I´ve never been a woman that thinks very much about being a woman. I remember in college that while I could get onboard with gender equality campaigns and theological discussions about the feminine characteristics of God and the way patriarchy and machismo has marked Biblical interpretation, culture, etc….it all fit under the category of injustice generally, one of many many injustices to be rectified and worked against. Moreover, I never was particularly excited about being part of a women’s-only group….I really like men, as a child I really liked boys. I don’t mean romantically or sexually, I mean that I have historically had many really strong male friendships and most of the time when there were gender-specific activities, I’ve tended to rather do the “male” activity than the “female” equivalent ( example: play soccer or stand in a group and chat? Tea party or going out for a beer? (even before I *liked* beer this sounded like more fun), street hockey or jump rope? Men’s retreat hiking or women’s retreat reflecting on ourselves and doing yoga? I realize these are stereotypes, but they happen…) I finally realized I’m not a terribly feminine person, in the traditional sense. I can be, for sure, I have my moments, but I don’t gravitate towards intensely feminine spaces.
I also have the huge benefit of having been raised (amazingly, given that my childhood was spent in an Islamic Republic and later teenage years in Palestine..) pretty much constantly empowered and made to feel that being a woman was pretty much irrelevent to what my interests or possibilities should or would be. That is to say, I never had to overcome anything, really. When later in life I have experienced oppression or sexism in any form my atitude has run between gut-reaction anger, to pity for the perpetrators and how much they’re losing by having that mentality. It’s never gotten to me because I know who I am, as a human being, and that being a woman is just one of so many aspects of myself that make me neither better nor worst than anyone else.
Reading “A People’s History of the United States” has been an eye-opener in many ways. Learning about United State’s women’s struggle to be seen simply as people and treated as equal has forced me to admit that I have the luxury of not thinking myself exclusively or even primarily through the lense of being a woman (as opposed to a christian, a pacifist, a high-energy person, an advocate, or whatever…) because of the struggle of so many women before me. Women, specifically. Men helped, but without women it wouldn’t have been possible.
Today is Mother’s day, so I’ve been thinking about mothering, the verb, and how nowadays that which we associate with “mothering” is something we expect both parents to participate in. In the end parenting as a whole requires a huge spectrum of things: constant love and affection, discipline, guidance, money, time, etc. and while those different aspects once were neatly divided between Provider (of money and discipline mostly) and Nurturer (feeder, cleaners, care-giver, etc) most of the modern marriages and parents I know now mix fairly freely between these two roles. Maybe there is coming a day when Mothers’day and Fathers’day won’t be thought of or celebrated in such different ways, or where Mother day will be about Mothering, caring, regardless of who (or what gender) the caregiver is. But while I hope and mostly believe that’s the direction we’re heading in, it’s important to acknowledge that women, that mothers in most parts of the world have to a large degree become the all-around-parent, or at least done the lion’s share of parenting and by and large they have done an amazing job.
I was thinking today about how glad I am I’m not a mother; to be honest, how terrified I would be to be a mother after seeing the level of commitment and life-change it requires. But I was also thinking about the millions of women, many of whom didn’t necessarily plan on being mothers, many of whom perhaps had no desire to be mothers, who nevertheless have given their lives as loving gifts to their kids. These women, our mothers, aren’t just teaching us about being a good mom: most of them are teaching the world an important lesson on what it means to be a good human being, what it means to be a good Christian, what it is to truly love someone. Being sensitive, being gentle but firm, thinking of someone else before oneself are characteristics we should all seek. What terrifies me about motherhood is sacrificing my own plans and desires for someone elses’ well-being. Essentially a fear of being pulled out of my own selfishness. Eventually I need to get over that; whether I ever become a mother or not, I have much to learn about being a better human being from the mothers I have seen.
The act that first began the tradition of celebrating mother’s day, Julia Ward Howe’s proclamation in 1870 says: “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, Disarm!’”
We do ourselves a disservice lauding this solely as an inspiring act from a woman, or a mother. Of course Julia was both those things, but first and foremost she was a human being, and “charity, mercy and patience” are not only virtues for women, but for everyone, especially for sons who (then and now) are often the first to be told that competition, winning, pride, and manliness are more virtuous than being sensitive or empathetic to the pain of others.
I don’t think women are more inherently gentle, or merciful, or loving then men. I do think we’ve been “socialized to” lean more towards those virtues, and must extremely careful that this be our strength, that we not reject it as part of the historic oppression of women. No, it is not inherent to us, but it is good. Men, young adult women, all of us must now see and acknowledge that the rejection of the violence and the ability to love unconditionally and sacrifice much for others which we have seen in so many mothers is an example for all of us. It is something we must all learn.
Tonight I want to thank and respect all the voices, male and female, that in the face of calls for blood, conquest, economic interests or convenience have spoken out and acted for peace, in love, in mercy, in empathy. I want to value (as an aggressive, competitive, work-minded, fairly “masculine” woman, the “feminine” virtues of care, patience and tenderness which we all need to cultivate—not because it is in our nature, but precisely because so often it is lacking.
And I want to name Judy Sarriot as a mother, a woman, but above all a human being who most brilliantly has shown me with her resilient, humble and constant example what living a life full of mercy, love, and empathy can look like. I honor, respect, and love you deeply.