother made the soap and the candles, spun the cloth, pieced together the clothes, fixed the food. Women gathered together to help with large chores, and visited as they worked. They also congregated to attend to births and deaths, taking comfort from each other's company.Whenever I think of the courage it took to leave everything and everyone behind to come to this continent in the early years of colonization, I am struck by the fortitude of those settlers. First the trip across the ocean, then in later generations the trek across the continent, required women to "do it all." The history of the movement west is one of extraordinary men and women overcoming incredible odds together. It was the industrial revolution that changed everything. Men went out to work for wages, and they were paid for the hours they put in, not the tasks they completed. (Poor women went into the factories, or to domestic work, as well. In 1850 women comprised 13 percent of the paid labor force; this question of women's work is one directly related to economic class.) Suddenly, what women did at home lost its value because there was no paycheck attached. Repetitive housework replaced home manufacture as women's crafts moved into assembly-line production. And that's what we've been struggling with ever since. Doing work that is economically rewarded and socially recognized means leaving home. That could change with the information revolution, as machines make it possible to work just about anywhere. But I think it's unlikely to alter the fact that women aren't paid for their jobs as nurturers, and it still leaves women at home isolated from other women.
We Are Our Mothers' Daughters
Revised and Expanded Edition. Copyright (c) by Cokie Roberts . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
|Introduction: We Are Our Mothers' Daughters||3|
|Civil Rights Activist||125|
|A Woman's Place||183|
WHEN MY OLDER SISTER DIED SHE WAS YOUNGER THAN I am now. Any woman who's been even slightly close to her big sister knows what that means--it means uncharted territory. It never occurred to me that this would happen, that I'd be on my own in a way that I never expected. Until Barbara died, it had never occurred to me that I had not been on my own. I had not realized, did not have a clue, how much I counted on her to do it first.
All of my life she had been there, lording it over me and loving me, pushing me around and protecting me. Those elusive early childhood memories that shimmer to the surface when summoned all involve her. Running to her when the dog next door jumped up and grabbed my two-year-old hair in its teeth. Barbara running to our mother complaining that if I insisted on putting on doll clothes, couldn't I be confined to the backyard. Going to school where she, four years older, shepherded me from room to room. Getting her out of classes to pull my baby teeth. Huddling together against the brother between us in age, the common enemy.
She excelled at everything, always. She was the president of the class, the school, the top student, the best writer, debater. She was also very beautiful. Every so often a thoughtless teacher would ask, why can't you be more like your sister? But I don't ever remember being jealous of her. I just desperately wanted to please her, and I often didn't. She had the ability to push all my buttons, the way most women (including my daughter) complain their mothers do. Because she was there between us, my mother and I never experienced the the usual mother-daughter tensions. That gift lives on after her.
We had such a good time together that she once said, "If we lived next door to each other, we'd never go to work." It's true that I never laugh as hard as I do with the women in my family--my sister, mother, daughter. Fortunately for her community, I never lived next door and Barbara toiled tirelessly as a public servant taking painstaking care of everyone else until the day she died.
The dying part was so profound, and so profoundly weird, that it taught me a great deal about sisterhood, in all its meanings. One fine day in October 1989 Barbara and I in our separate cities, unbeknownst to each other, went like responsible middle-aged ladies for our annual mammograms. In retrospect, it reminded me of the years when we lived in rooms next door to each other and would occasionally emerge at the same time humming the same bar of the same tune under our breaths. But this time nothing else was the same. The technician told me the usual "Check with us in a few days." The person who read the pictures of Barbara's breast clucked and sent her in for more X rays--her lungs, her liver, her bones, her brain. (She called these, plus the endless CT scans and MRIs that would come over the course of the next year, and that we carried from doctor to doctor, "The Inside Story of Barbara Sigmund.")
She phoned me the next morning. "I have cancer everywhere," she said. "You have to help me tell Mamma." I got off the phone and crumpled into Steven's arms. "We're going to lose her. Nobody has cancer that many places and lives," I sobbed. Her friend and neighbor, a radiologist, told her that without treatment she had perhaps six months to live. With treatment, who knew? Maybe miracles! She had turned fifty only a few months before.
