August 20, 2010

Anne Frank

Just finished reading (re-reading?) Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank had to be the most intelligent 14-year old girl in the world. She was insanely smart for her age, well wise beyond her years, and so articulate and able to easily express the most basic feelings that people have struggled their whole lives to express. It's a huge shame on our species that she had to die at the hands of an evil, racist authority.

Anne was in hiding in a warehouse with her family and 4 others for over 2 years during World War II. During that time they did not leave the warehouse, did not breathe fresh air, came close to starvation, came close to discovery multiple times, and had restrictions on when they could run water, use the toilet and even get up and move around. Their lives depended on extreme secrecy and security measures. Annes only solace throughout this whole ordeal was her dependency on the privacy of her diary. She wrote about quarrels between the tenants, being chastised by her parents, her longing for her friends, her lack of anyone to confide in (except her diary, which she named "Kitty"), the goings on in the world, being terrorized by air raids, the pains their friends took to bring them food, their near starvation... all before age 14, young Anne experienced and documented a life none of us can imagine. And she took it all in stride: every so often when she became depressed, Anne would bring herself back out of it by remembering how lucky she was to be in hiding when her friends suffered unimaginable fates in the outside. Starving, alone and terrified for 2 years, Anne pulled her own chin up, even when the adults couldn't do so.

In her diary she wrote about her dreams for the future, after the war. She saw the life of her mother and knew that was not for her. She wanted
"to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to... to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!"
Oh, Anne. You have no idea.

Unsurprisingly enough, this part of her book resonated with me. I've looooong known that the housewife life is so not for me. Granted, I'm glad my mom did it, and I don't think less of women my age who want to do it, I just couldn't do it or even imagine doing it. Anne had considered having her diary published and wanted to become a journalist. She also laughed at herself, wondering who would ever read the dumb whinings of a teenage girl. In the mid 1940s, Anne started to struggle with the notion of doing things differently. It was expected that a good Jewish girl would marry and have children, but Anne wanted more. Things aren't so different now.

Sixty-plus years later, women are still expected to marry and have children. It's more acceptable to also have a career (or hobby or part-time job or volunteer) but the question of getting married and having children is ever present. Telling a curious asker that you have a husband and child(ren) doesn't require further discussion. Telling a curious asker that you have a cool job prompts questions of who you're dating and if you want to have his kids. Having a job is not an acceptable answer unless you also are at least engaged.

What is it about the older generations that want us to bear our own children and become a family so badly? Why is it not OK to skip that step in life? We are not animals in the sense that we bear young every year in order to ensure the survival of our species, and since it's such a HUGE deal to raise even one kid in this world why is it not acceptable to opt out?

Answer: They sacrificed happiness and freedom for the good of the younger generations and now it's our turn to do the same. People who marry young are, for the most part, viewed as more mature and responsible than those who marry late. We equate marriage with maturity and the later you do it the less responsible and more selfish you are. I suppose it could be said that marriage can force a couple to become more mature and responsible, and that having kids forces people to make decisions for the best of the child rather than what sounds fun, but is that really the path we want most people to take? Force someone, in the midst of learning to handle life, to become something completely different? This will only force people to suppress certain feelings until something happens (like divorce or the kids growing up) to make those feelings resurface. And now we have rampant 40- and 50-somethings back on the dating scene trying to just be happy. Maybe if they'd had the opportunity to do what made them happy in their 20s they'd have made better life decisions and wouldn't need to deal with the sudden resurfacing of emotions not dealt with in decades.

A New York Times article ponders the state of the twenty-somethings. Because we obviously have a problem if we're not graduating, finding a life-long job and partner, marrying and popping out kids ASAP. The article is very long winded and goes into the psychology of 20-somethings (including brain development and cultural expectations) but it also spends a few pages discussing if "emerging adulthood" should be the newest recognized developmental stage in life, which I'm not really interested in. Do we really need to recognize it as a stage? Can't we just settle with a continuous cycle of the older generation criticizing the younger generation for being different?

My mom has been unhappy with her job (and state of being, really) for the better part of a decade. She tried taking classes at community college but couldn't finish a whole semester. Her job offers stability, health insurance and a flexible schedule. She tells me she made sacrifices in order to obtain those things, for the kids, and suggests that maybe it's time I do the same. But why should I? I have no need to make those kinds of sacrifices. Sure, it'd be nice to have health insurance, but I'm young and in good health, so it's not something I'm willing to sacrifice happiness at work for. I'm 24 and living on my own, supporting myself fully, and am not looking forward to marriage or children. This is the time to deal with the issues my parent's generation ignored for the sake of starting a family, and dammit I'm gonna take my sweet ass time.

So, Anne, your thoughts are just as relevant and resonating in women, at least this woman, today as they were in the forties. I'm just glad the privacy of your diary allowed for the kind of frank opinion that is absent in most other books. And, of course, I'm excited to see you live on decades and decades after your death, untimely as it was.

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