I suppose I should first apologize to the real Wanda Lee I know. She is a distant cousin I see each year at the Williams Family (my mother’s family) Reunion. After finishing Daphne and Chloe (pages 95-121) I picked up the third volume of The Complete Folktales of Afanas’ev Vol. 3. However, I could not concentrate. And then a character came to me for Once Upon a Time when the World was Young. Her name was Wanda Lee and she is Jeffry and Billie’s great aunt on their father’s side. Sallie (telling the story) meets this august figure. Wanda Lee is Jazzy, makes quilts, plays Canasta, Penuckle and Bridge, and is (of course) a Church lady who attends services and is part of the Women’s organization at her church. Wanda bakes homemade cakes and flavors her fresh-made pink lemonade with fresh raspberries. Though being single forces her to work for a living (though in her case it is quilting and sewing clothes for a living), she frowns on Betty Freidan.
This is not because I believe Betty Freidan is bad for most women. I just have known enough old church ladies who despite their lack of feminist credentials have no trouble speaking their mind and don’t really have that much problem getting around without a man. They are not the passive wimps that kids today are encouraged to think women of the Old Midwest and South were before feminism came to the forefront. These feisty old hens might not raise hell but they really did work hard and really did have forceful personalities. That is how I remember my Grandmas and Great Aunts and the old ladies at the Methodist Church my mom took me to as a kid.
Really, I feel today’s woman could learn from them. Though she was from an entirely different culture with entirely different ideas, I remember hearing of Gandhi’s wife as Gandhi put it (in a quotation from a grandson of the Mahatma I heard talk), “From her I learned the power of the word ‘no.'” Men respect that word, and not just when it comes to sex. If you let a man walk all over you, he won’t respect you. No, the way to win a man’s heart is sometimes to tell him: I care about this issue. I am not giving up on it. Then the woman stops there. She doesn’t leave, because he has to bend to her pressure because men generally don’t want to give up their actual wives any more than the reverse is true.
Wanda Lee is a woman whose only love died fighting World War II, and yet she is no mere toy for any man. Sally finds her talkative and not oversensitive, but she comes to admire her for her heart and toughness on the very first visit. Younger women should learn from that type of woman.
I write about Wanda Lee by herself because people wonder how a writer’s ideas come to them. Virginia Woolf complained there was no woman Shakespeare (Jane Austen?) but I often wonder if the real problem with Shakespeare is that the only “good” woman he could imagine was a woman who bent according to men’s wishes. Ophelia or Desdemona are his ideas of ideal womanhood–loyal, kind, accepting, but unable to survive mistreatment by males. “Strong” women like Lady Macbeth are anathema to Shakespeare. Now, I know that not every good woman is forceful, purposeful, proud. Yet surely some of them are. And hence I love Wanda Lee for herself, and not because she is what men “want” in women.