We arranged for me to go to my mother's office at a free time in her schedule, and Barbara agreed to keep her phone free at that time. (Free times and free phones are rare in our family.) The plan was for me to be with Mamma while my sister told her the dread diagnosis. This was Barbara's attempt to correct what she thought was a bad mistake seven years before when she had reached Mamma alone at the end of a workday and blurted out that she had to have her eye removed. That, of course, should have served as a warning to us. But the doctor at the time told us that the chances of the melanoma behind her left eye recurring were less than if she had never had cancer at all. And Barbara handled the whole thing with such incredible style and panache, sporting spectacular sequined or feathered eye patches with evening dresses, matching an outfit with a color-coordinated patch for everyday wear. She never seemed sick, just understandably tired in the middle of her political campaigns, and the famous five-year mark for cancer patients had passed successfully.
The appointed hour with my mother came at about 11:30 in the morning. "Perfect," pronounced my Jewish husband, "you tell her and then the two of you go straight to noon Mass." And that's what happened. Then began the pathetic odyssey of people living under the death sentence of widespread cancer. First, trying to get information, what were the treatments, where were they, what was the success rate? What we learned eventually, certainly not right away: When it comes to this highly experimental stuff, everybody's guessing.
After the initial terror, we settled into something of a routine. Barbara and her husband, Paul, would travel from their home in Princeton, New Jersey, to a hospital in Philadelphia. I would meet them there and spend the nights in her room, watching poison chemicals drip into my sister's body. Mamma would come up from Washington for most of the time as well. Then we would head back to Princeton and Mamma or I or my brother's wife, our other sister, would stay with Barbara until she was feeling better.
In those months, circles upon circles of sisters emerged. In the hospital, one of the doctors on Barbara's team was a woman whose willingness to tell us the truth was something I will forever value. It's not that the male doctors weren't caring; it's just that they couldn't deal with what they saw as their own failure, their inability to lick the disease. Another woman doctor, a pathologist who had nothing to do with the case, adopted Mamma and me when she saw us in the cafeteria. She would come visit in the room and cheer us up--yes, a cheery pathologist!--during her time "off." Then there were the legions of nurses, those sensible, funny, wonderful women who have the strength to deal with death on a daily basis.
Back in Princeton, the women of the town swung into action. Each gave according to her ability, to us who were so needy. People organized to cook and bring food, to visit, to run errands, to help with the mail that pours in when a public figure's illness is announced. And this for a full year! Most of the time Barbara kept working at her job as mayor, but the women in her office often had to take up the slack during the times she was in the hospital. With the attendant immune problems from chemotherapy, hospital stays became common for both of us as I took on the role of what Barbara called her "private duty sister." Again, there were a few fabulous men who gave of themselves completely, including their blood and, more important, their time. But my brother-in-law, the most giving and suffering of us all, noticed how it was women who kept Barbara and him going.
While these women tended to Barbara, others tended to Mamma and me. Our colleagues, busy professional women all, were incredibly attentive. The support systems and sisterhood of women working together had never been more important. My two closest friends arranged their vacation schedules to make sure that I would never be alone if I needed them, and they filled in the blanks that I was leaving at work without my even knowing about it. My mother's colleagues were members of Congress--talk about busy women! But they were there for her throughout that long year, and after Barbara died they came back from their campaigns, including several who were running for the Senate, to hold a private Mass in the Congresswomen's Reading Room at the Capitol (a room now named for my mother, the only room in the Capitol named for a woman).
Over the summer, as her condition deteriorated, the treatments stopped but better therapy arrived when Barbara's three boys came home. All in their early twenties then, they found ways to be in Princeton to the utter delight of their dying mother. When the fall came, and she waved them off, she knew she was seeing them for the last time.
