Dear Ones —
Help me to understand something.
In the past year, I have overheard no fewer than four women in my personal acquaintance suggest that their lives would be completely solved (and that their creative potential would be completely realized) if only they had married (or could marry) a rich man.
These are women whom I have admired for years. They are different in age, in background, in passions, in upbringing — but they are each strong and smart and competent and completely healthy in mind and body. And each one of them still dreams of snagging a guy with money, who will (presumably) remove all their obstacles and solve all their problems.
The most startling example was a woman who is a powerful, famous writer. This woman is ardent and outspoken feminist. An example to all human sisterhood. A person I have looked up to forever. We did a reading together recently. A young, female audience member asked her, “What advice to you do you have for aspiring writers?” The famous author replied: “Marry a rich man.”
When I heard this, my soul let out an anguished howl. I simply could not contain myself. I cried out, “NOOOOOO!”
The author turned to me in genuine surprise. “But how will she get her writing done, if she has to pay the bills herself?” she asked.
People, listen to me. I wrote my first two books when I was a diner waitress and bartender. I worked as a nanny and a cook, and I stocked other people’s books in a bookstore. I did whatever work I had to do, and I honed my craft in my stolen hours. Hours that belonged solely to ME, because I had bought them myself.
Toni Morrison wrote her first books as a single mother. She did it by getting up at 4:00am while her young son slept, and putting in the hours at the typewriter before she went to her fulltime paycheck-earning job.
My friend Ann Patchett wrote her first books while she was a broke-ass waitress at TGI Fridays in Nashville.
Her friend, the poet Lucy Greeley, wrote her books while she was in numberless hospitals, enduring countless reconstructive surgeries from a lifetime spent battling bone cancer.
Cheryl Strayed, Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, J.K. Rowling…do you want me to go on?
There are no rich men in any of these stories.
Please help me to understand, then, why this fantasy of the rich man endures. Why would a brilliant, gifted, healthy, powerful woman still hold to the hope that someday a Mr. Darcey will arrive, and open up a world of possibilities that she somehow cannot open for herself?
Whenever I hear this fantasy expressed, in any form, I want to say, “WHERE IS YOUR DIGNITY, WOMAN?”
I was practically a baby in the cradle when I first heard Gloria Steinem say that we should strive to become the men we always wanted to marry. I took it to heart. That was 40 years ago. Does it need to be said again?
Can you help me wrap my mind around why this story endures? Can anyone explain this dream in a way that makes any sense to me? Because I really don’t get it. In fact, it makes me want to spit nails and blow fireballs through my ears.
AUTONOMY IS THE GOD OF WOMEN. Never forget that.
Hell, autonomy is the god of everyone.
Which is what I told all the aspiring young writers in the audience that night. And I also told them: “Now go get yours.”