Even though I own a copy of it, I've been reluctant to watch Who Does She Think She Is? in large part because I've lived large portions of what the artists in the documentary have gone through. I still see myself and my ongoing struggles in any book or essay, any film, any set of statistics documenting how damned difficult it still is in this country - indeed, in this world - to be a mother and to be an artist of any kind. I don't care who you are: if you are a mother, you still have to choose. Societal pressures dictate this. If you are not a slave on a pedestal in your own home as a mother, then you are a selfish bitch unworthy of your family. Okay, the extremes might not be there on a relationship-by-relationship basis, but the overall tendencies are there.
I have known this deep, deep down...but I don't think my husband really got it until the documentary cropped up on PBS Sunday night when we were channel-surfing and it was really the only thing on. His knee-jerk reaction when he sees my face light up at the mere mention of artists who are women, God love him, is "You should go back to your glassworking," which is what he said when we discovered Who Does She Think She Is? was on. We watched it after Dan put the little guy to bed, however, and both of us grew quiet, me because I was struggling with my feelings over what I knew was going to be said...but all Dan said, at long last once it was over, was that he was headed to bed.
I'm finding myself afraid to ask him what he really thought about it all.
Most of the women in the documentary ended up divorced, with one of them, artist Maye Torres, recounting her struggles over custody of her children once her presumed life partner decided he didn't want to be with her anymore. Her response, after discovering that no one in town would really help her with her custody battles, was to do her damnedest to become such a good artist that there would be no question in people's minds that that was what she was meant to do, therefore putting obstacles in her way as a mother could be seen in a different light. Artist Janis Wunderlich, one of the ones in the documentary who is still married, has to shoe-horn making her art in-between shuttling her five kids around and doing cooking and cleaning, and then she doesn't even get a chance to really take in the clay work she does once it's finished for fear of one of her children breaking it. Can you say recipe for exhaustion?
These are the "options" laid bare, my biggest fears about marriage and parenting screaming out of the TV, and the truth is, I don't have faith in Dan that he could weather any of the turmoil that would be guaranteed to come this way were I to take up glassworking again today. I've sacrificed too much, and he hasn't sacrificed much at all. I'm all too conscious of how much money would be spent and of how time would be changed around were I to try to construct a small furnace in our backyard or set up a table torch for flameworking. I'm too aware of the house and the cars not being in my name, too mindful of the ways in which school hours and 9-to-5 work hours don't meet up for me to trust him with things as basic as dropping off the little guy and picking him up from school, too afraid that his lip service to my return to glassworking will cause harsh, hurtful things to come out of his mouth when faced with the realities of going back to it again and managing a household with a kid. I guess one could argue that I am not blameless in this, and I'm not - I've enabled him to think it'll be sooo easy for me to just pick up where I left off when I found out I was pregnant, because he's still doing the things he did before we were married. He's still going to all of his band practices after work, still going to Torah study and services on Saturdays, leaving me home with my son, and when there's a night I want to do something and he's already got something planned, there are cringe-worthy gripes about how much a sitter costs when I can't get another mother-friend to look after the little guy. I'm not supposed to be a needy person and ask him to give all that up, am I?
I hate feeling this way, that asking the man I love to overcome a few millenia of patriarchy and face the realities of juggling the undervalued and overlooked roles of parenting and housework will blow up in my face and implode our family, but it's there. I'll have to ask him about it one of these days, I'm sure, and the answers will probably reinforce the reasons why I'm still on antidepressant medication and why I'm still a big chicken about setting up some kind of studio in my back shed.
Sometimes, no matter how good documentaries are, they still suck.