"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Woman's Place Is In The Home - A Courtroom Genghis Khan Finally Returns

Hedda Brown grew up in a small town in New England, daughter of a tradesman and a housewife, a perfectly happy little girl who baked bread with her mother, walked the dog, and sat down in the parlor with her parents, brothers and sisters after dinner to watch television.  It was a conventional family with proper allegiances to church, country, and community; and no one in New Brighton ever looked anywhere else. 

Of course there were the trips to New York at Christmastime to see the Rockettes, FAO Schwartz, and the skaters at Rockefeller Plaza, but no one had any desire to move away from New Brighton. It was a satisfied, satisfying, and sedentary time, and most residents of the town wanted it no other way. 

The Sixties changed all that, and suddenly Hedda wanted no part of the bourgeois, lackadaisical life of her family, especially her housebound, cookie-baking mother.  How could she stand all those teas, that volunteering, and those catty potlucks? An intelligent woman, quite capable of making it on her own free from patriarchy and the sanctimony of Kinder, Kirche, Kuchen, yet she dutifully cooked and cleaned, looked pretty, and gossiped like a magpie. 

Hedda vowed never to become like her.  She would never again breathe the stale air of New Brighten; and off she went to the big city, joined Mark Rudd and the Columbia insurrectionists, and gained a reputation as a leader of the movement.  As a radical feminist, anarchist, and civil rights organizer, Hedda felt she had left the awful confines of the middle class far behind.

The top law schools were forgiving of her night in jail, part of her resume that they found particularly appealing. This young woman would cement their growing liberal convictions and help to change the profession from its corporate ethos to the culture of the street. 

She graduated with honors, clerked well, but stayed clear of the socially relevant law firms for which her professors had been grooming her.  She wanted the big time - major law suits for major offenders, insider traders and corporate thieves.  She quickly earned her place at Parker, Flint, & Bigelow became its youngest partner and first woman executive, and never looked back. 

In no time she had left a bloody trail of brutal victories behind.  One by one she emasculated every witness who had the temerity to challenge the defense's case, terrorized every woman on the stand, intimidated judges with her exhaustive, comprehensive understanding of the law.  By the time she was thirty she was feared, featured in law journals, and courted by every law firm in the East. No woman so young had earned a place at the top of the legal pyramid like Hedda Brown. 

She was not content just to leave New Brighton behind.  She had to destroy its very meaning, its brutal misogyny, its patently superficial ambitions.  No, she had to be an avenging angel, a bloody Genghis Khan, a Colossus.


At thirty-five, cracks began to appear in the firewall. Family, motherhood, marriage - these hated words signifying the historic enslavement of women - began niggling, irritating, and distracting.  What had she gained in these years of Mongol terror? What had her days of courtroom brilliance, corporate savvy, and offensive thunder gotten her?  She had produced nothing. She had created nothing. Her job was to destroy, to humiliate, and to conquer. 

Her trips home became more frequent, and she found herself helping her mother in the kitchen, taking care of her nieces and nephews, playing in the backyard, tending the S'mores. These trips were needed interludes in an increasingly demanding professional life, she told herself, of no importance in the larger scope of things.  She loved her family of course, and would never ever end up like them, but...

Here she was puzzled.  She of all people could not be bewitched by a biological clock - motherhood was for the lower classes, the duped, the gullible, the lesser; and yet there it was. 

The need to have children is nil - no strong arms needed to plow the fields to fetch water, no male heirs needed to light the funeral pyre, no offspring to provide for old age - so what is the appeal? Why do women still have them? 

On one of her trips home, she came across one of the books of young fiction left there by her niece and read:

Nancy pulled her dress up over her head and stood naked as the water droplets from the ferns dripped onto her face and arms.  “They are my jewels”, she said to Bart, “and one day you can buy me real ones.”

It was cool and dark in the woods behind his house.  Bart’s father had said that he would cull the deep grove before it got too overgrown but he never got around to it, so the ferns had grown taller than him, and only rabbits could find their way through the bramble bushes. Once when he was little he got lost in the woods and thought he would never find his way out. There were bears and wolves in the woods, and he might wander for days without finding his way home.  For years he never set foot in the woods until Nancy had asked him. 

He knew that the wild animals were not real, but he still hesitated at the mountain laurel bushes at the back of their yard, and never took the narrow path into the woods. That was how childhood worked, he later thought, full of crazy imaginary things that scared you, and one day you woke up and they weren’t there any more, and the woods was just a dark, wet place where you would prefer not to go.

Mountain laurel
Nancy sat next to him in school the next day, so close together in the auditorium that their legs touched.  She smelled fresh and clean, like talcum powder and lilac soap, and she was wearing the same dress that she had worn in the woods.  He noticed a bit of dried oak leaf on her dress that she had not seen and remembered how she had put her clothes neatly in a pile on a mossy patch under his father’s favorite tree...

Innocence - or its rediscovery. 

'Epiphanies are overrated', Bernard Kaufman, her philosophy professor at Columbia, had once said; and went on to talk about 'emotional exegesis' and 'the buildup of semiotic baggage'; so what Hedda was experiencing could not be anything more than a logical reflection on the case presented. No dramatic ah-ha! moment, seeing the light, finding Jesus; just a consideration of the facts - not reconsideration by any means.  Motherhood would never be reconsidered as an option; but yet there it was again, a reassessment of at the very least. 

The other thing that Kaufman said was that 'There is no such thing as one fell swoop', and it took time for Hedda to readjust.  She did not just quit her job, but made 'an elision' to family law and then no law at all.  She did not start trolling for men like a tart, but met interesting suitors along the way.  She did not abandon her fierce intellect for children's stories, but made an emotional deal; and little by little, slowly but surely, she married, had children, and stayed at home with them. 

She never looked back, never considered her earlier life wasted or misspent.  It was a prelim, a preface without which her story would make no sense. It is one thing do drift, accept, and continue; another thing altogether to decide. 

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