Kathleen: I started helping my mother after school here when I was six years old. And I used to watch her. And it wasn’t that she was just selling books, it was that she was helping people become whoever it was (that) they were going to turn out to be. Because when you read a book as a child it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does. Joe: Working, at six? How enterprising of you. What did she pay you? Kathleen: What? No, I was…I just liked helping out around the store. Joe: Helping? You performed basic tasks that ensured the store’s continued profitability and existence? Kathleen: Well. I guess it was working. In a sense. Joe: For free. You were enslaved, then. Kathleen: I wouldn’t put it like that, exactly… Joe: Tell me, did you ask your mother to give birth to you? Kathleen: Of course not. Joe: Then whence your moral obligation to provide her with unpaid labor? Kathleen: I…I suppose there isn’t. Joe: On what grounds did she have the right to demand free work from you?
I’m usually not one to complain about modern gender roles, but I’ve come to realize that women are not pulling our weight as a gender in the same way that we used to. It pains me to admit it, but there it is. All of the following paintings are named “Portrait of a Woman” (or a lady, or a young woman, or some minor variation); they are regular paintings of regular ladies doing regular things, and they put each and every one of us to shame.
Here’s “Portrait of a Woman,” by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. The sight of a woman bedecked in a shapeless silver gown, in turquoise slippers and a beehive crown who had mastered and tamed a noble beast of the hunt was once so commonplace it needed no additional title. Portrait of a Woman with Deer? No. People will instinctively understand that deer serve her, because she is a woman.
“Mother, how will I know when I am a woman?”
“You will wear a ruby the size of a bird, and clutch a baby unicorn with sad eyes to your breast. That is how you will know.”
If you hear any of the following words or phrases used to describe a female character in a movie made before 1970, odds are good that they’re trying to tell you about a lesbian, a real shadows girl, someone who prefers the hour just after dusk, a gal with her own library card.