A woman of her time

Today is one of those Good Fridays that defy expectations. Today is sunny and warm. So far at least, but it is still early morning.

Later in the day the clouds might roll over and cover the sky, as was my expectation as a child on Good Friday, led there by my mother’s conviction that on this day at three o’clock in the afternoon at the same time every year when Christ was supposed to have died, our skies would be blotted out.

As an adult, Good Friday has long been a favourite day for me, a day on which – at least for the non-religious – nothing happens. The shops are closed. The restaurants are closed. The streets are empty. There is no requirement to perform in the game of life, beyond home and yet for my mother it is one of the greatest most cataclysmic days of the year, because she is a believer.

Even as a child when I too believed, I let it cross my mind from time to time that the skies across the world could not all be uniformly overcast at three in the afternoon. My limited understanding of the weather told me so.

Was it the centrality of my child’s eye view and of my mother’s that wherever we were, wherever we happened to be each Good Friday afternoon, we believed we were at the centre of things, right up close to where the crucifixion took place, and we too shared the same skies.

I may have posted this image before. It features my bedroom in the mid sixties. Notwithstanding the obvious clutter, I include it again, to emphasize the iconography on the mantelpiece. On Palm Sunday the Sunday before Easter we liked to put a sprig of cypress – we could not get a hold of Palm fronds here – behind the body of Christ on the crucifix. The smell is with me still.

I’m wary of writing about religion. I worry about offending people’s sensibilities. People can become sensitive when it comes to religious belief. When it comes to beliefs of any sort. We want to believe something. It gives us the illusion of certainty and in this terribly uncertain world we do not want our beliefs challenged.

I remember when I was twenty years old in the early seventies and I first came across the notion of feminism and of women studies. It was one of those new age subjects taught at the University of Melbourne presumably to keep in touch with the times, but offered only as an elective in my social work course. It was not a compulsory subject.

This was the first time it occurred to me that I did not need to iron my then boyfriend’s shirts. That I could leave them for him to iron or let them give up their creases on the washing line. I need not take responsibility for a man, the way I had grown up believing was my lot.

Before then, I measured my love in tangible ways, such as the number of shirts I might iron each weekend for my love.

I bought all the books, Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, and Shulamith Firestone’s, The Dialectic of Sex. To this day I cannot get my mind around that word ‘dialectic’. It’s a great word, with a crisp feel but I cannot grasp its meaning. Perhaps that is why I did not read the book. I feared I would not, could not understand it.

I have my copy still. It is yellowed with age and the print size appals me. I expect I could understand now if I tried, but the books seems past its time for me.

Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch I read from cover to cover. This book I understood. This book shook me from my complacency and even then I remained a dedicated follower of whichever man happened to be in my life at the time, until I had babies and began to question the orthodoxy.

Even so, there are these deeply held attitudes that creep into my mind and dialogue, beliefs even. I know they are still there.

They infiltrate my blog. They shine a bright light on my personality even as I might want to hide them.

I am a woman of her time. A woman caught up in duty and responsibility towards others. A woman who would sometimes like to free herself from certain constraints and yet at the same time cannot. A woman whose roots are so deeply knitted into the deepest layers of soil that it would take a bobcat and hoe to dig her out.

Even death might not shake her from such complacency.

53 thoughts on “A woman of her time”

  1. All those books are familiar – yes, I read them too. I'm so glad that Good Friday was never given overtones of gloom for me as a child. I like your description of it as a quiet day when everything closes down. That's how it's been in Auckland today – fine, sunny and very peaceful.

  2. Beliefs, eh? I’ve always differentiated between belief and faith. I know a lot of people consider them synonymous but I choose not to. Someone can hold the view that God exists but not believe in him; belief in this context being akin to trust. There are things in this life I accept as fact—the sun rises in the east and sets in the west—but if one day I awoke to find out the opposite was now the case it wouldn’t matter to me and I think that’s where beliefs-with-a-capital-b are distinguished from common or garden beliefs: how much does such and such being true, being predictable, matter to me?

