Writing is a way for me to process my feelings and try to understand this life. This is one of those stories.
She Never Dreamed Of Being A Mother Of Six!
She Dreamed of Being a Writer
The only writing she ever found time for was little bits and pieces of writings on the back of pictures, on scraps of paper and an occasional notebook.
She wrote about her children. She wrote about holiday celebrations, as though they were beautiful picturesque events. Never, ever did she write about her anger. No one was ever to know. No one, except those of us who bore the brunt of her anger. And we were children. We assumed that we had been bad. We grew up in fear. We'd only find out a little bit, over time, how she had wanted to go to high school but was told it wasn't necessary, for a girl. How she finally got to go because a Catholic school had opened. How college was never ever in the picture although she'd wanted to continue her writing. She was a woman. Education wasn't necessary for someone who was supposed to get married and have children. So she did as she was told and married a local boy, a farmer. She'd have baby after baby, miscarriage after miscarriage, and she'd live poor. She'd be moved away from her family and home town and left a widow by the time her 6th baby was in kindergarten. She maybe had every reason to be angry.
Questioning My Fears
I spent my early years being afraid of my mother. Not respect, FEAR! Still I questioned the way things were.
- Why do girls always have to do the cleaning, the dishes, and help with the baby?
- Why are boys allowed to get a job that pays them money?
- Why do the girls never get paid for what they do?
Those were my innocent early questions and the answer was always "That's just the way it is. Girls do girl things and boys do boy things." Basically I was to just shut up and do what was expected...of a girl.
As I grew into a teenager, I was chased around the house by my brother. He was exercising his "boy" thing on his sister. I was afraid to tell my mother because she loved her boys. They could do no wrong, while I was always causing problems as far as she was concerned. So instead, I learned to never be alone with my brother. It wasn't safe for me.
Then, as I neared high school graduation, I realized that all my friends planned to attend college so I wanted to do the same. My mother raged again. "You don't need to go to college. You'll just meet some boy, get married and have kids. It's a waste of money for a girl." One weekend, I visited a college campus and upon my return, I was treated to one of her beatings because she thought I was getting too 'snooty'. I wasn't appreciating what she had done for me all those years. How dare I want to leave!
This was the first hint that her rage was some kind of jealousy. My fear at that point turned to my own anger. I was far from being 'snooty'. I was, however, not NOT going to stay in this house where I wasn't safe. And I wasn't going to spend my life following some kind of role expectation for women! Not in my life!
Women Are Supposed To Accept The Way Things Are
As I grew into adulthood, I tried to show my independence but I was still caught up in the role women were supposed to play. In my early adult years, I desperately wanted to please my boyfriend then husband. He was my way out of that house. But this was a time when women were battling for liberation. Liberation from being told to accept gender roles, accept feeling diminished intellectually, accept being told that you wouldn't survive without a man. I told myself that I didn't need the women's movement. I could prove my own worth. I could fight for myself. So I got that college degree and I got a teaching job (an acceptable job for a woman).
Still, I spent years in a marriage where it was assumed that even though I had my own career, my husband's was to be more important. My job provided the health insurance but it was his name on the card. I could not hold my own credit cards and therefore I, by myself, had no credit rating. And, and...it was my job to make sure that my husband was always happy. Give him what he wants, when he wants it! I was caught in a time that ran ads like this: "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget your a man."
I quietly battled this norm. After some time, I realized that my mother's anger was becoming my own. I needed the courage to change that. After 19 years of marriage, after doing everything I could to be a supportive wife and with two teenage daughters, I asked for a divorce. I celebrated my first bank account under my name only. My insurance card and credit cards were changed to my name only, as well. I found out that times had changed...some.
People criticized me, though. "Do you know what this is doing to him?"
But The Story Didn't End There
I remarried, still feeling a need for support. I had grown in my career but I have to admit, it was this man who encouraged me to take my career higher. He seemed so incredibly supportive and I was thrilled thinking that this was what a marriage was supposed to be like.
But then...as soon as I moved into a better paying role, he quit working. Seriously! And, he had all kinds of ideas about how I could spend my retirement funds to make his time even more pleasant.
Again, I knew I had to leave. And this divorce cost me 50% of my retirement plan. What was it going to take for me to learn that I actually had no voice. I was still being pushed back into that mindset that I would never be able to survive without a man. I felt the divorce was my fault. I somehow deserved to lose most of everything I had worked for.
Was I getting too "snooty"?
My Mother's Anger Became My Own
The Women's Movement gave us the right to work outside the home, carry the family life insurance with our name on it, carry credit cards on our own and grow our own credit rating.
But, along with this "freedom", messages continued implying that it's still our job to make sure that we protected the man's self-esteem. Don't let them feel diminished in any way.
Why have I lived in a world where women are still fighting to feel equal? Why did I always feel used and punished by the men who were suppose to love me?
Why do women stay silent about abuse that occurs to them over their lifetime? Why? Because no one believes you.
To the outside world, my mother was seen as a great strong woman who raised wonderfully respectful children. She kept her anger contained to inside the home. And although I could claim abuse at the hands of different people, there were no bruises. The men I had married had only behaved the way my life messages had projected. Somehow, I hadn't learned the one lesson my mother had tried to beat into me: "Women are supposed to just accept what is!"
Now, recently watching coverage of Christine Blasey Ford try to share her memory about an incident that happened to her, only to have it dismissed, is proof to me that women are still far from reaching equality. People claimed that it might be possible that something happened to her but it was so many years ago that perhaps her memory wasn't clear anymore. Are women incapable of recall?
Some things happened to me over 60 years ago. Some as recently as 10. But I can assure you, I remember every single incident with clarity. These are things a person can not forget. I posted this story on my Facebook page and had one male friend reply with "I have known you almost all if not all of my life and I never knew this had happened to you." At least he believed me even though from his vantage point he had seen my life differently.
Still, I Will Not Let Anger Control Me
I have written this last part three different times and three different ways. For now, I'll share this one.
My mother wrote but never wrote about her anger. We laughed at how she always described things through "rose colored glasses". She never let the world see her anger. We were the only ones who knew. And then it took me a lifetime really to understand where it came from. She had unfulfilled dreams.
So, this has been my life. My way of trying to make my dreams a reality and at the same time feeling the same restrictions; some brought on by myself, some caused by a society trying to change but not really. And now, we are at a place, just like many times before, where women are speaking up. Dr. Ford's words were calm and measured but still she was dismissed. Women marched in protest and have been referred to as "a mob".
I grew up knowing what anger can do to a person and the people around them. I spent my young adult life then trying to please those who promised to love me but I could feel my anger growing every time I felt used. I finally understood my mother.
Today, I still seek to please others. I avoid anger. It scares me. Instead, I seek positive people and motivating messages. Still I feel I've succeeded. Women can show strength by staying calm and measured. I believe that we have to push aside the anger in an attempt to conquer a voice. Screaming didn't work for my mother. Her anger didn't change her life for the better. And pretending that we accept the role we've somehow been given isn't the answer either.
Today, I seek to find ways to spread positive influence. To be a female voice that is respected and heard. We need to learn from past abuse. We need to not cry about it or scream about it or expect anyone to ever say they are sorry. What we need to do is stand up to it. Take control. Power over women has to be done. Women need to show their own power. It's past time.