Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The women in my life...


Legend has it that my great grandmother used to beat up my great grandfather. I don't know if this is true or not, but the little I rememeber of the woman is enough to not let me doubt that for longer than a second. She was quite the bitch. My great grandmother was ahead of her time in more ways than one. Perhaps my great grandpa was a pushover, that I don't know; however, my great grandma was the head of the household, the disciplinarian of the 16 kids they had together, and the most unlikely breadwinner because even though she didn't have any formal schooling, she somehow managed to have some form of a business. She died at the tender age of 90.

My grandmother is also quite a character. She is 66 years old and has a third grade education. After that, she taught herself reading, writing and math and in turn taught others in her community. Rumor has it that SHE used to beat up my grandfather when he used to cheat on her (frankly, I find her 5'2" frame to be an unlikely match for his 6'1" body but whatever). Anyway, when he left her for another woman, a doctor, she moved to NY so that she could provide a better life for her 3 daughters. She worked at a factory as a seamstress for years. She was a mother and the sole breadwinner of her household until the last of my aunts got married. She didn't remarry until she was 55 years old.

My mother is the eldest of three. She was raised by her mother, a factory worker. At 17 (1976) she received a full scholarship to go to Columbia University. For reasons I won't get into, she moved back to Dominican Republic, where she graduated from law school. By age 19 she was married, by 25 she had three kids. By then she had also gone to Spain and had come back with a PhD. By 26 she was divorced for the first time and practiced the art of single parenting. We moved away. My mother never practiced law but she became a very successful entrepeneur. She has always been the main breadwinner of my household and has excelled at each and every one of her endeavors. She never beat up neither my dad nor any my step fathers.

Then there is me. I was brought up by my mother, the entrepeneur/politician. I've worked since I was 14 years old. At 17 I started college, by 21 I had a college degree, by 23 I had done some graduate work. I am well traveled. But I am not my mother. Nor my grandmother. Or even my great grandmother. I come from a matriarchal line full of women who were "feminists" though they all despise the term. Yet, empowered though I feel by knowing that I share my genes with these amazing women, I believe that "feminism" begins at home.

Last week I started medical school. I don't know if I will finish it or not but either way, were I to have a child I would stay home to raise him/her. Society's values begin in the home and the best way to set an example for our children is not by letting them be raised by nannies or by spending a few measely hours a night with them; but by becoming an active part of their development. The education will always be there, but that time in a child's life is priceless and after it's over, no matter what you do, you can never get it back.

Our society is not egalitarian because we keep teaching our childen that men have an advantage over women and that comes from our upbringing. We can change that. It's fabulous that women are taking leadership positions around the world in corporations and as heads of state; but if those women were to decide that they wanted to stay home and raise their kids that is commendable as well. Not having kids is also as good of a choice as having them. The greater good involves individual responsability and setting good examples and promoting equality should fall in the job description of the parents not the 12 year old babysitter.


Grant said...

Well put. I have a problem with the feminists who attack women who choose to raise a child instead of pursuing a career just because it's what they're now supposed to do. "Green is the new pink." Leave my favorite color out of it.

That being said, I can still take you in a bare knuckle brawl. :p

pia said...

What a wonderful story. Learn much in medical school.

My niece is eleven; my sister stays home despite much pressure to go back to work. She contributes half the expenses plus mothering so....

My mom's mother was a Communist, feminist, worked forever etc etc

Though she died when I was 11 she had the biggest impact on my life outside of my parents

Keep us informed!