    I think most people would struggle to say what they believe in. Especially if you asked them to qualify that answer. If you believe in God, for example, what does that mean? How does that affect your life? Of most people it doesn’t even those who do believe in God because they choose to fashion him in their image and not bend their lives to suit his will.

    I was made aware from a young age that Jesus’ death was on Nisan 14 and, as the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, the date changes every year. This year as it happens the date for the Passover (Nisan 15) does fall on Good Friday but that’s rare. For some that kind of thing doesn’t matter but to my mind if you’re going to do something then do it right; I put up a Xmas tree but I don’t kid myself that this has anything to do with the birth of Christ. I was brought up the check my facts, to believe only what could be proved (and that included the existence of God although what passes for proof with one person would clearly not satisfy another.) Now I don’t care. This is pretty much how I feel about beliefs:


            The thing about beliefs is
            they don't need to be true.
            That's not their job.

            They're there because
            so many things aren't true.
            Nature abhors a vacuum.

            19 December 1996

    If you’re a woman of your time does that make me a man of my time? I’m not sure. I’m not entirely convinced that even when I was young I felt comfortable with the world that surrounded me; I didn’t get so many things even the things I went along with to fit in; I always felt I would have been happier had I been born when I was supposed to be born, in the late Thirties. I say “when I was supposed to be born” because that’s how I think about it. My parents took twenty-one years to get around to having me and had pretty much given up hoping for a child of their own. And yet I do feel nostalgic for the past that is mine; I have no other.

    As far as Feminism goes I’ve rarely come into conflict with it and the only times I have it when faced with those extremists who believe (there’s that word again) that women are better than men. Children go one of two ways: they either embrace the views held by their parents or rebel against them. I was the latter. On the whole I am not opposed to those who choose to embrace Christian principles as regards the roles of the sexes; what I objected to was how my father chose to enforce his interpretation of those guidelines.

    I get a little irked by anthologies and books that only accept work by women in the same way that I get annoyed by black only or LGBT only groups. I understand why they exist but as long as they do they keep the fact that these groups are different to the fore of our minds when what we should be working towards is total assimilation. Wait a second? I actually think 51% of the world’s population is female. How come they get to act like a minority? (I’m being facetious. I’m well aware how badly some countries still treat their women.)

  3. I appreciate how your mind works. We are privileged to have lived through the breakthroughs of the 60s (and all that came before). I feel from your writing here what I feel myself, which is how I still carry the church with me, though I left it, and I carry all the breakthroughs of civil rights and women's rights in my mind and heart, though I keep behaving with what I think of as womanly instincts. I think this time, this era, is an opening into being able to do whatever we want, though we are not completely there yet. But thank god for those books, and for all the hard work of those who shattered fences, and who keep on shattering them. I can only imagine where society will be in another half decade as a result.

  4. I totally agree about the beauty of Good Friday for non believers. Just had a great day hanging out at the uni with people of the same ilk. It's quiet time.

    As for feminism, or what is termed 'post feminism' these days, I wonder if the 'post' term is really saying 'Just move along darlin'. Nothing to see here.'
    To me the issues to do with women's dignity and equality has never been more pertinent.

  5. Also Elisabeth. D'you reckon you could turn off the word verification? It's getting really hard to read and I can't comment from my phone with it on. I've done it and no nasties yet. And soon, when the new blogger kicks in, I think it will be much harder to turn it off.

