The other week, on International Women’s Day, I wrote about my struggle to be a feminist mother. I wrote about wanting to encourage my daughter to run far and to run free, as I did, but about worrying about her running too far, and too free. As if there were such thing, but therein resides the struggle: I fear that there is such a thing. Or at least, that there is the cultural suggestion of such a thing, and that that suggestion might be as much of a constraint as the thing itself.
I wrung my hands, and wrung my hands.
And then I got this email, from my mother:
When I read what you posted for International Women’s Day I felt every word. Almost every one of those words are what was in my heart and mind when you and your sister were Emilia’s age – trying out your wings, testing boundaries, testing limits, trying to fly on your own.
It was, as you know, it was extremely important to me that you and your sister knew that you could be anything you dared to dream, that you were never, ever dependent on some else for your well-being and that you never forget the value of your uniqueness as a human being. I wanted everything for you and your sister that I wasn’t and what my mother, my grandmother and great-grandmother weren’t. They never experienced flying on their own, they allowed themselves to be constrained by traditional values and mores. I, like them, was not encouraged or allowed to explore who I was or who I could be. Your grandmother tried to fly, but after having her wings clipped a few times she gave up.
When you were born I knew how much more I wanted for you.
My journey to self-awareness and emancipation continues even to this day. The “inside” me is the one who wants to dance on tables, who wants to wear lime green and fuschia, who sees herself as a vibrant and sensual women and who wants to flaunt it. The “outside” me wears neutral colors, is fairly sedate and is somewhat concerned about public opinion. The “inside” me and the “outside” me struggle a lot. I guess that’s why your post spoke to me so much – I don’t ever want Emilia to have an “inside” her and “outside” her.
I don’t want her emancipation to take almost seventy years.
I so take for granted the condition of my motherhood. I so take for granted the condition of my womanhood. I have freedoms that I don’t even recognize. I am habituated to freedom in such a way that it is almost entirely unconscious. I can recall my girlhood, and my youth, and young womanhood, and not recognize how my movement through those stages – my free movement, my self-determined movement, the movement that saw no distinction between an inner me and an outer me – was made possible by the concerted effort of my mother – and by all women like her, who fought for something better for their daughters – to make sure that the path was wide open and lighted. By the concerted effort of my mother to urge me on. To push and insist. To say to me, go. GO.
I owe it to my mother to not take this – this extraordinary condition in which I am free to be my whole self, unrestrained; in which I am free to ride those wild horses – for granted. I owe it to my daughter to not take this for granted.
We all owe it. Let’s never forget that.