3 LESSONS FROM MY MOM’S DAY
I wrote a paper in college about my mom. In it I said she was the first person to have taught me to embrace feminism. That she did it without using the word or claiming the term for herself. I also stated grandly that her “sisters” would be better off if she came out as a feminist—since she really was one at heart.
My mom thought this last part was hilarious. Looking back, it was also pretty “19 and I know everything” obnoxious. But if my big-hearted mom thought so, she was kind enough not to say it. I knew she didn’t agree with lots of what I wrote, but she made it clear that she liked the paper and was glad I shared it with her.
I thought about this a lot during Sunday’s Mothers’ Day Facebook lovefest. Celebrating moms (and how much most of us love them) makes me want to give feminism (which fewer of us claim to love) a big hug and a bigger plug.
My mom is one of the hardest workers I know. She went to medical school at a time when few women did. Given her gender-minority status, did she worry about how she “presented” herself? Not much. She sat in the front row during lectures—knitting. She bore seven children while working full time and had my youngest brother at age 43. Eight months pregnant with him, she played in a tennis tournament. Having now experienced pregnancy myself, I cannot fathom this. Nor how she tolerated our teasing when she couldn’t reach a shot (our jokes had something to do with comparing her shape to the out of reach tennis ball). So truly sorry Mom!
My mom wore Birkenstocks to see patients before anyone else in the U.S. knew what they were (a grumpy patient reported her for wearing “flip flops”) and took her babies with her to work. She breastfed us between appointments.
Did I mention she rides motorcycles? (Or that she’s in her 70s?)
These days she care takes, transports and hosts slumber parties for her 17 grandkids—and still sees patients. In between she’s as likely to be found downtown helping feed men and women who live under bridges. In sub 20-degree weather. Most likely in Birkenstocks. I do not lie.
On most issues, my mom and I are far apart politically. But I respect her deeply and still insist she’s responsible for my embrace of feminism. So what does all this have to do with that?
I think it was her utter strength as a human being that prompted me to write that paper. On top of everything else, my mom did the lion’s share of kid, family and home care. Such resilience by women who parent is part of what were celebrating Sunday. Moms are incredible for lots of reasons. But a biggie is that children’s needs are so endless. (There are, of course, incredible dads too. But many of us know from experience and most studies show that moms are still overwhelmingly on the front lines when it comes to work at home.)
Lesson one: women are strong. Feminism celebrates that.
As you can probably tell from this tiny account (believe me, the stories are endless), growing up much of what my mom did and said flew in the face of how moms—women in general—are “supposed” to behave. I don’t think she’s ever noticed the boxes gender tries to put us in (though she did register shock when 4-year-old me told a family friend I would be a nurse when I grew up because girls couldn’t be doctors). But, as I watched her blow right through these boxes, I did notice. And I took from her a vision of what life could be like if we all insisted on doing the same.
Lesson two: gender matters. Feminism challenges any gender box that constrains the self-perception, public presentation or dream realization of any human being (regardless of their sex/gender).
My mom’s strength and unique way of being in the world led her to relentlessly go to bat for the underdog. Relentlessly. Okay, this trait was a little annoying when the underdog was your opponent in a soccer game and she lamented the whole way home that she “felt bad” your team clobbered them. But I’ve written elsewhere about the lessons this part of her living gave me about always speaking up when something is wrong.
Even if it pisses people off. Even if you’re standing there in Birkenstocks and everyone else is in dress shoes.
And lesson three is the most important reason my mom’s day has me hugging feminism.
Gender still matters.
Ironically, many of the very reasons we celebrate moms are the very reasons we need feminism so much. Women are still the collective “underdog.” One of the most amazing pieces I’ve read lately was written by, Caitlin O’Donnell, a student at Drake University (I can claim zero credit). Check it out.
Feminism stands up publicly for women in honor of our strength. Meanwhile it insists we shouldn’t have to be any stronger than the next guy. It animates a vision where the boxes that moms like mine blew right through (but , for every one of her out there, there are million others who haven’t, couldn’t, or were impeded from so doing) are finally and completely imploded. For all of us. We all need it.
Strength. Living outside the (gender) box. Justice.
Beautiful stuff. That’s why, given who my beautiful mom is, I couldn’t have celebrated her day without celebrating feminism too. Thanks, Mom.