Welcome to Harpy Seminar, a regular feature we plan to have at regular intervals, unless we get too busy to have it at regular intervals, in which case it shall appear whenever we have time and inclination for it. Each Seminar begins with a question, which we discuss amongst ourselves, and we then edit the highlights of our conversation into a post. Please feel free to join in in the comments!
Ladies, it’s the special weekend when we honor those who bore us: our moms. [PhDork: hey, my mom rarely bores me!] In fact, it’s an extra special weekend, because it was on this weekend many years ago that two amazing women gave birth to BeckySharper and SarahMC (who as children maybe occasionally resented it a teeny bit when their birthdays coincided with Mother’s Day).
So today’s Harpy Seminar is Our Mothers, Ourselves. We asked: “Was your mom a womanist/feminist? Did she intentionally raise you to be one? How did your relationship with your mom (feminist or not) influence the feminist/womanist you are today?”
SarahMC: My mom is most definitely not a feminist. She and my dad are both very conservative Evangelicals; we are opposites, politically. She and my dad didn’t impose any sort of strict femininity on me as a kid, or take me to Purity Balls or anything. But she DID make me do all the “girl” chores around the house. I knew something was off because my brother’s chore (taking the trash out) took up about 1.5 minutes of his week whilst mine (cleaning kitchen floor, doing dishes, dusting, folding laundry…) took up a lot more. And I ended up taking the trash out half the time anyway because he’d just refuse to do it! That will always stay with me – the uneven, sexist distribution of domestic duties that I understood even as a kid. My younger brother got away with so much and was given considerably more freedom than I was too and I’m pretty sure it was because he is a boy.
BeckySharper: My mom is a self-identified feminist. She was raised in a very proper and church-going family, but there was a big bubbling stew of feminism beneath the surface; my grandma was a widow and therefore the breadwinner. So Grandma raised my mother and her sisters to believe they had to be able to support themselves and their children. As a result, my mother and her two sisters are career professionals with four graduate degrees between them. In my house it was a foregone conclusion that I was going down that same path.
PhDork: I don’t know that my mom would identify as a feminist, although I think she is one. We didn’t discuss big-picture socio-political matters in my family home, so I never got explicitly “indoctrinated” about gender issues (or anything else). Nonetheless, I’m sure that being raised by her helped make me a feminist. My parents were pretty good about treating my brother and I the same–the same chores, the same expectations regarding grades, behavior, etc.–and they modelled a pretty decent division of household labor, too, especially for the era, I think. My parents divorced when I was in college, and since then, my mom has gotten stronger because she’s had to, I think, where my dad has sunk more deeply into gender-role stuff with his second wife, so I’m fairly certain that a lot of the equality I saw modelled growing up was due to Mom.
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: My mom is a bit of a paradox when it comes to feminism. When I told her about this blog, she was worried it would be “militant” and that it would freak out any prospective boyfriends. She is a bit uncomfortable with openly declaring herself as a feminist.
BeckySharper: So regardless of how they identified or not, do you feel that they pushed you towards feminism or modeled feminism in their own way?
PhDork: I think one thing my mom gave me was–is–a model of female capability. We didn’t have a lot of money or clout, but we were all pretty smart, and pretty determined. Mom knew how to do a lot of stuff. She could sew and cook and garden and clean anything, but she also worked with power tools, and bargained for services (if I ever have to buy a car, I want my mom there), and even did crazy-brave things, like climbing up on our roof with a hose when we had a chimney fire. And she did all that stuff without pointing out or making a big deal out of the gender of the tasks (I knew anyway, of course). If she didn’t already know how to do something, she learned how to do it. She still does. A few years ago she rented a tile cutter and tiled her kitchen floor. She still gets up on the roof–at 62–to clean out her gutters, and I wouldn’t challenge her to an arm-wrestling match; the lady’s got guns.
She’s not perfect, neither is our relationship, but I can’t say I didn’t have a pretty impressive model of womanhood.
SarahMC: I appreciate and love my mom for always encouraging me in my hobbies and interests, whether it was basketball or drawing or acting. I was always more than “good enough” for her, which I know is not the case in every child’s life. And like I said in the Faces Not Even A Mother Could Love post, she always told me I was beautiful and never criticized my looks or pressured me to change anything about myself physically. I think that is so important to a girl’s self-image.
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: A lot of my mother’s actions have influenced my attitudes towards family and what a woman can achieve. After my father left, she was without the primary parent and caregiver for me and my sister — and balanced that with an incredibly impressive law career. She has told me and my sister many times that depending on a man for money and self-worth will get you nowhere. She is unafraid to speak her mind and bristles at the implication that doing so will make her a “bitch”.
One last thing: she has been instrumental in driving home the importance of reproductive rights. She had two abortions, one of which was when she was barely 18 and before Roe v. Wade. She does not shy away from discussing it with me, and that helped me learn never to take that right for granted.
BeckySharper: My first sense of in-your-face feminism involved my mom: I was opening mail with her not long after she and my dad divorced. I was about 7. Some of her mail was addressed to “Mrs. Sharper”. I said “Mommy, are you a Mrs. or a Miss now that you’re not married anymore?” She said, very matter-of-factly: “I don’t like Mrs. or Miss. People should call me Ms. because it’s nobody’s business whether I’m married.” This was about 1980, when it was still pretty radical to go by “Ms.” Of course, about five years later she completed her PhD and became Dr. Sharper, so never mind. But as a result of that conversation, I have never called myself anything other than Ms–even when I sent little thank-you notes in elementary school I always wrote “Ms. Becky Sharper” on the return address.
In conclusion, we all want to send big Mother’s Day hugs to our moms, and to the moms reading, with a special shout-out to Mother.of.a.lesser.god, whose birthday is later this week!
Tell us your own mother stories, or stories about your adventures in motherhood–the good, the bad and the womanist/feminist–in the comments!