MERLE SHAIN November 1 1971


MERLE SHAIN November 1 1971



Oscar Wilde said that all women become their mothers and that is their tragedy. That can be taken as either a statement about women or Oscar Wilde. No matter. Oscar is dead and buried and a whole new generation of women have grown up yelling Power To The People. The People in this case is them, the new liberated ladies. And whether Mom approves is neither here nor there. So, as Women’s Lib takes its place in history, it is possible that a small but significant question will go on unasked. The question is: What kind of a mom would bring up a little girl like Betty Friedan or Maryon Kantaroff? The answer is, this kind:

Mrs. Erika Maeots, 53, is moving around her Ozzie-and-Harriet kitchen inside a small but bright bungalow not far from downtown Calgary. On the formica and chrome kitchen table is a luncheon of ham slices and cottage cheese with dill, appetizingly spread across the everyday china. The Estonian woman is about to take warm buns from the oven. Her daughter is Krista Maeots, journalist, founding member of the New Feminists (Toronto branch of Women’s Lib) and a lady lively enough to run for the presidency of the Ontario NDP while heavy with child. Her husband, a prominent member of the NDP, has often been photographed washing the dishes. Krista’s mom, however, would never consider asking her husband to wash the dishes. Remember what Kipling said: “Daughter am 1 in my mother’s house; but mistress in my own.”

“I was brought up in an old-fashioned way. I just love to serve my husband. I like him to protect me and at the same time I like to look after him like my generation was supposed to. My husband is a strong character man. He would not give me a hand with the babies. Now Jim helps Krista with the baby. When my husband sees this he says, ‘Don’t you get any ideas.’

“But Krista always had a terrible strong mind of her own. If I say, ‘White is white,’ she’d say, ‘Yes, Mother, but I think it is black.’ Krista is like her father that way. There is no changing their minds. In Women’s Lib some girls are just yelling but don’t know what they’re yelling about. But Krista feels so deeply about how others feel. She has so much feeling for kids, animals, all peoples smaller than her. When she was child, I would yell at her and she would get hurt in her eyes. I used to think deep down in my heart Krista would become social worker. Now I don’t worry. She likes so much the politics. But she is not the type to push Women’s Lib on her mother.

“When I was young I wanted to be an artist. I had all the papers to enter art school. Then my mother changed her mind. She decided it was not proper for girl. She decided I should take home economics I think you call it here. Preparing for good marriage I call it. There was a time when my husband and I both worked but still housework was for me. I hate housework.

“Things are changing. Our generation had big walls. Didn’t believe in abortion and everything. Now you hear the young people. They are so outspoken. Sex is so beautiful and not supposed to be advertised all over the streets. Naturally I don’t approve. How you going to stop it? I think young people use words as a bogey man for their parents. They say word and parents turn purple. Once I asked Krista, ‘When are you going to get married and make me grandmother?’ and Krista says, ‘You know, Mother, you don’t hâve to get married to do that.’ But doesn’t matter how times change though. I still think the man should be a little domineering. Man have to be more domineering if you want to have a happy marriage.”

Don’t mess with Heather Prittie. She is tall, blond, very feminine and merely 20. But don’t mess with her. Recently in Toronto a strange man followed her four blocks in his car. Irritated, she kicked the car’s headlight in, broke the aerial off and smashed him in the nose. She is studying wrestling with a boy at her commune. Her main radical function is to organize lib cells among girls in high schools and factories. Heather’s mom Grace Prittie, 53, lives in Burnaby, BC, and has recently separated from her husband (a former Member of Parliament) after a 30-year marriage. She is now sitting on her living-room couch in a weekend cottage on Bowen Island.

“Heather was more strong willed than either of her brothers. When I was nursing her, her arms and legs kept going all the time. Thrashing about as if she wanted to be independent. She would never accept a bottle. She just threw it away. She wouldn’t suck on it. She wouldn’t stay in a playpen either, and as soon as we built a fence around the yard she was out and running down the street, in her bare feet. She could tie her shoes by the time she was two. When she finished high school she left home, to go east. She wasn’t yet 18. Nothing she does surprises me.

“I grew up during the Depression and my parents were strong minded. We never communicated, and I never questioned their decisions. They never asked me what I wanted to do. When I finished school I grabbed the first job I could get. When I was first married my husband was teaching and running for and losing elections and our house was always busy. When he went back to university I did all kinds of horrid jobs I detested. Perhaps I should have said, ‘Pm not working. I’m going to university to get a career too,’ but I didn’t. I built my world around my husband because I felt he had an important contribution to make to society. I believed in what he was doing. Maybe that’s why I feel resentful now that I have nothing to believe in.

“I wonder if young girls today would do what I did just because they believe in a man. I can’t see Heather doing it. She says she doesn’t know if she will ever marry. She lived with a young man for a while and now she is living in a commune. I guess in a few years marriage will be a thing strictly between the two people.

“I think a young girl in today’s world should protect herself by getting training in some field. I was a nursery-school teacher for a while, but I was so busy working on my husband’s career I never thought of getting a certificate. I can’t just walk in anywhere now and get a job, and I wish I could. I wish I could say to my husband, ‘The hell with you, I don’t want alimony,’ and go out and support myself, but I can’t.

