Friday, July 18, 2014

Diary of Four Women Essay


                 Having been raised in a conservative Mormon household, I wasn't taught to look to my fellow females unless it was to find an example of how to stay sweet, be a peacekeeper, a worthy wife or a mother. My childhood heroes were princesses and females who were mothers of multiple children. Poised, behaved women who put motherhood first, put everyone’s needs before their own and anyone else’s feelings above their own were what I strived to mimic. I was raised to be obedient, first to a god, second to my father and brothers, third to my mother and one day, my husband.  Being raised to believe certain things weren't meant for women, like the priesthood, or church leadership, or even having a voice, didn't set me up to succeed in life on my own; I had to have a husband to achieve the goals that were set for me. Naturally, my first goal in life was to find myself a husband; preferably a return missionary before I reached the ripe old age of 22.

            With my goal of tracking down a husband on the top of my priority list, my first role model became my maternal grandmother. She was married by 16, dropped out of high school at the end of 10th grade to be with my grandfather and had 8 children in a 12 year span. She did the unthinkable and married a non-Mormon, but showed her strength and faith by converting him to the gospel. My grandparents never separated, never spoke of divorce and had a love for their children and grandchildren that was palpable. My grandmother could do all the things I hoped to do one day. She had her fair share of children, she had a home, a husband, was overly maternal, and was the best story teller I have ever had the pleasure to know. She had her priorities straight and kept to them like the woman of god that she was. She was everything to me. She taught me how to bake, how to cook, how to play the piano, she told me stories that enveloped my soul, and she taught me how to be a peacekeeper and the art of ‘staying sweet’. She had the voice of an angel and she had the opportunity to share her talent at Carnegie Hall in the 1980’s. She was my very first role model, my very first example of all that a woman should be. She was the epitome of love and I miss her every single day.

            I looked up to my mother for a very brief time in my youth, and I am hoping that I can be more than she was. I learned a lot from her, but not in a good way. I learned how not to treat daughters, how not to behave in a relationship, how not to constantly be the victim. Though learning through a bad example hardly makes a role model. My world was shaken at eighteen years old when I found out the man who had raised me as his biological child, was not my biological father. My parents had lied, a ruse that was supported by the church, in order to prevent me from finding out that my mother was not married when she got pregnant with me. It was more shameful to get pregnant out of wedlock, than it was to lie to a child their entire life about their genealogy, about their heritage, about who they are and where they came from. My world turned upside down, and the final soul crushing fact that my little brothers were not my full siblings, but half-brothers, and that I had two older half-brothers and a younger half-sister, sent me on a soul searching mission that ended up somewhere I never thought I would be: An ex-Mormon.

            Once I had started to shed my religion, I lost my role models, my source of examples of what I, as a woman, should be. I no longer could look up the Joseph Smith’s wife (wives) or to the Relief Society President, as I no longer identified with their struggle or goals. I floundered to find conservative ‘proper’ women who I felt could give me a good footing in what I should strive to be. I failed in that endeavor. It was a feeling akin to being thrown into a swimming pool, first the feeling of panic when you have no control, a moment of freedom, and then a cold, enveloping feeling that takes a moment to get used to. You know you will survive, but it’s not going to be pleasant. The women who are my role models now, have only been so for a few years. They are women who I would have mocked and judged as my younger self. They are women who I didn't feel were ‘real’ women, because they weren't 100% selfless. They didn't set their priorities the way that ‘proper’ women did. And I know my younger pre-adolescent self would stare at me slack jawed if she could meet herself as I am today.

            My second female role model is my Aunt Andrea. When my high school boyfriend broke my heart, a year after I found out about the lie that up-heaved my world, she invited me over for pizza and ice cream. We watched movies until midnight and talked until the wee hours of the morning. She married into my dad’s side of the family and she was a good housekeeper, as well as had a job and career of her own. It was wonderful to see how she had both a career and a marriage; I was awestruck. She let me know that I was still worthy of love, even though I had given my high school boyfriend the one thing I was supposed to hold onto until marriage. She showed me what strength was to her, and it was so different than what I thought strength was. She became a nearby confidant until she and my uncle divorced. My heart broke for her, and I was devastated when she moved to Arizona, but the fact that she didn't let the end of one relationship get her down inspired me. I was astounded by her self-respect. I was raised to believe that if your husband cheats, you stick it out because it probably your fault to begin with. She taught me that if your husband cheats, you get to decide if he is worth staying with. She still is someone who I turn to if everything is falling apart around me. She reminds me that ‘staying sweet’ isn't always the answer.

