For those regular readers who haven’t guessed yet, I’m a feminist and proud of it. As my bio says, I’m a sort of “take no prisoners, you’re either with me or against me” kinda feminist and while this doesn’t always win me friends, the ones that do stick around are loyal and just as proud of me and my achievements as I am. The people for whom my enthusiasm causes the most angst therefore, is my family. The people who can’t choose to walk away and remove themselves. The result is most commonly, my mother and my brother asking me to tone myself down a bit around certain people, well let’s be honest, around pretty much anyone except them and even sometimes then. For them, my loud, passionate and defiant activism and altruism can be embarrassing, conflicting and challenging. This can be hard for me to accept sometimes, thinking that as my family, they should be able to be as proud of me as my friends are, however recently I started thinking about whether or not I reciprocated the support that I expected and often, I think perhaps I don’t.
So, this article is a tribute to my mother, a powerful and determined woman, a woman who
does not necessarily consider herself a feminist but often lives by what I would consider feminist principles. A woman who has lived through all manner of challenges and remains one of the most respected people in my life. A woman who has reinvented herself late in life, not through relationship breakdown or forced circumstances like many women her age, but through determination, motivation and a desire for new challenges. She is, a powerful woman.
Like most young women, I’ve had a rollercoaster relationship with my mother, I was always a very independent young person with an acute sense of injustice which regularly brought me into conflict with my mother and other authority figures in my life. Through much of my adolescence I felt abandoned and misunderstood by my mother and never felt much like I could share my personal experiences with her. I always felt like she would judge me before she listened to me.
Over the last few years things have changed slowly and I think part of the reason things have changed is that I have come to respect my mum as a powerful woman in ways I never did before. It all started when she started walking. She had always been a walker (of the dog mostly) but she started attending an official walking group and her trainer was a sneaky little bugger who slowly motivated and moved her to participate in organised walks, followed by runs and finally to complete her first half marathon. I watched my mid fifties mother who had always been an active woman develop into a fit and talented runner. A feminist act? Probably not officially, but as I watched my friends parents slowly slip into inactive and unexciting lives, my mum was taking on greater and greater challenges. As a woman who has spent her professional life in one of the most female dominated industries of today, teaching, it was exciting to see her achieve physical goals that a few years ago had been entirely unimaginable. And how many other 50 something year old women were out there running the half marathon? (86 in the 50-59 female age group dropping to only 5 in the 60-69 female age group and only 1 in the 70+ female age group). So I apologise if you don’t agree, but I would consider this a woman stepping outside the traditional image.
It doesn’t stop there, being a powerful woman isn’t just about running far or doing things differently, it’s about how you do it and with what attitude. Mum remains one of the most infuriatingly modest people I know. Last year, when she was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer and advised to have a mastectomy of her right breast she quietly considered the anaesthetists questioning about her ability to climb a flight of stairs or walk 100m without getting short of breath and admitted that yes, she thought that would be possible. Her modesty at this point almost resulted in the anaesthetist under medicating her during surgery. Two months later she was hiking the Great Wall of China and riding horses in the northern mountains of Mongolia, single breasted and powerful.
Power isn’t just about feats of physical endurance and modesty though either. Sometimes power is about accepting help when it’s needed too. While backpacking with me through China, Mongolia and Russia last year, mum accepted unprecedented support and assistance from me, her daughter, in carrying our gear, finding help and travelling off the beaten track. I took responsibility for most of the arrangements, tried to bear the greatest
part of the luggage load (which was somewhat oversized due to a huge number of macadamia nuts being transported to my best friend in Mongolia) and took on the role of hunter gatherer in our search for public transport, cheap local food and even fending off attacks from guard dogs. I think mums trust in me was perhaps the greatest opportunity for us to change our attitude towards each other and form a greater bond. Although the incident in Mongolia which resulted in me trying to run down our tour guide on my horse and screaming abuse at him is a sore point, she later admitted that despite the shame she felt at the time of having her daughter acting like a crazed banshee, she was proud to have me defend her and stand up to the bully.
Being a powerful woman is also a result of great creativity. It is easy for me to say my mum is creative considering she is an art teacher, but her creativity is more than just artistic. She is always on the hunt for bigger and better ideas, more interesting ways of teaching art, more interesting projects. Her creativity is meticulous and sometimes obsessive but it results in quilts of such exquisite quality with miniscule hand stitches that would send a regular person into a tailspin of frustration.
And power is about generosity. My mum is the first to dedicate her time to the support of her friends, the last to leave when there is things to be done and the most trusted with sad/exciting/life changing news.
BUT, she is still worried about her image, won’t stand up for what is “right” if she thinks it will make too many uncomfortable waves and will choose French class over the launch of my new website. So being powerful is not about being perfect.
The process of writing this article has allowed me to think about how I can be a more
supportive daughter in the hope that it will mean mum will be a more supportive mother. Recognising the people we loves faults as well as their great achievements is all part of being a better, more positive and powerful person. Recognising mum’s great power reminds me that while we may have different feminisms, she is still one of my greatest role models and when she does tell me to smother my greater instinct to attack, mobilise, deride, invent or wax lyrical over some feminist point of theory or practice, it’s not an insult or a lack of her trust or love. It’s just a demonstration of how she’s different from me and just like she can choose to tell me to pipe down, I can choose to listen or not and as I get older the frequency that I choose the option of listening is increasing. So perhaps one day I will be the powerful one with the endless focus and meticulous attention to detail, or perhaps I won’t and this is just another example of the diversity of the women of the world.