“Heather is a lot like her father. I am extremely proud of her. She is a person. Strong and independent. I wish I’d been more like Heather was with me with my own parents. I am really angry with myself that I wasn’t. Why wasn’t I?”

Maryon Kantaroff, 38, is a Toronto sculptress and a radical speechrnaker for the New Feminists. She is quite beautiful and whenever she speaks she draws men the way pollen draws bees. The newspaper reports never fail to point out this physical fact and she says it’s because “the media is male oriented.” Could be. But as she says herself, “Things are really starting to move.” Maryon Kantaroff views the revolution from the vantage point of a small Willowdale bungalow where she lives with Mom and Dad. Her parents left Bulgaria to live in Canada and still have thick accents. Dad has recently retired from his billiard-hall business. Mom enters the living room carrying tea and cookies and her finest china on a wooden tray. Two cats try to appear unconcerned as she places the tray on the coffee table. There is a doily under the teapot. Mrs. Kantaroff speaks in a broken English that has a way of happening upon lucidity.

“Since Maryon was born she was different. She was so quiet. No crying and she didn’t wet the bed. She was trained from three months. Sometimes my son would say to Maryon, ‘Bring me milk.’ Maryon would hate this and say, ‘Get up and get your own milk.’ But I would say, ‘Now Maryon, bring him little milk.’ I don’t know why. Because he is the oldest? Because he is a boy? I was making differences.

I never let either my son or my husband help in the house. My son now helps his wife with the housework and sometimes I am getting mad. But he enjoys it.

“The village I was born in was so poor everything was impossible for me. For my mother, I’m bringing wood or water, always something. There was seven children. We had to help my mother feed us because she was a widow. I always worked. Education was out of question. My mother was thinking I don’t need education because I am going to marry someday and the man will support me. The man does not want the woman to be smart. My husband can’t stand it if I tell him something he doesn’t know. He has to know everything. If he hears from a man he will believe it. Forty-one years I am living with the same man and he is always trying to push me down. But he has a good heart, he puts me down because he is living 50 years behind the times.

“At first I was wanting Maryon to get married, especially to a man of her own nationality. Now I don’t think so necessarily. Only if she finds a man exactly her way of living. Marriage life is wonderful if it is 50:50. If women wants to .go working too, why should she stay home, wash, clean and get nervous? Men don’t want women to get power. When I work my husband hated it. He felt he is not King of the House. I said if house nice, cooking okay, then you can’t stop me.

“Still lot of women are keeping themselves down. They don’t want to give up their easy life. I often say to Maryon, ‘You know, Maryon, you gonna see more damage done to Women’s Lib from the women not from the men.’ We damage ourselves.”

It is a hot day at Leisure Lodge, a retirement community in Laguna Hills, California, and Mrs. Miriam Oberndorf, age 73, is taking a light lunch of eggs Florentine and iced tea on the porch of her stucco cottage. After lunch she may go door-to-door selling her “bio-degradable household products for a clean environment’’ or ride her exercycle for a while. Then again, she may not. She has been recently widowed for the second time and has a 50-year-old daughter. Under her perfectly groomed white hair is an attractive expressive face. Her daughter is Betty Friedan, who wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and has since become the mother superior of the Women’s Liberation movement. Mrs. Oberndorf keeps a careful eye on her daughter’s career and, like most moms, has a few ideas about it.

“Betty gets her brains from her father. We could tell she had an outstandingly brilliant mind from the start. She never spoke baby talk. She always spoke in grammatically perfect sentences. When she was five we took her to a psychologist and he asked if we were afraid she would have a problem with boys because she was so smart. He said we couldn’t change things.

“When Betty was at Berkeley she had a little love interest but it didn’t work out. After she came home to Peoria she acted like it was the end of the world and wanted to be psychoanalyzed. But her father put his foot down and wouldn’t allow it. Then she met Carl (Friedan) and he was having all sorts of problems and Betty had problems and I have a feeling that they thought if they got married they could help each other. But, you know, she wrote that book and her income was in six figures, she was very much sought after and, well, Carl couldn’t cope with it. When I think of what Betty put up with to save that marriage. But it didn’t do any good. I knew the book would be the ruination of their marriage.

“I approve of Women’s Lib but I most heartily disapprove of some of the methods Betty used. Like barging into a cocktail bar which is just for men and demanding to be served. And sometimes I see Betty on TV and I think she puts her cause down. Once I saw her with Senator Percy and she got so excited she didn’t let him get a word in edgewise. Of course her brain works fast, like even her handwriting is indecipherable. I think bra burning is ridiculous. Why, it should be beneath the dignity of any woman. I don’t think you have to promote a cause. But I approve of day care. When I was raising Betty I had a nurse. My mother had a very good life, she always had a maid in the house.

“I don’t think any man or woman can be fulfilled without companionship based on true affection. The older you get the more you realize how true that is. If Betty had a husband like her father she would be happier. And I guess I would be more proud of her accomplishments if I thought they had brought her happiness. I didn’t come into my own until I married Harry Goldstein. He molded me.”