Friday, June 26, 2009

Greatest Generation: Women

It has often bugged me that modern feminists so often apply to the women in earlier eras a gauge of success based on standards artificial to the women of the past. Sometimes this isn’t done consciously, but it is a way of judging the past by comparing it to the present, which isn’t fair, or possible. If you use a yardstick that’s fit for women like Senator Dianne Feinstein or Martha Stewart, it simply won’t work for the women who lived the majority of their lives well before the modern feminist movement opened opportunities and (indeed) expectations.

And likewise, even though the term “Greatest Generation” does certainly refer to everyone, men and women, and Tom Brokaw didn’t mean to give more praise to the males, it seems that most of the attention given to that generation goes to the men. The war veterans.

As of this writing, the Wikipedia entry for “Greatest Generation” lists eleven “Famous members” of this generation, and every one of them, from DiMaggio to Graham to Carter to Capote to Kennedy, is a man. (Except for one: Harper Lee.)

And of course . . . if we’re defining that generation in large part by the fact that “they” participated in World War II, then men do come to mind, since the military was almost entirely a man’s occupation then.

And I know that people are pointing out, with great sadness, that we are losing this remarkable generation of Americans as they die of old age, but it seems to me that most of the attention is going to the loss of the veterans—the men—and not their wives.

As if the wives weren’t veterans, as well, in their own way.

Maybe they didn’t know the combat, but they were severely traumatized, too.

I guess my feelings for this generation’s women grow out of my admiration for my two grandmothers, who had to figure out how to struggle through the Great Depression and were grown adults—parents—during World War II and Korea . . . and Vietnam. They had brothers and cousins who fought in World War I, and sons and nephews who fought in the other three.

But I think especially about the effect the Depression and World War II had on them, particularly as they were parents of young children at that time. Making ends meet. Each day, enacting home economies that would make us cry and whine today, even with our own “economic downturn.”

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