“Magazines and newspapers warned that women were endangering their childbearing capabilities with so much activity, making themselves unattractive by developing their muscles, and sacrificing their femininity to the playing field.” From We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters by Cokie Roberts
This one made me laugh. I honestly don’t think anyone believes that is true if they unpack it, but it is a pervasive idea. Where does it come from?
When I was working at Knott’s Berry Farm as a stagehand in the 90’s, I ran into this myself. We were loading in a small show and there was no vehicle access to the stage area once the park was open, so we had to hand cart the equipment and road cases carefully through the amusement park crowd to the stage area.
Once we got there, we lifted the cases onto the stage. As I went to one side of a case, my partner readied at the opposite end, we got down, lifted with our legs, and pushed the case onto the stage to be unloaded. An older man on our crew, a nice guy, one I’d consider a friend, pulled me aside and said he worried about me lifting heavy equipment. “It’s not good for you. You might hurt yourself and you probably want to have children someday.” I laughed at the absurdity of the idea and went to unload the next cart. He seemed genuinely hurt that I wouldn’t take him seriously.
Think about history, long term, way back. If it were not good for women to be strong and athletic because they would be unattractive and/or unable to bear children, how did have humanity survive to evolve before technology made it easier for people to live? In the ancient past, the strong and healthy survived the trials of life, including childbirth.
As society evolved and technology increased, humans began to see idleness as beautiful, and not only in women. Those with pale skin from staying out of the fields and stream, those that had soft hands from a lack of work, those that had slim, delicate frames and beautiful clothing showed how rich they were. They were the ones in charge of things, the overseers, and the masters of the world. And guess what? Those people had trouble bearing children and begetting them.
It’s fascinating how things change. Today, thirty years after my interaction with a co-worker, women are encouraged to be strong and fit, athletic, and self-sufficient more and more often. Intelligent men (and women) know they want a partner in this world (whether they want to have children or not) and they look for one that equals them in energy, intelligence, or fortitude. These days it seems we are starting to re-learn that a good partner is an independent, strong and healthy one, physically and mentally.
The comment from my co-worker, and from the quote, came from a place of fear, not concern. Those in power over others, don’t want to lose it. If a person is strong enough to make it on their own, they don’t need a partner, they want one. And that puts us in a unique position that our ancestors (ancient and otherwise) never had.
To read more, go back to my original post on this book, “We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters: New Read.”