Generation Bonding: “Two Sides of Life”

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I’m a Generation Xer. I say it loud and I say it proud. Yep, I’m from the generation that started the technology revolution and brought you big hair, hip hop, and MTV. We’re known to be independent, educated (sometimes too much), and family-oriented. 

And I won’t lie. Sometimes, I have a hard time bonding with Generation Z or, as I like to call their kids, Generation Z Squared. Each generation has its own set of values and behaviors and even trying to explain one to the other can be a challenge. A fellow Generation Xer posted on Facebook recently that she tried to explain the stick shift car to her children and they didn’t get it.

But different generations can teach each other new things. One of my ESL students told me recently her company always puts older and younger employees on teams so the older ones teach the younger ones the value of their expertise and experience and the younger ones teach the older ones a new perspective and new technology. 

Several of the stories in my post-World War II short story collection, Lessons From My Mother’s Life, are about the lessons the older generation has to teach the younger. The 1950s and early 1960s were vital for women’s place in America because the dissatisfaction and inertia many women felt at that time led to the second-wave feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. I talk more about how women felt in these post-war years in my blog post about the “Occupation: Housewife” Era

But there are stories in the collection that work the other way around too. It’s the younger generation that teaches the older one something new. One of these is the last story in the collection titled “Two Sides of Life”.

It was one of those writerly moments where an interesting anecdote my mother related to me became the germ of the story. When she was in her 50s (the age range I am now), my father took her to a nice restaurant for her birthday, as usual. They had a great time and when the check arrived, the server informed them the bill had already been paid. It turned out my father, who was working as a quality control consultant at the time, befriended one of his younger assistants who recommended the restaurant. The young man surprised my parents by paying the restaurant bill in advance.

I wrote the story as a contemporary work of fiction and posted it for a while as a freebie on my website. When I made the shift from contemporary to historical fiction, I took the story down, meaning to revise it. Toward the end of 2019, when I rewrote my first book, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories, to what became Lessons, I removed the title story (as it didn’t fit with the themes I had planned for Lessons) and went searching for another story to take its place. I realized the story I had written about my mother’s birthday dinner (then titled “A Birthday Gift”) would fit nicely with the new collection.

I retitled the story “Two Sides of Life” and kept the incident of the birthday dinner but moved it (reworked in mood, theme, and emotion to fit the collection) to the background. “Two Sides” became more about the dysfunctional relationship between the protagonist Leanne and her husband of twenty years, Calvin, and the lessons the young wife of Calvin’s assistant, Arlene has to teach her about life and women’s place in society. 

Leanne, like many suburban housewives of the mid-20th century, had been indoctrinated into the feminine mystique and, like many of these women, had become frustrated by what Friedan called “The Problem That Has No Name”. The story opens on the day of her forty-second birthday. Her husband Calvin (an intelligent but emotionally distant professor) “suggests” she head over to one of their neighbors (Paul, Calvin’s lab assistant) and offer to help with his six-year-old son’s birthday party. Leanne agrees, though reluctantly. The party proves to be a turning point in her life, as she bonds unexpectedly with Paul’s wife, Arlene. Arlene represents the familiar sort of young woman we imagine started the second-wave feminist movement: The “do it all” woman juggling a career and family, determined to make use of her full potential in the home and out of it. Leanne, like many older women of her generation, judges Arlene pretty harshly at first but comes to realize her judgment is misplaced:

“Arlene says women today can have a career and a family too, if they just make sacrifices and balance everything correctly,” he said. “It’s what she’s trying to do, and so are most of the girls who graduated with her at Mills College.” He looked at her again. “Do you think a woman who has a job can’t be a good wife and mother too?”

She felt the breeze around her turn into waves, returning the strange chill she had felt that morning. The noise of happy children dimmed, replaced by the loud caw of birds. She realized they were standing under a nest where baby birds chirped out their starvation. She saw the head of the mother, its grim beak set and its gorging eyes searching the ground. She recognized the basic instinct of a mother on her children.

“I think any woman could do anything, if she sets her mind to it,” she said softly. “And I can see Arlene has her mind set on it. I’ve no right to judge her, and I’m sorry I did.”

Later, Leanne sees how she and Arlene are trapped in the same cage of feminine expectations, though their lives are very different. Their unexpected bond leads to some unexpected twists to the original story my mother told me. 

You can read “Two Sides of Life” as well as the other four stories in the collection which speak to the idea of bonding generations of women when Lessons From My Mother’s Life is re-released on March 29 with a completely new cover!

