The Choice Is In the Fight

This week in my public speaking classes, we watched a speech from 30 years ago by Barbara Bush, who was then first lady of the United States. She was delivering the commencement speech at Wellesley College, a top-tier, all-women’s school.

It was 1990, and Bush was 65 years old. She had supported her husband through his career, while raising six children. The roles of women at home and in the workplace were changing. Young women were being told they could have it all—a career, marriage, children, and friends—and so were under pressure to achieve it all.

Some seniors complained that Bush was not an appropriate commencement speaker, saying that she gained recognition through the achievements of her husband, which was not how they had been taught to achieve at Wellesley, and 25 percent of the class signed a petition protesting her as speaker.

I was working on Capitol Hill at the time, and I vaguely remember the controversy that surrounded the speech. It was national news, and the speech was broadcast live on TV networks. Watching the speech again 30 years later, I was struck by how much our world has changed.

It seems to me that young women today are not even aware of the controversy that used to exist between having a career and raising a family—they just get on with it and make choices that are right for them and their families.

If they want to work outside the home, they work. If they want to stay home and raise children, they do. That is a natural result, I suppose, of the generations of women who came before them and made the choice to fight for what they believe in—that you can have a career outside the home and still be a good wife and mom—a concept that was a new in the 70s and 80s.

Rather than shy away from discomfort and challenge and take the easy way out by following the social norms of the times, women in the 70s and 80s saw the answer in the fight. Their answer was in the choice to fight.

They had the courage to step out of their comfort zone and make choices that were right for them and their families, even though it went against the social norms of the time.

This is exactly what Barbara Bush was saying 30 years ago. There is a place for everyone in society, and there are more than just a few choices.

Thank goodness for the strong women who chose to fight.

And thank goodness for the young women today who, by their choices, continue to fight for what is right for their families.

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