Said Eleanor…

I was considering writing an essay addressed to women based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s oft-stated observation “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then, I waivered for a few reasons. The main one being, I personally know how hard it is to rise above the belief of one’s own inferior status when you are surrounded by a culture, religion or family system that operates from a built-in gender inequality model. And, when your finances are tied in with your male counterpart this compounds the situation.

How does a woman activate within herself the powerful being that has been in dormancy for eons? How does she, despite everything that is pushing against this, rise into her own (uncomfortable) power? How does she source her power in a male-dominated world where “might makes right” and she is hostage to her fears? And as a woman, how does she safely proclaim her feminine prowess when what she brings to the table is unappreciated, minimized and even ridiculed?

At the time that I wrote the following, my mother was eighty-two years old, born in 1920. She married my father in 1941. He won the grand prize, her. She quit her secretarial job, as was expected, bore nine children and lived a life of absolute servitude to him. I heard from one of my sister’s a few days ago. She said that our mom was sitting in a chair in our parents’ house. She just keeled over, fell to the floor and laid their conscious but shocked. Somehow, she got herself up. Shortly thereafter, she went outside to tell my father. He wanted to take her to the hospital. She declined.

My mother runs a household for my father the same as she has since 1941, except that she no longer has her children to help with all of the household tasks. My father does not lift a finger. In his letter to me, he said they eat two meals a day. This preparation is hard on my mom. She doesn’t just throw a porkchop in the broiler. He requires labor-intensive meals and my mom complies. They have two refrigerators stocked with food that she has prepared and other staple ingredients. This is her job, her role–I once asked her “Mom, when do you get to retire?” She answered sheepishly, “I never thought of that.” In questioning her daily routine, I asked her “Do you ever stop, take a bath with bath salts or essential oils and just relax.” She said “I don’t have time for that.” When the facts of his physical and other abuses came to light, I asked her, “Mom, didn’t you get angry?” Her response was “I can’t be bothered with that.”

Where did her anger go? Years later, I realized that part of her anger went into guilt and shame because she didn’t protect her children or herself so well.

Contrary to an enduring belief–men are not intended to be the kings in their castles with women serfs out in the field doing the labor, birthing the children and caring for all things that revolve around home. And in this model, she is also excluded from the decision-making even with things that directly affect her.

So, while I agree in theory with Eleanor’s quote…in practice, after years of ongoing spousal abuse and mental manipulations, my mom had lost the power to make healthy choices for herself when it came to this long-endured relationship. She had been made to feel inferior, probably from birth. And this sense of inferiority carried on right through her marriage to a narcistic man.

Looking at the world at large, I do think that there are some narcistic male leaders making decisions for all of us. As a woman, how does my voice even get heard to affect change in a system that is intent with keeping her in her place? Until a woman can break the ties that bind her to a false sense of herself and comes to realize her personal power, the same games are going to play out. Men continue to dominate. Women continue to take a back seat. We’ve seen a few models of powerful women, but not enough. A surge of woman’s power has to happen en masse to affect real change for the better.

What’s a Feminist?

Sorting through my many files of writing–with the intention of shredding some of it, I came across a questionnaire from my college-age granddaughter…she was writing a paper about my generation of women–the sixties and seventies.

The first question was “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” As I rewrite this question here, I wonder if the concept of feminist even exists in other cultures. I’d like to know. Or does it belong to a time and era, culture and country, localized?

Regardless, it’s food for thought. Once I answered, yes, I consider myself a feminist, her next question was… “How do you define feminism?”

One dictionary definition of feminism is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities…” A second definition: ” Organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.”

I think that it’s important to recognize that in 1787 when the US Constitution was ratified, where it says that “all men are created equal” it refers to educated white males. Though women in this country were granted the right to vote as of August 18, 1920, the mentality that classed women as property and inferior to men exists to this day. Within the mindsets of both women and men, women continue to have less status than men in this country–and throughout most of the civilized and third world countries. Is it changing?

We hear examples of this inequality and outright abuse around the world daily. Though it can be more subtle in this country, wherever women are objectified–popular men’s magazines (like Playboy), sitcoms and movies that portray women as “dumb,” and crimes against women that aren’t effectively addressed. The lack of educational opportunities across the economic strata that would enhance women’s opportunities and self-esteem .

There is a concurrent need for the re-educating of men to foster respect for the contributions of womankind, up close and personal and globally. What is at the very roots of resistance to this? What undermines and contributes to this inequality?

Truly, the personal is political. One thought that I would add in defining feminism is this: Women do have gender-specific abilities, responsibilities, qualities that men obviously don’t have. That said, a reframing of the intrinsic value of women’s work both to a household and its benefits to a society should not go unrecognized and under-appreciated. The tasks that are particular to her gender, specifically, childbearing, nurturing, intuiting, nourishing and any other innately feminine traits be elevated and deemed as worthy and equal to any work that a man does out in the world–this recognition boosts esteem. Different but equal was a phrase commonly used in the sixties when women were burning their bras. I don’t think that the intention of this statement is reflected in our policies yet today.

****

Are you a feminist?

How do you define feminism?

A good discussion topic with your friends?