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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The Wage Gap: Is This Still a Thing?

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Today is Labor Day in America, which means we’re celebrating the working woman and man. Women indeed have a lot to celebrate on this day. Working conditions for women have improved dramatically since the early 20th century, and job opportunities for women have expanded considerably. Many workplaces recognize situations related to women that made it difficult for them to work in the past and accommodate these (such as maternity leave and daycare). And sexual harassment in the workplace has largely been addressed.

But one thing we can’t celebrate is the wage gap. That is, women are still not being paid equally to men on average for the same or similar jobs. 

Photo Credit: Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda, Washington D.C. Kennedy Center, taken 21 August 2019: Edithian/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 2.0

One of my favorite scenes in the classic comedy 9 to 5 is the closing (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film). As the three office workers (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton) are going around with the head of the company, showing him all the positive changes they’ve made (like flex time and in-house daycare), the head tells their boss (Dabney Coleman) that the one change he doesn’t approve of is paying women in the company the same as the men. As the credits close and the women are toasting their success, they recognize the wage gap is still an issue. I love this scene because even though by 1980, the second-wave women’s movement had lost a lot of its earlier steam, partly because many women believed they had won the fight, it’s a reminder that the fight was (and is – see this blog post) on.

The wage gap has existed for centuries. In the Victorian era, when fewer women were in the workforce and few had careers, women were often paid half or less what men were paid. The reasons for this were, according to employers, practical. According to the separate spheres, men were the bread winners and expected to support their families so they needed more money (a point Coleman makes to Tomlin in 9 to 5 when he tries to justify his reasons for giving a promotion she’s been wanting to a less capable male colleague). Women were at that time not expected to work for long, since their true calling (per the separate spheres) was marriage and motherhood. Employers didn’t want to pay full wages to workers whom they viewed as temporary (even if they weren’t). In addition, women’s work was undervalued because they were seen as “the weaker sex”. The jobs they performed were limited to what employers thought they could do for the most part (read: boring, repetitive tasks, such as in the factories) and therefore, valued less than men’s.

There was one period in American history where women earned more or less the same as men: World War I. During the First World War, when men were scarce and workers were needed for the war effort, government officials agreed to pay women the same as men to entice them into the offices and factories, and many non-government employers followed suit. Sadly, this didn’t stick, not even during World War II when employers again needed women workers (women got paid about forty percent of what men earned during the Second World War).

Just like the ladies of 9 to 5, we’re still fighting the wage gap in the 21st century. Mid-20th century women were receiving a little more than half the wages of men on average, and that number remained pretty steady after the war. It’s only increased to about eight-three percent, according to a study done in 2020. So we’re getting closer but we’re not there yet.

I believe in the working woman, which is why there are a lot of them in my Adele Gossling Mysteries. There are a number of women entrepreneurs (including Adele herself), but there are also women working for employers (such as the young ladies rooming at Mrs. Taylor’s boarding house, whom readers meet in Book 2). The victim in my new release, The Case of the Dead Domestic is, as the title implies, a maid working for a wealthy family when she gets killed. You can check out this sixth book of the series here

As for the practices of Labor Day in the early 20th century, you can experience what that was like in Book 4 of the series, which takes place on the holiday in 1904!

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free book, plus news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history and mystery, and more freebies! You can sign up here

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A Survey of Women’s Issues: Revisited

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Women’s Equality Day is this month (on August 26). Women’s equality is central to so many of my books, including the Waxwood Series and the Adele Gossling Mysteries. A friend of mine recently posted a quote on her Facebook page from a well-known author who claimed that every book is a political act. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but for myself, while I don’t see each book of mine as a political act, I do incorporate in my books the things I’m most passionate about. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, subscribe to my newsletter, and/or read my books, you know I am passionate about women’s equality and women’s rights. 

Why? There are several reasons. I was born in 1970 just as the second-wave feminist movement was beginning to pick up steam. I came of age in the 1980s when third-wave feminism was picking up. 

But even more so, I sadly did not grow up in a household that valued women’s equality. My parents were born in the mid-20th century and my mom grew up with June Cleaver values (though she was not raised in America). Our house was very patriarchal. My father went to work and earned and took care of the money. My mom, though she had several careers in her lifetime, took care of my dad, my siblings, and me above all else, sometimes to the detriment of her own identity. Even the careers she had were of a more “traditional” vein (nurse, electrologist). I don’t begrudge this, though, as it was what led me to want more as a woman and to discover feminism in college.

In light of my recent blog post about disassociative feminism, there is perhaps no better time to ask the question: Do we still need feminism?

