My Mother, the (not) Feminist

Well, it’s mid-May, Colorado just hosted another snowstorm, and I find myself snuggling the pups on the couch. Sunday was Mother’s Day. We spent time with my mother-in-law, and as I live 1,000 miles away, I sent my mom a gift and talked to her on the phone.

I found myself thinking a lot about my mother–scratch that–I always think a lot about my mother. What a curiosity that parents’ intelligence is perceived as a U-curve. Parents are brilliant when you are young, then your brain somehow expands to maximum capacity in middle school leaving no room for your parents’ silly ideas about the world, and finally, during college or some time after, you realize they actually might know what they’re talking about. I call my mom more often than I should with laundry questions, pet inquiries, health concerns, budgetary queries, and much, much more. The woman is a genius. My mother and I are somewhat similar. For example, we both Tetris the contents of the dishwasher perfectly and have a desire to make mundane tasks fun. However, many of our opinions and beliefs vary greatly. One of those beliefs is feminism.

Hear me out. My mother is strong, independent, caring, smart, and so many other wonderful adjectives, but she would not call herself a ‘feminist’. Me? I remember learning the word ‘feminist’ as it was jeered at me by middle school boys on the opposing side of a class debate. I grew up, watching my mother, and believing that women were as strong, independent, caring, and smart as any man. I grew up with a heart for justice, also gifted by my mother and being the oldest of six children. I grew up with a desire to be witty, strong, and a leader. I wanted to prove people wrong, I wanted to play football with the boys. I wanted the student government to stop favoring the tall boys with deep voices, but instead, listen to what everyone had to say. And I wanted people to stop telling women, those with disabilities, people of color, and so many more underprivileged groups what they could and could not do. I believe my mother instilled all this, and more, in me. As I grew up, these convictions were applied to more political subjects and my mother and I began to disagree more and more. In fact, like many millennials, I no longer talk to either of my parents about any political topic.

My father would tell you it’s my liberal, graduate school education that “did this to me”, but that’s actually not the case. See, I was raised by a feminist mother, whether she would label herself that or not. There was one moment, one of my earliest memories, that I remember as a defining moment in my life and my “feminist agenda”.

I was 5 or 6 years old, watching one of the Beethoven movies while lying on my parents’ bed. The Beethoven movies were the ones about the big St. Bernard–remember? This particular movie was about Beethoven and his family on summer vacation. Beethoven’s love interest just had puppies, and a Cruella de Vil-esque character wanted to steal the puppies for some reason. Ring any bells? Anyway, the major plot line was this lady with crazy eyes and her two idiot sidekicks that wanted to steal the puppies and the family wanting them to… not. But there were other minor “growing pain” plot lines for each of the kids in this family as well. One of which was the oldest daughter, I think her name was April, started getting attention from the popular boy in school (frosted tips and all, y’all). So one night April is walking Beethoven, stumbles upon a house party, and this boy, let’s call him Brad, notices her and invites her in. Brad gives her a “tour” which inevitably ends up in the bedroom where he tries to force himself on April. My mom was doing laundry in another room, but came in to check on me during this particular scene. She stood beside the bed folding an article of clothing, and watched with me as April proceeded to shove Brad so hard that he falls out of a window, and Beethoven, being an angel with four paws, tugs on the post he is tied to, causing part of the house to collapse, and Brad to tumble from the second story into the lake below. *Classic!*

The scene ended and my mom said, “He’s a bad guy.” Now, as a 5 year old, I’m just starting to understand storylines and characters. So I said, “No, he’s not,” meaning that he is not THE bad guy in the film, the major-plot-line bad guy, the Cruella de Vil-without-the-copyright bad guy. My mom stopped, turned to me, and as concern filled her eyes she said, “Oh, yes he is. If anyone ever tries to get you to do something you don’t want to do–if anyone ever tries to kiss you or touch you and you don’t want them to– they are a bad, bad guy.” I immediately said, “Oh yeah, yeah. I know. I just mean, the lady that wants to steal the puppies is the movie’s bad guy.” And my mom nodded and said, “Yes… but so is he.”

REMEMBER! This was AT NIGHT! She was BY HERSELF! They were AT A PARTY! This boy had BEEN DRINKING! And this girl had even expressed interest in Brad previously! How was HE the bad guy?!

My mama saw straight through all that crap and taught me to do the same.

I’m sure there were a million more moments of my childhood just like this, that defined my values and belief. But this is one lesson from my mother that I will never forget, and this is one lesson from my mother that I wish all children had the benefit of learning, and this is one lesson from my mother that I wish kids, parents, policy makers, self-conscious teens, strong adults, men, women, whites, blacks, browns, and EVERYONE could remember as vividly as I do.

So my mother wouldn’t call herself a feminist. But if I were to ask her, ‘do you believe all people have value and should be treated equally?’ My mother would say without an ounce of hesitation, “Oh yes”. So this Mother’s Day I am thankful for my (not) feminist mother and all of the life lessons that she (and Beethoven) taught me.

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