Women: What do we do with them?

shameless-idealistI got into an interesting exchange yesterday about the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

I disliked the book. I seethed and rolled my eyes while reading it. (Check out my scathing review of it here: Wild.)

Amongst the long list of things that irritated me about it was its marketing. The publishers, and Oprah, framed it as a feminist rally cry: girl takes on the wild and overcomes adversity. In my opinion, her story was the opposite of that. Strayed did not prepare properly for the trip. She fumbled her way along the trail and only managed to muddle her way through with help from men. Toward the end, her fellow trippers dubbed her the “Queen of the PCT” because people granted her special privileges because she was a woman. Sheesh.

I think Cheryl Strayed says to the world that women can’t get by without the help of men or without special treatment to compensate for our physical and emotional weaknesses. Isn’t that the kind of drivel the feminist movement has spent decades trying to overcome?

Strangely, this book that so infuriated me as a woman elicited very different responses from other women. One person said that, yes, Strayed was unprepared, but that made her feel like she could tackle big challenges even though she didn’t feel ready. Another said that she admired Strayed’s frank telling of events, and it helped her get to the heart of her own story. (Strayed was frank, I’ll give her that.)

So, I think the book sets the women’s movement back about two decades and other women feel empowered by it.

What. Is. Up. With. That?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to women these days. What are we supposed to do? No matter what we say or do, it seems to be the wrong thing. If a woman is lauded as being a stay-at-home mom, working mothers perceive it as a slight against their valid choice to pursue a career. But if we celebrate working moms, those who make the valid choice to stay at home feel somehow “less than” their female counterparts.

This past weekend at a social event my name tag read: Mrs. Don Smith. This did not sit well with me. I took my husband’s last name when I married, not his first. I bristled when I saw it, and I scribbled out his name and wrote in mine. I realized when I did it that such a name tag would not bother some of my senior female friends. I also realized that many of my female friends do not understand my decision to adopt my husband’s last name. They see it as a kind of capitulation.

If we were to draw a continuum of female opinions on how we choose to spend our days and what we choose to call ourselves, it would show plenty of activity at the extremes and a blurry mix of ideas in the middle.

I can only imagine how confused men must be about the whole thing.

So, what do we do? I don’t have the right answer. Listen and learn, I guess. Work to understand. Accept that other people are at different points in the journey from where we are at.

And, if you’re considering walking the Pacific Coast Trail, let me tell you, it’s hard. It’s an uncomfortable, smelly, dangerous, potentially life-threatening, foot-blistering experience. Don’t be surprised by this.

4 thoughts on “Women: What do we do with them?

  1. Chris

    I don’t think any message should be one-sided Arlene. I think women DO need men, but no more than men need women.

  2. Nora

    Hi Arlene, you know no one ever posted a blog for me before! Thanks! I really do appreciate the thought you give to your comments and opinions. I wish you lived next door, I would have you over for tea and conversation. You point out that Oprah and the book’s publisher framed her book as a ‘feminist rally cry’ – do you think that Strayed saw herself that way?
    Today is International Day of the Girl and Gloria Steinem responds to Miley – no doubt when we try to figure out what feminism is in 2013 there is “plenty of activity at the extremes and a blurry mix of ideas in the middle” and no simple answers.

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Yes, I would love to share a cup of tea!
      It’s been a while since I read the book, but, no, I don’t think Strayed saw herself that way at the outset – she was too much of a mess. Maybe not the best time to undertake a life-threatening expedition. A lesson there for everyone.


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