It seems some of the younger generation would answer a firm “no” to this question. A while back, photos began appearing in my Facebook feed of young women holding up signs reading “I don’t need feminism.” These young women claimed admitting we still need feminism creates a victim mentality and demonizes all men, encouraging man-hating among women. As someone from an older generation who writes about women’s oppression, this was deeply disturbing, to say the least!

Women have had a lot to fight for: in the 19th century and 20th and (dare I say it?) even the 21st. It’s not the fight that has changed but the nature of the issues.

In the 19th century, organized suffragism was born of a group of brave women whose names are branded in history like Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. During this time, suffragists focused first on getting society to recognize women were equals to men (with limitations dictated by the separate spheres, of course — no use rocking the boat too much). But later, their focus shifted to one solitary goal: to win women the right to vote. Why was this so important? Suffragists were smart enough to realize that without the right to vote, they would never be able to implement changes into public policy that would carry through to future generations. 

When progressive movements took center stage at the turn of the 20th century, suffragism continued with women such as Jane Addams, Alice Paul, and Ida B. Wells. Women achieved success when the 19th Amendment was ratified in the United States in 1920. The Progressive Era made many women more aware that equality wasn’t just about the right to vote. It was also about psychological freedom and throwing off the shackles of 19th-century femininity that limited what women could and could not do and be. In that light, the New Woman was born: active, athletic, and freer in body and spirit than her mother and grandmother.

After the fight for suffragism and breaking the stereotype of the Victorian “angel in the house”, the post-World War” II generation brought back a more modern version of the angel. Betty Friedan labeled her “the feminine mystique”. Magazines, advertisements, and doctors advocated for a woman’s place in the home, and her identity became tied to her relationships with others rather than her identity in and of itself. Friedan found these women in American suburbs living a life that fulfilled this destiny, but they were not happy because they suffered from The Problem That Has No Name. These women felt discontented and frustrated, as if something was missing from their lives but they couldn’t define what it was.

Friedan’s book inspired others to speak out about their frustration and disillusionment, eventually leading to second-wave feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s with activists such as Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Bell Hooks, among others. These women, whose slogan was “the personal is political” went further into the political sphere than their 19th and early 20th-century sisters. They zoomed in on social and personal oppressions, including issues such as domestic violence, rape, and reproductive rights. 

This meme is from a Tumblr site called “Confused Cats Against Feminism” and is meant as a tongue-in-cheek attack against the anti-feminist movement of the 21st century. You can read more about it here

Photo Credit: Meme from the Confused Cats Against Feminism, taken 27 July 2014 by Jym Dyer: Jym Dyer/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0

But the question still remains: Do we need feminism in the 21st century? My answer would be as firm as the “I don’t need feminism” movement: YES!

Why? Because we’re still fighting many of the issues 20th-century feminists were fighting. To give one example, 20th-century women fought for women’s reproductive rights, including a woman’s right to choose whether to have children or not. In 2022, the supreme court overturned the law (Roe vs. Wade) that legalized abortion. Whether you’re on the side for or against it, there is a deeper issue here of taking away women’s right to choose what they do with their bodies. That freedom is one women have been fighting for for years and will continue to fight as a basic human right.

If you want to read about women fighting for equality, go to my Adele Gossling Mysteries! Book 1, The Carnation Murder, is free on all bookstore sites. And Book 6 is coming out soon, so pick up a copy at a special preorder price here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Disassociative Feminism: Present and Past

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Recently, a very talented writer friend of mine wrote an article about disassociative feminism that really gave me food for thought. You can read the article here.

Disassociative feminism, according not just to my friend’s article but several others, is a phenomenon that has taken over the younger generation of women, especially in post-COVID times. Disassociation is a psychological term that refers to the emotional distancing many people experience as one way of coping with past trauma. It’s like your body and mind are numb so you can soldier on through life without being destroyed by the pain and turmoil of past traumatic experiences.

As I understand it, disassociative feminism is about numbing emotionally to the struggles women are still facing and succumbing to the spirit of the “ideal feminine”. It’s essentially about younger women rejecting the fight for women’s rights in favor of a more recognizable image of women’s roles as dictated by the separate spheres

There’s some truth in this. I recently posted some new covers my designer created for my post-WWII short story collection Lessons From My Mother’s Life, which I’m rebranding next year, and in the comments, someone mentioned there is now a movement among some women of the younger generation to embrace the homemaking ideals of the Occupation: Housewife era (which, I might add, second-wave feminists worked very hard to break down).