Then it became time for the women to gather around. And they did. The hairdresser would come to the house and regale us with stories as she tried to keep Barbara's head beautiful above her sad, sick body. My daughter, Rebecca, in her junior year at Princeton University, became her aunt's nurse of choice in those final few weeks. The Religious of the Sacred Heart, the nuns who had taught us as children and were now our friends and contemporaries and confidantes, would come by with Holy Communion and hilarious conversation. A dear friend devoted herself full-time to Barbara, defining sisterhood by action, not the accident of blood. The oncologist, a woman, visited and explained to us what to expect when Barbara died, an act of simple kindness that somehow helped. Barbara made it possible for us to all learn through her suffering, giving us mainly unspoken lessons in how to die with dignity. Some of her instructions were clearly spoken. She planned her funeral, making sure it would be right, not leaving it to chance, by which, I only half joked, she meant her family. "Let me introduce myself," I would jest, "I am Chance." She also wrote bald, unsentimental poems about what she called "A Diary of a Fatal Illness" and lived until she saw them published and read at the local Arts Council. Some medical schools now use her poetry to teach students about dying.
My mother had announced that she would resign from Congress at the end of her term. She didn't say it at the time, but she did it so she could be with Barbara. The cancer, with no respect for schedule, deprived Mamma of that opportunity. I had expected to take a leave of absence to care for my sister at the end--just give me a signal, I said to the doctors. They did, the day before she died. The next day, Barbara and I had a good laugh as I was combing her hair, which hadn't been colored in a while. "I think we're seeing your natural hair color for the first time since you were fifteen," I teased. But despite attempts at humor, my mother could hear a change in my voice on the telephone. She arrived that night and had a little visit before bedtime. Barbara died before morning.
THE FIRST TIME I PICKED UP THE PHONE TO CALL HER came in response to a story on page one of that day's New York Times. The subject: childbirth for postmenopausal women. The article dutifully reported the how, where, who, and when. But it left out what was for me, and I knew would be for her, the key question--why? She had a whole routine about how women she knew were producing their own grandchildren with these late-in-life babies. Ready to have a good giggle, I dialed her number before I remembered she wouldn't be there to share my astonishment. The shock of her absence made me feel very alone.
At some point during Barbara's illness I began preparing myself for a different vision of my old age. Without really thinking about it, I had always assumed we'd occupy adjacent rockers on some front porch, either literally or figuratively. Now one of those chairs would be empty. Intellectually I understood that. But every time some new thing happens that she's not here for, emotionally it hits me all over again--that sense of charting new territories without the map of my older sister.
And here's what I didn't expect at all--not only was I robbed of some part of my future, I was also deprived of my past. When a childhood memory needed checking, all my life I had simply run it by Barbara. Now there's no one to set me straight. My mother and brother can help some. My brother and I have, in fact, grown a good deal closer since our sister died; after all, without him, I would not only not have a sister, I would not be a sister. But Tommy didn't go to school with me, share a room with me, grow up female with me. Though I love him dearly, he is not my sister.
There it is. For all of the wonderful expressions of sisterhood from so many sources, for all of the support I both receive and provide, for all of the friendships I cherish, it's not the same. I only had one sister.
Cokie Roberts: Thanks for having me. I'm delighted to join you.
Cokie Roberts: Absolutely.
Cokie Roberts: My name is Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs Roberts. You figure it out.
Cokie Roberts: Of course not. What I am suggesting is that there needs to be deliberation and a balancing of regional interests. When everyone just votes by polling, there's no opportunity for leadership, education, etc. Many issues are complex in their impact on different regions, different economic classes, etc. Just registering "aye" or "nay" doesn't do it.
Cokie Roberts: I met my husband when I was 18 years old, and it was always his life's ambition to be a journalist. So it would have been very difficult for him if I had become an activist. Then I discovered that I, too, love journalism and think I can perform a public service there as well. Although there are plenty of politicians who would dispute that.
Cokie Roberts: He could not have been more gracious and polite.
Cokie Roberts: "Write" is too strong a term. I outline what I am going to say when there is a set situation, like the interviews with Bob Edwards on NPR or Peter Jennings on ABC. Otherwise, I just talk. If there is a scripted piece with audio or videotape inserts, yes, I write that. All correspondents do.
