Princeton's used book sale today. I had been looking forward for it for months. Matt and I have drastically slowed our book buying since minimizing our things, but I had one book I desperately wanted - the book, The Feminine Mystique. That's all I came for. I'm a bit of snob about classics. I only buy them if they are used and hard-cover. I like them marked up and used, not new and pristine, on the off chance that the previous owner had some insight that I'd be interested in.
The sale opened to the public at noon, so I carefully put Madeleine and Baby X for an early nap, so they'd be nice and happy for our errand. We came twenty minutes early so I could feed them before we walked in the room. It seemed to be going fine, until we actually got in the room. And we realized that the stroller didn't fit.
"Ma'me the children's books are in the back. There is a separate entrance for that."
"Oh no thanks, I'm looking for a book for me."
"Can you help me find it? I'm looking for The Feminine Mystique"
"I'll just give you a map."
She handed it to me and then I was faced with trying to get this double umbrella stroller through these narrow rows. Technically the stroller fit through the rows, but turning the corners was difficult. The whole mission was made even more difficult by stubborn people who wouldn't move an inch for me to get by. As I struggled, Baby X started to cry. I was in the middle of the maze of books. There wasn't much I could do about it. Anyway the section I was looking for was right next to the exit, so I figured I'd just go for it.
I could make it about a foot before someone's foot was in the way. I would have to say "Excuse me" several times before they'd usually acknowledge me. Somewhere in Autobiographies the rude looks turned into whispers. The two old ladies behind me started to "whisper", the way old ladies at church do when they don't like the teacher - they move their heads together but talk loud enough that everyone can hear. "She's so young. Why in the world did she bring that stroller in here?" "Didn't you see? There is two of them!" "How irresponsible. I'd never bring my babies to a place like this. Not that I had children at her age."
I was able to escape into Fiction, but my stroller got stuck on a table leg. I would have been able to clear it except for this man would not move over a few inches for me to get by. Another women came over and tried to get his attention, but he just ignored her too. As she helped me lift the stroller over the leg, he mumbled. "This is why they invented birth control." Can you believe he said that! Ugh. That jerk.
Finally I reached the Gender section. While I quickly scanned over the titles of the books, Madeleine starting to act up. The one person in that small area (the least crowded of the whole place), rolled his eyes, "F*ing children" before walking off and complained to the librarians. One of the librarians scampered over to me, helped me look for the book, said they must of sold out of the copies, "Too bad. We had a signed one here earlier but it was a bit more on the expensive side." Before guiding me to the children's section and leaving. I left on the verge of tears and let Madeleine play upstairs until I had calmed down.
So can we talk about this?
Do you read anything that rubbed you wrong?
Here's a few things that bothered me.
1) A community event was not arranged to accommodate families.
2) As a mother, clearly the only thing I'd be interested in reading is children's books. I never read for myself.
3) My age deemed me an irresponsible parent and probably person.
4) People felt comfortable to make comments about my life planning and birth control methods.
5) People rather complain and swear about me bringing kids than helping me find my book.
So why did this bother me so much?
Princeton is such an educated community. There were rare and expensive books there. The people shopping were not poor college students. No, most of them were the rich retirees that make up the rest of the Princeton community. These people are educated and they value education. But they didn't value mine. They rather glare and make comments about me than support a mother who values educating herself and her children. They feel superior and confident enough to not only make comments, but to quietly assert that they could make better decisions about my life than I can. They also feel comfortable enough to imply that I should be more careful about birth control. Classy right there.
What gave these people rights to comment about my birth control and sex life?
What gave them the right to be there but not me?
What makes them superior than me?
From my point of view nothing.
The thing that struck me the most was the irony of the situation. One of the main focuses of The Femine Mystique is about how housewives get depressed. Matt and I discussed this at length and decided that it wasn't necessarily being a housewife that causes the depression, but the lack of serious thinking and acknowledgement. I was there to get a book that made me think. I was there for a book about feminism. Yet, these highly educated people at the moment would have loved to have me home tending to "my" children instead of trying to get a book for myself.
Feminism to me fights for women's right for privacy about their birth control, sex life, and life choices such as being a stay-at-home-mom and having my children when I want.
Feminism to me fights for all people to be treated with respect - even children.
Feminism to me means that I have a right to education and books.
I've seen people post "why I don't need feminism."
Well I do, because I absolutely hated this afternoon.
I'd really like this blog post to be a starting place for a good discussion. So can we chat about this? Do you think I'm being too sensitive or I was right to be upset? What does feminism mean to you? Do you think it's still relevant? Do you think things like access to birth control should be something that people should be voting on? (You either have to deal with kids or birth control is how I see it. And with kids, comes maternity and family care...which I know people don't like.) Do you think there is such things as a "feminist housewife"? What things does a "feminist housewife" stand up for?
Please comment, even if you think this is all BS. Really.