  6. I don't feel weighed down by religious superstition and easter is a significant time for our family and friends.
    (Less 2 that we sadly lost this week)
    As for feminism and liberation, I decided that when I became the mother of 3 boys, my goal was to give each of my daughter-in-laws men who could cook and do basic chores. There has been varying success on this front.
    However, I have mixed feelings towards my son and DIL, as he seems to do the majority of the domestic chores and for some reason I feel a little seed of resentment towards my DIL for seemingly taking advantage of it.
    Firstly, the mother in me does not want to see him hen-pecked, and secondly she is yet to offer me any practical help.
    This issue was addressed before they married and my son relayed to us that she still wasn't sure of her place as family(!!??)
    At that stage she had regularly eaten, slept and bathed at our home, been financially supported and I was even her driving instructor. Don't quite know how far family goes!
    Her mother did warn me that when it came to getting her to do the dishes – she was very good at choosing music!
    Thank God she is such a sweetheart and in a way I am prepared to accept her 'lack of manners' as a 'quirk'. She is lovely company, otherwise.
    Karen C

  7. so much of who i am come from those times, elisabeth–coming of age as a woman against the backdrop, discovering in the women's movement a cause that affected me deeply to the bone. and still does. i grew up in a community in which most of my closest friends were roman catholics, their lives to one degree or another decorated with the iconography of the virgin mary–i found this deeply attractive. my family was of the far more austere protestant minority in town, taking what religious pride we could from the dubious joys of public denial of religious display. not much fun at all. i suppose, in retrospect, in some ways feminism offered that sought-after sense of belonging to something larger, grander than the isolated individual. and the sexual freedom of the '60s and '70s offered the repressed protestant young women the opportunity, at last, for public pageantry….

  8. As a working woman since the '60's, I hope we all lived and defended our belief in equality and set an example of our daughters, and our sons.

  9. Yes, we are indeed rooted in part within our past – which adds to who we are – but it is also a springboard from which to launch the woman we are to become.
    This post is interesting to me as I know how forceful a mother's convictions can be. As to whether or not one is a believer when Good Friday comes around, it is a day for reflection in that everything stops for just a while – no spinning world with which to contend – and the hope in our hearts can blossom in peace, with family, friends, or quietly alone.

  10. Hi Elisabeth,
    I do read you from time to time, but there is so much occupying my doings that you will not read a comment. Every time I notice indeed how deeply rooted you are in your past experience, how your mother still 'holds' you.
    Whatever we belief, it should bring us beauty and happiness and peace of mind.
    There is a new beginning for all of us. Get the bobcat and replant yourself. It is spring. Cut away the roots, grow and blossom!
    Vrolijk Pasen!

  11. I think we cannot escape the constraints of our age Elizabeth. I was brought up in a Methodist household in the thirties and forties and although I am no longer religious in any way, and although I have lived all over the country and habve had a full and active life – some old habits still die hard – getting my husband's meals on time; doing the washing and ironing; keeping the house tidy – I cannot get out of these things and have no wish to.

  12. Your words always provide much to ponder, although I have been pondering many of the subjects raised for a long time myself. You bring them to the surface, having me reevaluate my thoughts, and sometimes conclusions. I am not religious. Being raised by a Catholic and an atheist, who still amazingly get along, had me contemplating my beliefs from an early age. And as for feminism, I’m an old guy who has learned a lot from some strong women, including three daughters.

  13. Man, Elisabeth, you get the wheels turning in my brain more than any other blogger can.

    I grew up in a relatively non-religious household, so I think I was in my teens before I even knew it was about Jesus' death. When I found out, I wondered, why call something "Good" when it commemorates something that was quite awful? Though my mother had fallen away from the church, she never considered herself an atheist, agnostic, or even a lasped Catholic. When she died, we ended up giving her a Catholic funeral, because, in spite of everything, that's what she wanted. She once told me she fell away from the Church because of Vatican Two. I didn't buy her excuse then and don't buy it now. She fell away after she got married because she wanted to break away from a stifling upbringing. Not religiously stifling, but stifling in other ways. Break free from one thing and you may just end up breaking free from everything else. I was actually quite annoyed when she told me she didn't like the fact the Mass was no longer in Latin. I knew from my own research that Latin was never Jesus' first language, assuming he spoke it at all, and it had more to do with the Latin-speaking Roman Empire adopting Christianity as a state religion than God favoring one tounge over another. Since then, I've come to understand the her view a little better. One doesn't want the Church making things up as it goes along. Still, I think it was mostly an excuse. Vatican II happened, ironically from the point of view of the people who promoted it, right at a time she was looking to break free, but couldn't articulate a reason.

