I finally recognized I have “opposing” definitions of a woman. Two iconic images living in my head but not allowed to coexist. The icon of successful working woman embodies respect and power and legitimization. It took us a long time to find our way into the world of (almost) equal employment. And the icon of quintessential Mom who, as little girls, we pretend to be with the help of our dollies. The Mom is the fulfillment of our biological destiny and the unspoken expectation that looms over us and our hormones.
I aspired to these ideals all my life. And have felt I failed at being both simultaneously. I disallowed the paradox.
The definition of paradox is confusing. Either, 1: a tenant contrary to received opinion or, 2: a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true. When we think of something absolutely and yet know the opposite truth may be off to the left staring us down. And women have some hum-doozies of paradoxes defining our existence.
As a writer and people watcher, I collect the images of people who then live in my head for later stories. And these two true life characters have lived at opposite ends of my brain, seemingly unable to coexist because I chose to separate them. The disbelief of the paradoxical truth of women is perpetuated even in those of us smart enough to know better.
I saw The Strawberry Blonde head down the hallway and into the bathroom. I may have needed to pee too or I may have stalked her as I followed her through the bathroom door six steps behind. She had an expensive skirt and suit jacket set. It might have been cream. But the color of her long thick hair was like a magic spell to me.
It was strawberry blonde and thick and glossy. Coppery yet not red. It shimmered and flowed down off her head under the bathroom lights. I watched her as she washed her hands and examined her perfection in the mirror.
She was somebody big. A star or a producer. When she left, I didn’t want to leave on her heels so I held back. I lost sight of her in the halls of the Television station only to catch a glimpse as her long legs were folding themselves into a white limo on the curb. And I went back to work at my lowly television internship job.
Twenty years later, I was married with a son and we were getting a hair cut at our hair salon. I inquired about Katie the Super Mom. She wasn’t my hairstylist but I’d watched her. She seemed the kind of person who’s unruffled by life. Everyone concurred. And that fascinated me.
They told me she’d left the salon to have a fourth baby. Fourth baby! Later, I saw her at a bowling birthday party with her newborn on her lap. She was unaffected in the eye of the chaotic storm. I was amazed and I was completely sure I’d never achieve that level of cool.
I wear my anxiety on my sleeve for everyone to read. For a long time, I assumed I could never have that Strawberry Blonde’s hair.Until I later found out that salons could work that kinda magic for you. And despite all the 80’s ads that told me I wanted her success, I may not have wanted the sacrifices that went along with the job with the white limo. And I would not necessarily be happy raising four kids either.
But this is a study in idealism and the extremes of the roles women play. I’ve built iconic figures and then compared myself to them. I had believed there’s no room for a woman to be both roles, a paradoxical prison that women face in our society. But it’s possible to be successful and be a Mom, it just may look different for different people. Katie and her co-worker are stylists and mothers and one is a nurse as well. Say what? You can have both successful careers and a family.
And the only difference between me and them lies in the fact that I don’t think I can. Because I, and a bunch of other women too, bought into the belief that there is no allowable paradox for women.. I would like my money back please. I’m a better Mom now than I ever imagined I’d be and this little blog thing may turn up enough money one day to let me go to my hair stylist and say, make me a strawberry blonde.