This month my philosophy class is studying feminism. You can’t study feminism without an encounter with French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote the seminal work, The Second Sex, in 1949 — the same year I was born. In that book she asked “What is woman?” arguing that man is considered the default, while woman is considered “The Other”. Thus humanity is male, and man defines woman not as herself but as related and derivative of him. In other words, Beauvoir wrote, “One is not born but rather becomes a woman,” thereby distinguishing the terms “sex” and “gender”. She was describing a patriarchal paradigm imposed by men.

Our study got me to thinking, which is pretty much the point of philosophy. I concluded that what I know about women is limited to my experience with women. (Duh). I believe the concept of “wokeness” with respect to feminism and many other beliefs is wrong. When I wake, I go from asleep to awake in a matter of seconds. But my experience with feminism is largely shaped by those few women I really have known over my lifetime.

My mom died when I was in my 30s. She was a sweet, caring presence in my early years, but clearly my dad ran the show. I think she was relatively content and happy with her life in the 1950s, but I have distinct memories of Friday evenings when my dad would get paid, come home and count out seven $10 bills for her to pay the coming week’s bills. From time to time she would submissively ask for extra for things like new shoes for us kids or school supplies. Dad would grumble then drop another ten on the small pile. I was humiliated for my mom. I knew how hard she worked for the family. It just felt wrong.

The longest relationship I have had with a woman is Marsha, my wife. We started out holding hands in the New Albany High School auditorium during lunch period in 1966. Three boys and six grandchildren later, we have experienced a lot together. I think it is fair to say she has experienced significant change in being a woman. I have shared and observed that experience. She went from being the sole breadwinner who sent me through law school, to taking time off to be a full-time mother, to becoming a great college counselor. Our marriage went from a version of my dad’s patriarchy to being genuine partners in life. We argue about feminism. She makes good points, but I maintain that, while I may be chauvinistic, it is more likely that I’m just selfish, egoistic and mean- spirited, and those deficiencies transcend gender. Probably I’m a little of both.

I have come to know my daughters-in-law pretty well. I tell them we probably would get along better if I had raised them. They roll their eyes. In their relationships to my sons, I would have to say patriarchy is taking a well-deserved beating. All three negotiate the work-life-childraising tryptic with aplomb.

The other three females I know the best are my granddaughters, Lily (11), Ava (8), and Hazel (almost 2). Their energy, spirit and happiness inspire me. They don’t take anything off the boys and fight for their turn on the playground. We go to professional soccer games to see the Red Stars, not the Fire. They better never be sexually harassed. Papa will have their backs.

So it has been a great thing for me to observe the significant evolution of gender in this country in just my lifetime of 70 years. Much of that change has been for the better for both men and women. No other generation has witnessed even close to so much positive change for so many people in such a short time. Ever.

I feel sure that some will think there still needs to be more change. I agree. 

I just wish the brilliant Simone de Beauvoir could have written about gender in 2020.

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John Hubbuch

John is an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976. He served on the District 97 school board, coached youth sports and, more recently, retired from the law. That left him time to become a Wednesday...