On this Mother’s Day, I want to talk about my mom and who she was.
My mother was a woman who stood up for others her entire life, especially women. Inspired by Kennedy’s call to serve, she joined the Peace Corps after college and spent two years in Turkey. She came home and worked for the Library of Congress before becoming a teacher and later a school administrator.
She took time off from work when my sister and I were small, but went back part-time once we started pre-school. She felt that women deserved equal pay and the right to go to work if that is what they chose to do. She felt that the right to have control over your own body was so fundamental that she marched on Washington, supported the Equal Rights Amendment, and donated to Planned Parenthood. She was very vocal about her beliefs and would not back down when others tried to bully her about it.
My mother always wanted to support the disenfranchised and encouraged me to to the same.
When she was a teacher, she noticed one of her students was being bullied and the other kids didn’t want to sit with him. It was the unfortunate result of the fact that his clothes were always dirty and he smelled. His family was poor and they didn’t have running water in his home, an unfortunate reality for many families at the time. She arranged for him to take a shower at school and wash his clothes. She told me this story because she wanted me to know that though you can’t fix everything, there are small things you can do to make someone’s life better.
My mother was in charge of the Adult Education program in our county. Some of these classes were just for fun, but some were for getting your GED. I attended many of the graduations and many of the graduates were women. Over the years, I remember running into a few of these women with my mother. They would often break down in tears while thanking my mom for her encouragement and support. They would tell her how getting their GEDs allowed them to get a job and finally have the means to support their kids, find a place to live, escape an abusive spouse . . .
My mother always told me that before I agreed to marry someone I needed to have my own place to live, my own car, and a job with a salary that would support my needs. She wanted my sister and I to be able to support ourselves independently before relying on anyone else. She had seen it go so terribly wrong for others who got married with no other means of support.
When I was about to have my first child, I left my job as a medical researcher. I told her that I wanted to be a stay at home mom and that I would hopefully find my way back to work some day. She told me very carefully that I was free to do what I chose. She didn’t fight all those years so I’d feel like I had to work AND raise children, but simply so I would have the choice to do so if that’s what I wanted. And if I did, that I would be paid based on my work, not on my gender.
My mom often referred to herself as a feminist and I was proud of her for it. She did not want special treatment, she simply wanted, in the words of Sarah Grimke’, “But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright …”
Nowadays, politicians are slinging around the word “feminist” as if its a bad thing. They think we can’t make our own decisions about sex and our bodies. Some even think that maybe we should lose our right to vote. It is a very dark time for women right now. My mother would be appalled. She passed away more than two years ago and I miss her terribly. But I will remember her legacy and not let it be in vain. I have my own daughter now and I am terrified for her future. My mother had some tremendously big shoes to fill and its time I step up and fill them.