Sunday, October 02, 2005

"Mona Lisa Smile"

Last night, my husband and I watched "Mona Lisa Smile." We had gone to see it at the movie theaters when it had come out last year, but it was such a pleasure to see it again. It is one of my favorite movies. Julia Roberts plays an art professor who challenges the young women of Wellesley back in 1953. Having been an art major in college, I have fond memories of days in darkened theaters watching slides, learning about different art periods and ways of looking at the world. I also love college campuses. I worked at one for five years and they are one of the places where I feel most at home. It is easy to see why I would enjoy this movie.

The questions it raises in terms of feminism are profound, however, and the answers are no easier now than they were in the 1950s. The young women attending Wellesley (at least as depicted in this film) wanted nothing more than to marry their Harvard beaus and become housewives. Julia Roberts' character encourages them to see themselves as more than that. She wants them to make use of their education and to think for themselves. For the students, however, it seems to be an either/or proposition. One either got married and assumed the role of full-time homemaker or pursued a career and postponed marriage or avoided it all together.

Of course, one would never suggest today that one need to make such a choice. Thanks to our foremothers who broke new ground, we have more choices than ever. I am thankful for the right to choose how to live my life, but that doesn't mean that the choices have become easier. It some ways, the pendulum has swung completely to the other side. While in the 1950s, wives were expected to stay home and raise the children, now people who do this are looked down on. I went to a women's college in the 1990s. The idea that any college educated woman would choose to stay home with her children was considered absurd. And yet, many college educated women of my generation (myself included) have made that choice.

To a large extent, we have rejected the idea of a "supermom" that can do it all. There are only so many hours in the day. You can't dedicate yourself 100% to work and 100% to your family. No matter what route you choose, something has to suffer. So, we make the best decision we can based on our own particular families and life circumstances, and then we try to make our peace with it. I doubt that the decisions will ever become easier, and that our daughters and granddaughters will struggle just as we have to find solutions for their own lives.

There is a saying that a man never had to ask how to balance work and family. That may be true, but we are not men. We are women and our roles and responsibilities to our families have always been different (and dare I say, special). I think that the best we can do is to try to figure out what God wants for our lives. God has blessed us with our talents, our education, and our children. He has a plan for each one of us, and if we follow that plan, then we will not go wrong.

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