    I notice when subjects like sexism, racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, and the like come up, people (not in this comment section, just people in general) tend to get particularly anecdotal in their views, especially if they want to deny such problems persist. "What do these feminists want anyway? I've always treated women with respect!" That's sort of like asking, "I've personally never lynched a black person, so why do we need a civil rights movement?" (come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if some DID indeed ask that question.) Personal experience can make us either sympathetic or hostile toward social movements. Whichever, it usually takes first place over objectivity.

  14. It seems many women were profoundly affected by a few books. But they are now of a certain age and their thoughts did not pass on strongly enough to their children, hence the need for something to shake up younger women now. Without offence intended, many women didn't, and still don't, go to university, did not read books and proceeded in life just as their mothers did before them.

    Very thought provoking.

  15. I think Andrew is right. I think we took it for grandet that our kids would "get it" by osmosis. for me anyhoo that is how it seems. Religions of all ilks fascinate me. I would love to be over in bali for Nyepi day, being silent so the bad spirits pass over the island 🙂

  16. Convention, especially social and religious, and I parted ways very early on. I wasn't even fully into puberty when I abandoned the faith I was raised in, or maybe it was the other way around. I've always been dragged towards spiritual realities I was mostly reluctant to explore on way own. No, that's not true. What's true is that I went looking for the truths that made sense of what I was encountering, seeing, thinking about, experiencing, reading.

    The thing is, I don't really *believe* in anything. Belief is irrelevant. There are things I know, and there are things I know I don't know, and there is Mystery beyond that. Experience trumps belief every time. I gravitated towards do-it-yourself spirituality as if it were as natural as falling down.

    Books are a great means to self-educate oneself out of those old tribal complacencies one grows up with till one learns they're not as set in stone as we were told they were. In my case, I stepped out from behind those certainties very young, partly because I was raised as a visitor living in a culture not my own. That uprooted my sense of tribal truth, and made me a global nomad to this day. My own reading list as equivalently life-changing as yours is a long one, probably with some overlap.

  17. You have a good relationship with your 'blog buddies', Fazlisa and therefore it's safe to write it as you see it. I'd hope the same for me.

    Thanks, Ocean Girl.

  18. Already Good Friday is over here, Juliet, and soon we say goodbye to Easter. I'm glad that as a child you weren't too distressed by the possible gloom of such celebrations. It's good to enjoy the rest and whatever else this time might mean for you.

    Thanks, Juliet

  19. I think beliefs can be crippling, Jim, and yet we need to have some sort of faith or trust in somethings, and especially in certain people – to my mind, namely those close to us – otherwise we'd go around the twist.

    Here I m mixing fait and beliefs despite your view that they are different. Of course they are different. For me faith has more to do with trust, which can be almost unspoken and visceral, an emotional thing, whereas belief is something more intellectual, cognitive, thought out. And beliefs can lead to all the …isms, which can be so dangerous, including the feminism you describe that despises men. Not my version of feminism that is more to do with equality across the board.

    I'm not into the sort of nonsense whereby one group is extolled over the other. We are all first and foremost people, human and we need to respect one another regardless of gender, race, size, chronology disability, ability etc. Unfortunately too often we don't.

    Thanks for your 1996 poem. It says it all – back to arguments over truths and non-truths.

    Easter greetings Jim, even as you don't adhere to the incorrect expression of things. We all play around with history and ritual.


  20. I agree, Ruth, we carry our pasts, or personal pasts and our broader histories, those of our societies in our hearts and minds. It's not always easy to acknowledge them but they are there nonetheless, shifting and changing over time. And what would we do/be without them.

