Perrin sent me a link to a really sweet article about a young girl in Ethiopia who, defying her father, has left the village and now is working construction and trying to save up money to start her own business. I was struck at how nearly universal this story has become.
I know, I know. We have all been taught to think that every culture and every moment in history is unique. But this belief keeps us from seeing how much women, everywhere, have in common.
This young girl leaves her village, looking to escape early marriage. After a false start during which she has to return to her father’s home, she tries again and gets a job in construction. There are all the usual features: a culture that denigrates the city and the girls who go there to escape the traditional trap that otherwise determines their lives, the men who are paid more for the same work, the sexual harassment, the frugality and hope. But, as big as her obstacles are, you can see that she, as an individual, is only the beginning. Everything in Ethiopia will–with her and because of her–change. She is the Modern Girl.
If you read the history of women in America and the popular fiction written about them, especially if you go to the trouble to read the magazines and newspapers of the 19th century–when America was modernizing–you find yourself overwhelmed with a thousand versions of this same story. Girls who run away to Chicago or New York. Today, if you go to the factories in Bangladesh or China or Mexico–again, this story appears.
Modernization, for so long condemned by feminist theorists, promises independence for women unlike anything possible before in history. And it is amazing to me how the same story comes out each time–costumes a little different, another language, a change of religion, but a drama that is fundamentally the same.