Cokie Roberts: I didn't hear about Hillary Rodham Clinton's statement. She's probably right, depending on how demeaning and what the circumstances are. The biggest problems I've had to overcome as a female journalist were internal: getting hired, getting promoted, getting good assignments, etc. I have never had a problem with people I'm covering.
Cokie Roberts: David Brinkley is a man I admire greatly, and a person for whom I have a great deal of affection. It seems to me that he has come in for a great deal more criticism than a lot of other people who are still practicing journalists who do ads. David is retired. But I do think it was a mistake to run the ads on our program, because it was confusing.
Cokie Roberts: Yes. In fact, much to my surprise, we find that most of the high-achieving women went to women's schools, still. I expected that would change a generation after coeducation, but it has not. When I went to Wellesley, there was, of course, no opportunity for girls to go to most of the Ivy League schools. What I found was that I got a far better education there than my male counterparts were getting at prestigious male institutions. I'm not sure that's as true today, just because a lot of smart girls now go to coed schools. By the way, it's not just the Seven Sisters schools that produce successful women. Many of the women in Congress went to small Catholic women's colleges and received both a fine education and the special sense of achievement that those schools provide.
Cokie Roberts: It's about equal. These days it's more from Democrats, because they feel that press criticism of Bill Clinton's behavior should cease.
Cokie Roberts: California has a more significant female majority in the electorate than other states. Females are in the majority everywhere; I just can't remember at the moment how much more so they are in California. Also, the state has shown a willingness to elect two female senators. However, the last female candidate for governor, Kathleen Brown, went into the election with a sizeable lead in the polls and blew it. My take on the New York Times piece was that the same thing could happen to Jane Harmon unless she started talking issues, and that women in particular were tired of the "I'm one of the girls" routine.
Cokie Roberts: There is definitely pressure to get it faster, harder, etc. We have found, however, that the frustration of being unable to break a story until the evening news is now obviated by the reality that you get almost the same credit by putting it on the Web.
Cokie Roberts: I'm not entirely sure I understand the question. We certainly can determine what to say or do without any help from anybody. If the question is whether the politicians can do that, the answer lies in the politician. If an officeholder uses polls to determine where the public is on something, and uses spin doctors to learn what language is effective in communicating with the voters on an issue, that's okay. It's essentially a neutral exercise. The problem comes when the politician decides what to think based on those facts. If he/she knows that there's a course to pursue and uses the data to learn how to bring the people along, then that's an effective use of leadership. If polls are used to decide where to stand on an issue, that shows an unprincipled politician.
Cokie Roberts: I think we all can do it. And I appreciate greatly your understanding of what I was writing about. You don't have to be nasty or mean to show that you are intelligent. Both in public and private you can let people know that you care, and frankly, after all these years I think it only works for you to show what kind of person you are, assuming you're a nice person.
Cokie Roberts: Yes, in a nutshell. But in my view, it's even worse than that. It's because they are partisan Democrats and they are standing by their man. I recommend the Marjorie Williams piece in this month's Vanity Fair.
Cokie Roberts: Wherever it needs to be at that point in time. Women need to be in many places, often in many places at once. Women often find that they need and/or want to be in the workplace, need and/or want to be at home, need and/or want to be with a friend in the hospital, at school, etc. Sometimes we have the luxury to do those things at the right time for us and for our families. Sometimes life hits you between the eyebrows and forces you to adjust. My mother certainly didn't expect my father's plane to disappear over Alaska when he was 58 and for her to be elected to Congress at 57. I certainly didn't expect my sister to die at the untimely age of 51, and me to take care of her for that last year, while I was doing TV and radio. Life forces places on you. What I hope women will take from my book is the encouragement that they are right in their choices, that they are capable of juggling -- because women have been doing it from time out of mind -- and that they should celebrate their roles as nurturers and carriers of the culture. And to understand that there's no such thing as one choice. We make new choices all the time as new circumstances present themselves.
Cokie Roberts: Thanks so much for having me; I liked it. Goodnight.
Posted September 7, 2010
No text was provided for this review.