by Nico Morgan
The American Dream is supposed to be defined as the “ability to work and become prosperous the same as everyone else,” — which is great, and I agree. No gender, no race, no pre-qualifications.
Over the years though, it seems to have turned into a trope, the new American Dream becoming: “A good housewife, two kids— a boy and a girl, a white picket fence, golden retriever, and a seat in church on Sunday.”
The difference here being is painfully obvious to the attentive reader. Suddenly, the American Dream isn’t directed toward anyone in the US working hard and being successful; instead, it begins to focus on what it means for a man to be successful. It discusses the things a man would like, in order to feel successful, and prosperous, and at the peak of any possible level of happiness.
A pretty wife at home raising their children, cooking and cleaning and looking presentable when he gets home from a long day’s work. Maybe she takes the kids to school in the morning, and Timmy to Little League practice in the afternoon, but she certainly doesn’t leave the house for reasons except those that revolve around the family — and certainly there would be no bra-burning allowed in the backyard.
Now, while none of this even comes close to discussing the financial issues with the so-called American Dream today amongst all millennials, I digress. To many it may seem like this mindset is one of ancient history, that of the wife staying home with the kids and the man leaving for work in the morning. But the truth is, it still flourishes today in a number of conservatives states, cities, and neighborhoods — though many may not recognize it as such, because it’s evolved with the times.
A little herstory you might already know: Even after the success of the Suffrage Movement, women were once again shoehorned into the expectation of being of good, nurturing, submissive housewives, even after fighting and sacrificing so much for even a taste at gender equality.
Apparently everyone threatened by women and involved in keeping them in this place did whatever they could to ensure they stayed there too. Whether by making it difficult for a woman to get a driver’s license based on the idea that women were “high-risk drivers”, or by marketing all car-based advertisements in general on a woman’s need for retail therapy and grocery shopping. This need rarely extended beyond clothes to please the eyes of her husband and groceries for the family, by the way.
On top of the way women were (and continue to be) treated in the world of consumerism, is the alarming rate of how often women are brushed off for their medical claims, particularly when it comes to pain. Of all the things men feel the need to control, I just don’t really understand why women and their bodies is so high on their list of to-dos.
Okay, I guess I understand it, the male ego and all. That doesn’t mean I like it.
Not only are women underrepresented when it comes to portraying things like heart attacks in the media, but new “medical discoveries” continue coming to light like it’s some big surprise, where researchers say, “oh hey, guess what everybody? Turns out women suffer from things like hernias just as much as men, but it never really occurred to us until now. Our bad. Sorry, ladies. Don’t worry, though, hernia treatment can only result in nerve damage and organ removal, so it’s fine — you don’t need those things to be a mom anyway, right?”
Has much changed since then? I can’t speak for everyone, but in my own life and in from my own experiences, it’s difficult for me to confidently say so. In the conservative culture where I grew up, it was about the same: women stay home with the kids, the man goes to work. Women follow the men where they need to go. Women go to college, but really only in the hopes of getting married.
Of course, being a stay-at-home mom is not a laughable career, and many, many women and men alike are both completely invested and passionate about having a family and staying home to raise and nurture them. To those people, I say hell yeah. I mean, while your adorable summer family photos consist of your happy and beaming family, mine might consist of me and my cat — but either way, keep up the good work, and don’t let anyone try and convince you that what you’re doing isn’t both important and hard.
Unfortunately, that career path doesn’t fit everyone else, though, particularly women who seem to have it beat into their heads from an early age that if they pursue a career in anything other than child rearing, they’re doing it wrong — “it” being adult womanhood. Those women are mistaken, they took a wrong step somewhere, and just need to be informed about the right way things are supposed to work.
The “right way” is a load of crap, though. We all know it, and every woman who has ever chased her dreams to become something bigger without the weight of societal expectations holding her back especially knows it.
The second I graduated from university without a husband, people started whispering. Asking what was wrong with me. Asking if I would ever find a good man to provide for me. Or, worse, patting me on the back and reassuring me, “the right guy is out there somewhere, just keep looking,” to which I would awkwardly smile and hide the texts from my girlfriend.
To be considered a wild woman in this sense is, in a lot of ways, the most liberating feeling in the entire world. No, I will not cling to the arm of a man and promise to be on my best behavior so that he might be successful in his career, in his family, amongst his friends. No, instead, I will graduate from university. I will finance my own home and fix it up whatever way I want for myself, because I will be able to work hard on my own, without feeling the need for male validation. I will seek out a career of my choice, never thinking about how I’ll probably just have to quit when I get married and start having babies, anyway.
Despite growing up being told otherwise, I don’t actually need (or want) approval from men in my life in order to achieve what I set out to do — let alone, to know if those things I want are even the “right” things in the first place. It explains why I had such a hard time dating men in my younger years.
The second I told them, “oh, I’m not a big fan of kids,” or “oh, I kind of want to be a [insert career path here],” or “oh, yeah, I already know how to change a tire/fix my water heater/plaster the holes in my wall, but you can come over and hang out while I do all of those things on my own, if you want,” suddenly I wasn’t desirable as a good, submissive housewife, and they’d move on without another word.
That was okay. For a long time, I did think something was wrong with me, though, and I was afraid because I thought I would never fulfill the role of a “good woman”, since I couldn’t seem to nab an equally “good” man. I wondered what it was that made me less-than-wifey material, until it finally occurred to me that I hated being scolded when I held a door open for my date, instead of vice versa. It occurred to me when I realized I hated being forced to stand out in the cold, waiting to get into the car, because I got there before he did and he insisted on opening the door for me or else his fragile ego would be bruised. Honestly, that’s not my problem. My toes are cold, please, just let me get in the car.
The day it all finally hit me like a ton of bricks, I donned my “wild woman” nametag and never looked back. Suffice to say, I’ve never had to rethink holding the door for someone ever again. I’ve never worried about staying home and solely being in charge of cooking dinner, or cleaning the bathroom. Or even having to get out of bed and look nice for when my husband gets home, simply because he’s getting home, and deserves it, or something. Personally, I think that might be the wildest thing about me.
I might still get a dog. I might still install that infamous white picket fence, and hell, I might even have kids someday, too. But throughout it all, I can promise myself one thing:
My American Dream belongs to me, and I refuse to contribute blindly to someone else’s.