personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

What is it like to be a woman in your society?


What is it like to be a woman in your society? I can't answer that. It's a question that is currently being asked in a "virtual conference" celebrating women's voices for social change. The conference leads into a discussion on actions to celebrate International Women's Day March 8. As I thought of all the things I could say in response to this question, I wondered what my mother would say if she were alive. I'd probably ask her the question after having dinner over at my house, where she would sit in the living room, sipping her coffee and enjoying the antics of my boys. She would probably say,

Well you know Dear, things were different in my day. My father worked downtown and it was expected that my mother stayed home to take care of me, my sister, and my brother. My mother never complained nor protested at the role she had. Back then you just did things a certain way and that was that. I don't think she ever questioned my father, nor did she ever raise her voice at him. Years later after both my parents passed away I found my mother's diary and I came to realize that she'd hidden a lot of pain from us children, keeping secret my father's dalliance that had gone on for a long time.

Your father wasn't like that, though. When we married in 1962 I thought there was something wrong with him because he was so old at the age of 35 and was still single. I wasn't much better you know, at 32. I'm sure some people thought I was an old bat at that point. By the time your sister was born in 1965 I was happy to leave my job at CIL and settle in our home. Your father took the train every morning and came home to a hot supper at six every night. All the other wives in Roxboro had the same lives: we fed our husbands, sent the children off to school if we had any, and cleaned the house during the day. That's just the way it was, it wasn't as though you questioned it. I'd studied to work in an office, I did that for a few years, and then it was time to raise a family. 

I had more money than your father when we bought the house - he was lucky to have me, I tell you buster boy. As we settled in to our lives, after the sadness surrounding your sister, your brother came along and then you. Your father took care of everything - he fixed the house, paid the bills, earned the money. I stayed at home, cooked. cleaned, and took care of you. You were a quiet one - sometimes I would call your name just to make sure you were home - and then there was your brother. Always getting into trouble.

After your father died I didn't know what to do from one day to the next. I loved your father so much, and then all of a sudden I was left alone. Friends and family came to console me in the beginning but it didn't last long. Raising two children on your own as a woman is not easy. He was no longer there to take care of things, no longer there to help me. I didn't know anything about repairing the car or how much it cost to get the roof fixed. I had to make decisions on my own about the education you and your brother would receive. I brought you up always doubting whether or not I was making the right decisions. I wasn't always taken seriously - I could tell that some men weren't used to having a woman talk to them. I would tell them I was a widow not to get pity from them, but to show them that I was tough and I could stand on my own. I look back at the early days when I was raising you and your brother and I sometimes wonder how I got through it all.

When you tell me of the places you've been, I read up on them from books in the library. Did you know that some women in Africa have to stand behind their husbands when they walk with them? And that some women can't even look at men eye to eye? And that women in India are burned, sometimes thrown acid on their faces by their husbands? The lives they live are so painful, it makes me sick to see that women are treated this way in other countries. Did you know that girls are being mutilated at a young age because it's part of their traditions? And in some places a man can have more than one wife? Your father would have said, One's enough! A lot of things have changed since I was young, but when I look around I can't help but feel sadness at the way some women are treated.

I feel the same way, Ma.



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