Updated: Apr 13
I was born in 1953. Growing up in an all-white, middle class American neighborhood in the Midwest, (until I was eight years-old, then we moved to yet another), there were literally only two “divorcees” who lived in our neighborhood.
One was a junior high Home Economics teacher who lived on one corner, and was known as the “good” divorcee. She had a “respectable” job and apparently a long gone, rotten (everyone agreed) ex-husband. Grown-ups would always speak of her with pity in their voices.
The other, who lived on the opposite corner and sold Avon cosmetics, was known as the “bad” divorcee, partly because she had two grown sons who lived at home, and drove hot rods. The grown-ups didn’t speak well of her, (or her push-up bras or tight Capri pants) and wives were known to swat their husbands if they were caught ogling her washing her car in her short shorts.
“It’s all crap,” my mother told me in her always plainspoken, matter-of-fact way, “they are both perfectly nice people.”
My mom treated everyone the same, from the president of Ford Motor Company (where my father was one of the midwives of the original Mustang) to the garbage man. She trusted Arnie Somero, our housepainter, literally with my life, when she’d leave me with him when she ran to the drugstore. I’d sit on a paint bucket and watch him paint, fascinated that the always ridiculously long ash on his cigarette never fell off until he flicked it. Mom had great people radar, and did not suffer fools gladly.
But I digress. The Home Ec teacher used to have us kids over for tea parties. She and the aforementioned rotten husband weren’t able to have children (which was another source of the pity in people’s voices) so she enjoyed having a group of generally well-behaved children to tea every now and then, although we drank Kool-Aid out of the china cups.
I remember staring at these three kid-sized Plaster of Paris statues that she had in her basement. They were women, in full makeup, and perfectly coiffed hair, dressed in nipped waist, big-skirted, pastel-colored dresses and aprons, and holding mixing bowls and mops and brooms. They sort of reminded me of the Big Boy statue, only female.
“A housewife’s lot in life,” I remember thinking, even at a very young age. I wasn’t certain I wanted to be one. Like the three “see, speak or hear no evil” monkeys, these statues portrayed how this male-dominated world liked their wives at the time. Pretty, neat, tidy, supportive, quiet. “Boring” I thought.
The other divorcee, while the Home Ec teacher was perfectly nice, was a heck of a lot more fun. Every year when my eldest sister went to Homecoming, or Prom, she’d bring her Avon kit over to our house and help select the perfect shade of lipstick to match Kristin’s dress, and gift her with a tiny sample size to carry in her purse. She laughed easily and often. (“Why don’t people like her?” I’d wonder.)
Indeed. As a twice-divorced woman (some 40 and 10 years ago) I find that while thankfully some things have changed since the late 1950s, many things have not. I found, as a divorced female, you are not a hot commodity. There are dinners out that you’re excluded from, parties that you’re not invited to. It’s a real thing. It’s still a couples’ world. And as enlightened as we all like to believe we are, I think we do a pretty poor job when it comes to including divorcees. Or single people in general.
Why do we Baby Boomers perpetuate these ridiculous notions that dinner parties must have so may “couples?” Why can’t fun be had at a table of disproportionate sexes? Why, when single-parent households are the norm, has society been so slow to acknowledge the vast disparities between the sexes? We still haven’t even ratified the Equal Rights Amendment in all 50 states, for Heaven’s sake.
Not surprisingly, most divorced (or widowed) women (at least in my age bracket) wouldn’t marry again on a bet. As my best friend’s mother put it when folks asked her (some years ago at age 75, after she was widowed) if she’d like to get married again, she would get a look of sheer horror on her face,
“Oh my GAWD,” she’d shriek. “Absolutely not!”
She played cards five days a week, loved her freedom, and was not about to get saddled with “some old geezer” who might stroke out, get cancer, Alzheimer’s, you name it, cutting into her female-only social whirl. She’d already nursed one husband to the end. She wasn’t about to go through that again.
Left to our own devices, single/married/widowed women do just fine for ourselves, thank you. Except in some respects, the most glaring of which is the bottom line on our paychecks.
Which brings me to Michelle WIlliams. As I watched her impassioned speech about gender-based income equality the other night at the Emmys, it brought to mind the good divorcee, the bad divorcee, and pretty much every working woman I’ve ever known, and the fact that society has basically screwed us over since the beginning of time.
I’ve been a fan of Michelle’s since I first saw her and Kirsten Dunst in the 1999 movie “Dick” a dark comedy/farce about the Nixon years. My heart ached for her character in Brokeback Mountain, and I’ve long admired how she appeared to be a very smart, kind, compassionate single mother raising a well-grounded child (who shares my late grandmothers name). Every word of her acceptance speech spoke the truth, the most startling of which was that a woman of color makes only 52 cents on a dollar of what a white man, doing the same job, is paid.
By standing up for her rights and calling for fairness when she was paid $1,000 to re-shoot some scenes on a film and her male co-star, Mark Wahlberg, was paid $1,500,000, and again at the Emmy’s, Williams has shone her impassioned light on a problem that will only be addressed if we, as women, stick together. Support each other. Call out the bad guys and praise the good.
It’s time for our society to simply stop labelling each other, like my snobby, old neighbors who judged the two “divorcees” so harshly, Generally, I’ve found, unkindness is born of ignorance or insecurity. How we treat others is basically a reflection of ourselves.
Whether it be divorcees, LGBT, immigrants, whomever, we all have as much right to be here as the next person. Please don’t ever let go of that fact. If you stumble, allow another woman, or enlightened man, to help pick you up. And then, pass it on.
To learn more about the Equal Rights Amendment, please visit Equal Rights Amendment Organization.