I shouldn’t write this tonight. I had a nap today. This may sound like a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but when I nap, I wake up queasy and (there is no better way to put it) bitchy. In other words, a terrible time to write a thoughtful blog post, but it’s been over a week since my last one, and that’s way too long.
But I want to put the invisibility thing to bed (since I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight, something needs to go to bed).
Not so fast
I was talking about Calling Invisible Women with a woman in her 70s, who was surprised by one of the themes of the novel (that women in their 50s feel invisible and powerless), because in her experience, women in their 50s were often at the height of their career, powerful in their organizations, courageous in speaking out.
True. I can think of lots of women who fit that description. And that’s part of the solution for the women in the book. They treat their invisibility as a superpower, making life better around them, but at least Clover’s family still doesn’t notice. At the end of the novel, one invisible woman (a Russian mail order bride) travels far to meet Clover and deliver one of the best pep talks ever. I had to bring the book back to the library, so I don’t have the exact quote, but it essentially goes like this: we’ve been acting like we’re Chechnya, but we’re not little victims to be squashed by big, bad Russia (aka pharmaceutical company). With the power of our voices, our stories, our media savvy (or that of our children), our insistence on being heard, we are Russia.
And, indeed, the invisible women get cracking and the ensuing media blitz brings the pharmaceutical company to its knees, many women get their jobs back, and they have lives more vibrant than before they became invisible.
So the woman at the height of her courage and powers is one part of the story of women in their 50s. But so is the woman who drifted along, cutting everyone else slack, making excuses for everyone, and found herself doing all the drudge work and getting no recognition for everything she gave up for the sake of others.
Maybe this is a particularly lively fear for me since I’ve mostly been a stay-at-home mom for 14 years. Yes, I’ve done freelance work, and in-office work for a couple of years, not to mention the novel writing. But it’s so easy to make excuses for everyone else’s stress and not insist on things I might’ve insisted on in the past. To let things slide. Sometimes, this is a kind thing to do, but it can get to be a nasty habit that I can see leading to accepting invisibility.
Invisibility might not always be so bad
My older friend also remembered when men in general stopped noticing her — it was a relief. Freeing, even.
I can see that, and celebrate that, eve. But it’s complicated for me. I no longer get catcalls and rude suggestions from idiots driving by, and I don’t miss them one bit. I no longer have the internal debate: am I in a public enough place to be safe to give that guy the finger? I don’t have to think about what I’m wearing to try to minimize attention. But I’d miss the occasional moment of recognition of me as an attractive woman by cashiers, waiters, etc. Those are nice little moments.
However, I can’t stop myself from growing older. Those moments will go away and I’ll have to rely on my friends to tell me how amazing I look in my turtleneck (which we’re all wearing because we feel bad about our necks). When it happens, I’m sure it’ll be fine. It already is fine. I’ll remember to treat it as something freeing.
We’re back to seeing
I’ve written about seeing before, both the power of being seen and allowing yourself to be seen. I’ve even thrown God into the mix. That’s what this book comes down to: seeing. Making sure that I pay attention, both to my own life and to the people around me. Looking cashiers in the eye when I thank them. Making sure I keep handing over household chores to the kids. Nudging the grandkids to help with dinnertime chores (even though my mother slips up the stairs from the beach so quietly and does almost all the work before we get up to the house). Thanking my husband for doing his regular stuff around the house. Not giving up so easily on relationship issues. Showing what’s really behind the mirage of omni-competence. Paying attention.
While anyone of any racial or socio-economic group can be taken for granted in their family unit, the novel mostly focuses on middle class, mostly white women. They are a couple of nods to women who the characters recognize are possibly more invisible than they are: hotel maids. Hotel maids here stand for all those people, mostly minorities, often immigrants, who do the crappiest, most thankless jobs, who work long hours for low pay, who are easy to ignore, who many people often prefer to ignore. If I decry invisibility for myself, I have to decry it for them, too. If I pay attention to my own life and my friends’ and families’ lives, I have to pay attention to their lives, too.
One more person to pay attention to
Thank you, Jeanne Ray, for writing this dystopian novel for the middle-aged woman. I don’t think it’ll take off as a subgenre like the YA dystopian novel has, and I’m not sure I’d get into it if it did, but Calling Invisible Women gave me a lot to think about while entertaining me. And that’s always a good thing.