So, guess what today is? (Gee, idunno…)
In honor of the day, I’m going to tell you about the wonderful women in my life and what they’ve taught me about being myself and standing strong as a woman. Then it’s your turn—comment here, and tell me why you are proud of the women in your life!
My mom passed almost eleven years ago. I still miss her. I don’t know if I can narrow down the important things I learned from my mother. She taught me that people deserve respect, no matter who they are. She also taught me that even choosing a more “traditional” role as a mom didn’t mean giving up myself. I am a true product of the 1980s, a time when women seemed to be encouraged to “have it all,” and there would be no compromises or hard choices. I remember wondering why Mom chose to stay home, when so many of my friends’ mothers were returning to work. She encouraged me to see it as a choice not only to be available as a parent, but to use her time wisely and find fulfillment in other ways. (She was an active community volunteer; I blame my drive to give my time in service to others on her.) I should note that she never told me what I should do, work or stay home. She only made it clear that it was my choice and no one else’s and that I should never be ashamed of my choice. I like to think she’d be proud of me.
Next best thing to having a mom is having an amazing mother-in-law. My MIL always said she didn’t want to be an MIL joke. She didn’t want to be that caricature of a nasty hag who won’t let her baby boy grow up, who competes with her DIL over his affections. Good news: my MIL probably couldn’t be that woman if she worked hard at it for many years. She is simply to kind and loving for that. She works hard and I’m not sure she gets thanked enough. My favorite thing about her is the way that she lives out her faith. I am thankful that she passed both that and her gentle spirit along to my husband (God knows, I’m enough like a bull in a china shop for both of us!). I believe that my husband’s respect and honor for women comes directly from seeing the kind of woman his mother is. I wish every woman could be as lucky and blessed as I am to have such a person as her MIL.
Okay, I’m biased, but my sisters are amazing women. My oldest sister is smarter than she believes she is. She is dedicated, hard-working, and honest. I am thrilled that we get to raise our kids together. She works as an aide in a hospice, and I think her patients are very lucky indeed to be in her care. She taught me that value of being a friend and what it means to be someone others can count on. It’s not because we women are so burdened and have to take on everyone’s problems. It’s because we love those around us and want the best for them. She isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and what she believes in. She has a strong voice, and others listen when she speaks. She was there for the births of both my kids and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She really had my back when I was in labor and couldn’t voice what I needed.
I could go on and on about the influence my other sister has been. She was an activist and actually helped change a law, the benefits of which I reaped as an adult. She made it safe to be who I am because of who she is. She was the first person I knew in real life about whom I used the word “feminist” in a positive way. As a teen, I was exposed to a brand of Christianity that had nothing but contempt for feminism. I thought all feminists were nut-jobs who hated men. My sister showed me that one did not have to be either of those things to be a feminist. She taught me the difference between the parody of feminism I had learned and the real deal. She also did a heck of a job helping me transition into womanhood. And whether she knows it or not, she is still pretty cool.
Well, okay, officially I have only one legal sister-in-law. But I’m going to count my sister’s partner because she’s as good as family. No need for someone to define it for me.
My husband’s sister is one of my favorite people. Like my oldest sister, we get to be moms together. She’s a single mom, which already makes her amazing in my book. Seriously, I cry if my husband has to work late. I am fairly certain I would go crazy without his help. Anyway, his sister is a good mom. I think she was how I knew I wanted to marry into my husband’s family, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I don’t know if he and I were even dating yet when she came for a visit to our college. She stayed with me in my dorm. We look a bit alike, so everyone thought she was my sister. We thought it was a riot. I remember thinking it would have been cool if she really were my sister. And now she is!
My sister’s partner is one of the absolute best people I know. I think probably my favorite thing about her is that we can talk about books and she doesn’t think I’m boring or nerdy. I used to feel somewhat embarrassed about the amount of time I spend reading. I have had my share of people criticizing my intelligence—not because I’m not smart but because I am. But this wonderful woman has actually made me feel cool for being smart, like there’s this whole world open to me because I’m willing to open my mind. The other important thing she has done for me is break down my old prejudices against LGBT people. Before she and my sister were together, my sister being gay was sort of abstract. Like, not something she actually was, just a nebulous concept. Being in a long-term relationship very much like my own marriage was a clear demonstration that I had certainly harbored some nasty and strange ideas. They’re all gone now, thanks to this loving and caring woman.
I wish I could name every single one of them. Too many to count have influenced my life. I know single moms and remarried moms and lesbian moms and moms married to the same man for 50 years. I know young women and old women, both with and without kids. I know women who shout boldly and women who are quiet and gentle. I know women in all sorts of professions. Here is what they have taught me, and I think this is one of the most vital things I have ever learned: Women are awesome. Honestly, between being bullied by mean girls for 8 years and being encouraged to see marriage and family as the highest endeavor a woman can have, I had a pretty dim view of women. I didn’t trust them and I didn’t like the idea that my lot in life was to get married and churn out babies. But guess what? The female friends I have as an adult are a very different lot. I am especially thankful for my closest friends (you gals, if you’re reading this, you know who you are!). There are ways in which, because of them, I have learned that it really, truly is okay to be myself. Thank you, thank you, my friends.
Whew! You get a medal if you made it through that. Today, if you are a woman, stand strong. Don’t be afraid to ask for the respect and dignity you deserve, or to be treated equally under the law. Don’t let anyone tell you what kind of role you have to play in your marriage or as a mother. If you are a man, support the women around you. Be a firm ally on the path to full equality. Be sure that you thank the women in your life for helping you be the man you are. If you’re already a man who is doing those things, then accept thanks from at least this woman who is grateful for men like you. When women are free to be themselves, it makes men free too.
Who are the women who have influenced your life?