There’s no denying articles like my friend’s are very important to help us sound the alarm regarding the ennui many younger women have fallen into when it comes to feminism. But I also see the times we’re living in as a reflection of the past, which might shed a different light on what’s happening in the 21st century.

We need to keep in mind that this kind of exhaustion and numbness regarding feminism has occurred throughout history. Feminist gains have come in waves ever since the first suffragists in the mid-19th century (which is one reason why we refer to them as first-wave, second-wave, and third-wave feminism). Back then, women were fighting for a much more basic right: the right to vote. In America, women achieved this in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment. And then what happened?

Not surprisingly the younger generation in the 1920s were in a similar position of disassociativeness that women in the 21st century are today. I’ve been reading up on the 1920s flapper in preparation for a new series I’ll be working on next year, and I was surprised to learn the harshest critics against the flappers were these late 19th and early 20th century feminists who had just won women the vote. They didn’t consider flappers as practicing what they were preaching. In fact, with the flappers’ man-crazy attitudes and their sexually liberating behaviors, they saw them as digressing back to an earlier time before the suffragists’ fight for women to be accepted as equals.

The 1930s continued this wave of feminist ennui. There was the Great Depression in America to contend with where most people, women and men, were just trying to survive, and not many had the strength to take up a political cause. Then World War II hit and although women weren’t out marching in the streets, they gained some momentum back when many took up working outside the home and helping the war effort.

The post-World War II era brought, as mentioned above, the Occupation: Housewife era which Betty Friedan talks a lot about in her book The Feminine Mystique. Women were basically encouraged (if you want to call it that) by the media and medical establishment to retreat back to the home and fulfill their “destiny” as wives and mothers. I’ve mentioned in several blog posts (like this one which I wrote on my old blog in 2017) how the 1950s and early 1960s produced the idea that a woman could have either a family or a career but not both. Many women bought into this and shied away from making use of their higher education in favor of marriage and children, not considering they could balance both. So again, we had a step back into the past.

As many of us know, though, the wave went up in the late 1960s when the second-wave feminists took up the fight again in the wake of the disillusionment many women were feeling from the Occupation: Housewife era. The early 80s saw a lull with the feminist cause but the early 90s brought third-wave feminism which took into account a much broader spectrum of women’s rights by embracing global feminism.

Perhaps the best evidence that feminism isn’t lost in the 21st century. A group of young women posing with a banner proclaiming “Fourth Wave,” hinting that we might be seeing the fourth wave feminists starting to take up the fight for women’s rights.

Photo Credit: Young women posing with a banner on International Women’s Day in London in 2017. Taken by Gary Knight on 8 March 2017: Davey2010/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0 

Although many consider the fight for women’s rights in danger in the 21st century, I look at it differently. Consider that COVID-19 had a global impact on all of us, and we’re still feeling the post-traumatic effects of it. In the wake of this global pandemic, it’s perhaps no surprise we’re seeing this disassociative feminism rise up in many younger women. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up the fight. I see many younger women practicing what older feminists preached decades, even centuries ago. I was recently talking to a friend of mine whose daughter (of the younger generation) protested against the attitudes men showed toward women in her community. Her objections touched on the kind of protests against sexual objectification and harassment that second-wave feminists fought for sixty years ago. I’m not here to offer solutions, but I do think the point Jacqueline Delibas makes in her article about opening up the conversation about feminism and women’s rights and making sure we are including all communities (such as the transgendered community) is a step in the right direction.

If this blog post interests you, you might want to not only check out Jacqueline’s article linked above but also my post-WWII short story collection Lessons From My Mother’s Life which you can find here. And if you’re looking for a series that does feature a young woman who is all about the spirit of suffragism, you can’t do better than my Adele Gossling Mysteries. Book 1 is free on all booksellers and Book 6 is coming out in August!

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Women in History: Inspirational Quotes

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Happy International Women’s Day! How about a couple of inspirational quotes from some of the women who made history throughout the years? Enjoy!

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”

— Mary Wollstonecraft

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again.” 

— Sojourner Truth

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

— Audre Lorde

“Women have always been an equal part of the past. We just haven’t been a part of history.”

— Gloria Steinem

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

Works Cited

Elle.com. “81 Gloria Steinem Quotes to Celebrate Her 81st Birthday.” Elle. 25 March 2015. Web. 26 February 2020.

Kelly, Erin. “33 Inspirational Quotes for Women That Can Make Anyone Feel Empowered.” ATI. 26 April 2018. Web. 26 February 2020.

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