A couple weekends ago, I took my kids to an historic farm run by our local forest preserve. The buildings there have been authentically restored, and the staff and volunteers roam the property in costume and in character to give visitors a pretty-close encounter to what it must've been like to live and work on a family farm at the turn of the last century.

So when one of the in-character volunteers stopped hammering the chicken-coop roof, stepped off his ladder, tugged up his suspenders, and asked if we had any questions, I wasn't entirely surprised by his answer to my question.

I pointed to the fluffy black and white chickens racing behind their wire and asked, "What color eggs do they lay?"

"Dunno, ma'am," he said. Then he smiled, betraying his character entirely. "Chickens are women's work."

As he continued on about how his "wife" had an egg-selling business so she could buy "pretty things" from Sears Roebuck, a weird stream of envy washed through me. Truth be told, this same weird stream trickles through whenever I read Edith Wharton or read or watch anything about times and places where gender roles were fixed, expectations rigid, and life (and death) somehow more certain.

This is weird, of course, because I'm a liberated woman. I call myself a feminist—unapologetically. And I have since I was a girl. I was born in 1972, the year Helen Reddy and her woman-roaring made the charts. My early childhood memories are of parents, teachers, and Brownie leaders telling me I could do and be anything.

I grew up aware of the doors being thrown open all around me, the ones I'd be able to skirt through more confidently than any other generation of women in human history. I stood under some ceilings as they shattered, and throughout ...

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