My mother was a trailblazer. She is not famous, although in our home town she cannot go anywhere without running into ten people that know and like her. She is not a world renowned figure. She is not someone that you will read about in the history of feminism. That doesn’t really mean anything, though. The reason women have made the strides for equality successfully is because of the unknown trailblazers like my mother, the women who simply defied convention to go their own way.
My mother was born in the late 1940′s and raised Catholic. She went to Catholic school, she played the organ at all of the Catholic masses growing up, and she was considered a “good girl”. What my mother really want to be when she grew up was a physical therapist. However, her father wanted her to be a wife and mother. He refused to pay for her schooling. My grandmother worked as a nurse, though, and thus was able to afford to send my mother to nursing school. My mother did not go to school to be a physical therapist, but was able to go to nurses training and become an RN.
Her mother told her that education was important because no one could ever take it away from her. This sounds like a small act of defiance, not much of a big deal, but you have to think of the time period here. The early 1960′s, as an only child colluding with her mother to defy her father, going to nursing school was very much a brave act of defiance. A young woman at that time period simply did not do things like that. Except people like my mother did. These little acts of defiance, standing up for what she wanted, even if it was merely a compromise, was a huge deal.
My grandfather was not an easy man, and could really make life miserable for the people around him when he didn’t get his way. My mother has spoken of how he refused to speak to her for weeks at a time. As a people pleaser, I cannot imagine how much determination and bravery it took for my mother to simply follow through with her own plans for the future. To simply choose a small part of her own future, a compromise at that, was an unpleasant, uphill battle.
The fact of the matter is that my mother getting that education was important to the success of our family, as she was able to bring in enough money to afford to send her kids to college, because she had three girls and she wanted to make sure that they all had an education, because it would be something that was theirs alone, and no one could ever take it away from them.
Another act of defiance from my mother came from her desire to marry my father. My dad lived, literally, on the wrong side of the tracks from my mother in my hometown. My mother lived on Elm Street, and across the railroad tracks, my father lived on Oakland. Good side, bad side. My father was a Marine, he rode a motorcycle, he smoked, and he probably scared the shit out of my grandfather. My grandfather made the mistake of telling my mother that she would not be able to marry my father (or possibly even see my father, I need call her and ask what the exact ultimatum was) while she was living under his roof. So, she moved in with my father. Without being married. In the early 1960′s.
She was raised in a strict Catholic home, and in a time period where “living in sin” was NOT something you did, but she did it.
My sisters and I have what I like to affectionately call a “fuck you” streak. If you give us an ultimatum, you’ve lost. It may make us miserable, it may hurt us, it may be a case of us biting off our noses to spite our faces, but we will simply respond with “Oh, yeah? Fuck you.” I think it comes from an intense resistance to being controlled. Ultimatums are situations about control. The person giving the ultimatum wants their way no matter what and takes discussion or logical thought off of the table. Well, we can either talk and work out a compromise or we can be irrational and deal with ultimatums. If you are irrational enough to make the ultimatum, we are irrational enough to take the option where you are not in control of us. For example, when deciding whether or not to play the trumpet or the flute as a child, a boy in my 5th grade class told me, “Girls can’t play the trumpet.” Of course, I then chose trumpet because fuck you.
My mother thinks this is something we get from our father, but I think she is wrong. I think it comes from her. Oh, so I cannot marry the man I love as long as I live under your roof? I’ll just defy convention and my upbringing and move in with him prior to the wedding. Problem solved.
Another lesson from my mother was to never give your money to a man. She worked with a woman who honestly had no idea how much money she earned per pay period as she simply signed her checks over to her husband without looking at them. This might not be such a bad thing if her husband was a wonderful, genius, financial expert who wisely invested her earnings while making sure all the bills were paid – although I would still have an issue with working and not knowing where my money was. However, it seems the men who want you to blindly trust them and sign over your money are always the ones who don’t work, but drink a lot or do a lot of drugs, or both.
Another lesson from my mother was “Never sign your money over to any man.”
There are so many young women today who eschew the word “feminist” as if it were the most awful thing to be associated with. They don’t have the memory of stupid things women were raised with or awareness of the stupid things they were raised with. My mother was raised in era where just her getting an education – and not even in the field she wanted, but rather in a field that was more socially acceptable for women to have – was a major act of defiance. Where choosing what man she would marry was another act of defiance. Where women still handed over their money to the man of the house. Women today have made so many strides towards equality, that many don’t see that these strides have really come about in the past several decades. It is still new, and that is part of why we have to keep fighting to keep it.
Women did not get the right to vote in the United States until 1920 – which means that women have not been voting in the United States for 100 years, yet. It took from 1848 until 1920 for women to be allowed to vote – 72 years (although, it might have even been longer than that, this is just what history has documented). Some of the women who fought for the right to vote died before ever even achieving this goal. This was the first wave of feminists.
The second wave came during the Civil Rights era, and gave us a lot of the progress we have made up to date. My mom lived during the time of second wave feminists, and she did her part by simply making her own choices and sticking by them in the face of her father and convention. Her personal act of defiance was echoed by other women across the country who were tired of being forced to do things by men seeking to rule and control their lives.
I am a third wave feminist, by birth year and in thought. I am saddened by the number of women who have benefited from feminism who look at the word as a pejorative. Even the many liberals in my life often tell me I should be a humanist instead. As long as we still have a large number of rapes and general abuse of women, I am going to go with feminist. As long as we still have men making the laws about my reproductive health, I am going with feminist. As long as we have women blaming other women when they are raped or harassed, I am going with feminist. As long as any discussion of rape comes with how the woman could have “avoided” it, then I am going to go with feminist. As long as male and female pagans are offended by Dianics, I am going with feminist. This list could go on and on and on, but you get the general idea.
My mother raised me to be a feminist simply by telling me I have the right to be in charge of my own life, and that my wants and needs are second to no one else’s, not even a man’s.