    Thanks, Ruth.

  21. I've tried to turn off my word verification, Sarah, as you asked, and as Rob-Bear has also asked in an earlier post. It is a pain. I'll just have to deal with the spam as it appears.

    As for your thoughts about feminism and how much the equality of women is as much as ever in need today, I couldn't agree more. Things change but in some instances only slowly.

    Thanks, twice over, Sarah Toa.

  22. Three sons, Karen, that's something, and all of them you raised to be helpful around the house. That's how we put it, isn't it? A sort of plea for domestication from men who sometimes, often times remain helpless, though not always, certainly not in my experience.

    The saying goes, your daughter marries and you gain a son. Your son marries and you lose him. I'm not sure if this has to be the case, though anecdotally there seems to be some truth in it, though not for you by the sound of things.

    Thanks, Karen.

  23. Faith and trust and beliefs, are all theoretically different. Ms Moon, but it's easy to see that you know and have confidence in what really matters. Thanks.

  24. That's an interesting juxtaposition – the flourish of catholicism with feminism, Susan.

    Even as a child I sometimes felt a little sorry for the so-called protestants, their lack of the opportunity or need to dress up on Sundays for Mass. Their religious observances certainly seemed more austere.

    I can see how feminism and the loud colorful display of our feminist forebears could well have replaced something of the absence of the Virgin Mary. As I understood the protestants – and I use the word guardedly – were less interested in her than the Catholics. As a child she meant a lot to me.

    Thanks, Susan.

  25. I trust you're right, Joanne. As working women from the sixties, seventies and even eighties, we set an example for our daughters and other women of the present and future.

    Thanks, Joanne.

  26. I relish the idea that our lives are rooted in our pasts, Aguja, however much we might to tug at those roots.

    And Good Friday reflections and even enforced quietude, whatever our beliefs, tend to be worthwhile.

    Thanks, Aguja.

  27. Spring for you, Jacoba, and Autumn for me. You enter a new phase of life, renewal ad re-growth, mine is a slowing down time. in any case the seasons roll on, as does my mother's hold on me.

    Thanks, Jacoba. It's lovely to see you here.

  28. Our ties to the past are strong indeed, Pat, and not all bad. I know how easy it is to slip into habits.

    How would it be though if everything we did was new and untried? We'd be exhausted.

    There's a place for everything and many of the old habits we learned are constructive. They just need to be reflected upon from time to time, and resumed if deemed worthwhile or thrown out if no longer useful.

    Thanks, Pat.

  29. Your three daughters must have taught you a great deal, Anthony, along with your Catholic and atheist parents.

    What a rich life you've led and still lead. It shows in your art.

    Thanks, Anthony.

  30. I'm inclined to agree, Kirk: 'One doesn't want the Church making things up as it goes along.' That's been one of my pet grievances vis a vis the Catholic church, and yet, on the other hand, it could be seen to be a sign of progress: a church that can change its mind, like a person who is able to change their mind is a flexible and non-rigid person. Such is necessary for survival.

    My husband and i are both lapsed Catholics. We brought our children up to be curious but not dogmatic. By chance they went to an anglican school, so they have a taste of religion but as far as I know they do not believe in any rigid sense.

    I suspect their understanding of the world might well be like yours, a curiosity about the meaning of the different religions without any adherence. To me that's not a bad thing.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  31. It's true, Andrew, many of the books like those to which I allude here are not read much today, but I suspect there are many young women and men – who both read and write in this area in an ongoing way.

    Thanks, Andrew.

  32. Well thanks for visiting, I wasn't blogged yesterday, and for your thoughts. It's amazing to me how people can absorb the ambience of different religions in helpful ways without having to be completely taken over. Thanks.

  33. I'm with you, Art, on how problematic 'beliefs' can be. It's also clear to me from my reading of your blog that you have come from a profoundly eclectic background but also one grounded in a deep and abiding analysis of literature, music and history. I admire the results in you and your work.

    In all of this religion becomes part of the exploration perhaps, but not a limiting force, as in one to become a set of rules about how to live.

    Thanks, Art.

    Thanks, Art.

  34. My mother was a believer as well, she died long ago and long before I became an Atheist. I wonder how we would have interacted had things been differently?

    As I was reading your blog it occurred to me that during the time of Jesus (and I don't believe he really existed) that people of that time and geography had no concept that North America, Australia and other significant parts of the world even existed! That so many people can ascribe such significance today to a set of beliefs concocted during a time of such ignorance is unfathomable to me.

  35. I think you pinpointed nicely what my problem with most religious beliefs is, Elisabeth (even as I am a religious person too.) It's the centrality of it, the self-centered aspect of it. The story of Job is a great example – God killed all of his family to make a point to Job, and Job became obedient. But what about all the other wives and children that are dead? Apparently they weren't the important ones in the story so we don't need to care. But I DO care. I don't like how self-focused religious people become that believe God is testing them or blessing them when other people die as a result. To be happy that nothing bad happened to you when bad things have happened to others… that makes you a sociopath.

    My future father in law is one such man, bless his heart. He was trying to sell his business and the man who was trying to buy it ended up having a heart attack. He assumed, like any self-centered religious man, that it was a sign from God not to sell his business. But the implications that he believes that God would strike someone dead for him are… unnerving.

    PS Dialectic is one of my new favorite words. I blogged about it a few weeks ago and how much I love the concept behind it. 🙂

  36. Robert-the-S is quite a giggle. No one was smart until Australia got found?
    Robert the ancient Greeks whose expertise is the basis of modern scholarship and invention had no idea of Manhattan. They also lived way before Jesus did. Or maybe, as with Jesus, you don't believe they ever existed?

    "To be happy that nothing bad happened to you when bad things have happened to others… that makes you a sociopath."

    No ma'am. It makes you human.

  37. I know what you mean, Robert, at least I think I do. The way we think now, the way folks thought then, they must be worlds and times apart and yet it is so easy to assume that things and thoughts in the past were so like today and yet clearly they were not.

    Thanks, Robert.

  38. Tracy, you write so eloquently about the issue at the heart of our struggles, as you say the self centeredness of it.

    In some ways it reminds me of the way little people think, the omnipotence of it all.

    The writer, Siri Husvedt, in her book of essays, A Plea for Eros, writes about how she was troubled as a child by a teacher’s comment. They were reading the story of Abraham’s readiness to kill his son, Isaac for the love of God. Siri asked the teacher ‘Should we love God more than our parents?’ ‘Yes,’ said the teacher and sensitive child that Hustvedt was, she turned it all around and became tormented by the thought that a parent might love God more than his child. She then had tortured imaginings of her father, like Abraham, sword in hand ready to exact his vengeance.

    Was Hustvedt picking up on the idea of parental envy; that a parent might seek to destroy his child out of some envious wish? How then does the child respond, at the time, and later in life when the experience might be remembered, in that half-formed way of memory?

    Religions can feed into such anxieties big time, I reckon.

    Thanks, Tracy.

  39. I can't say I understand your comment, Robert, yet I'm not sure I agree, at least with bits of it. Even so, and as provocative as it seems, I thank you.

  40. My comment is provocative?

    Well what if I'd said "I don't believe he [Jesus] really existed."

    What do you call that?

    What if I'd said that people of Jesus' time were ignorant in their beliefs because "people of that time and geography had no concept that North America, Australia and other significant parts of the world even existed!"

    Good heavens, it's just an absurd thing to say.

  41. I meant do you read all these comments, not just mine -go back, read what's been said; my comment is easily understood as a reply to Robert the Sceptic, and Phoenix.
    No one else ever has trouble understanding my comments, only you. How odd.
    Calm down; your own writing is desperate. (I'd say hysterical but don't want to frighten your neighbours.)

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