          I had tried to fit into the parameters set by my mother, and even though I was still so hurt that she lied, I still sought after her love and approval. I got married as an ‘old maid’ at the unforgivable age of 23. I knew that if I wanted to make my mother proud of me, I had to hop on the ‘as many children as god will give you’ bandwagon and start making babies. I had my first daughter at 25 and when she was 8 months old, I got pregnant with my second daughter. I was on the road to true motherhood, when I hit another bump in my life journey: finally getting rid of my religion permanently. It was a weird feeling, every goal I had ever set for myself was no longer relevant to who I now identified as. I still looked up to my grandmother and aunt, but I searched for examples of strong mothers, outspoken women, independent wives, and women who did good things because they wanted to, not because they had to.

            I was raised to put the quiet, obedient women at the top of my proverbial list of female epitomes. As I grew in my own feminist way, I searched deeper within people to find things that I could relate to on a deeper level. Where before I wanted to be a girl who fit into the patriarchy perfectly, I then found myself outside the patriarchy, searching for idols, and finding them in places I was already familiar. I loved watching the movies and shows that were made before I was born. As an elementary aged child, I loved watching I Love Lucy, Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, and every single Doris Day movie ever made. I fell in love with the idea of Audrey Hepburn at a young age. She was the perfect candy coated shell of what a female should be. Everything that a woman should look like, and behave like, came through in just her looks. Her voice was perfect and she was breathtaking. As I went through the changes that life placed so kindly at my feet, I developed a new love and respect for Audrey Hepburn. The more I learned about her humanitarian efforts and her goals as a person, not just a woman, the more I wanted to be like her. Audrey was a mother, a wife, a partner, a humanitarian and she did all those things while working. She believed in inner beauty and strength. And as I lost my identity, I looked to her example. I learned that life wasn't about being an obedient, subservient female. Life was so much bigger than that, than me, than the person I used to be. She sent home the point that divorce doesn't ruin you as a woman, it doesn't ruin you for other men, it doesn't ruin your children and it doesn't mean you failed. Femininity doesn't require a masculine man to be present in order for it to exist.

            It was hard for me to find four women to write about, which speaks volumes for the kind of world and culture I was raised in. I could easily name off four to ten men that are strong examples of what men ‘should’ be, but I wasn't raised to single out women based on their own merits. I still pull strength from the women who I have mentioned. But lately I have found myself finding guidance and respect from a different set of women. Women like Hillary Clinton, Sally Ride, Elizabeth Warren, Wendy Davis, Marie Currie, Ellen DeGeneres, and even my two young daughters. The women who I look to now have fought to make a difference in the lives of so many other women and children.

Elizabeth Warren is my role model right now. She fights for working moms, struggling students, and lower class families. She is everything I hope to one day be, not necessarily a senator, but a strong mother who doesn't stop her passion at her children; a woman who fights for everyone. She struggled as a working mother, and I can relate to that, but she didn't let it stop her from achieving her goals and finishing her education. She stands strong against the patriarchal standards of our society and she continues to fight against all forms of ignorance, bigotry, and discrimination. She has brought light to so many topics that have been hidden from the people and ignored by our government. Like her, I am not going to view my children as my life’s magnum opus, life is much more vast and open to explore. And though it is true, that my strong girls will be the closest to magic that I will ever come, it doesn't mean that I can stop now. There is so much in the world to fight for, to hope for, and to improve.

        I know that the women I look up to and idolize will continue to change as I change and grow as a woman. I am hoping that no matter what, I will still be able to find the strong, independent, kind women in the masses of who society tells us is worthy of the title of role model. I hope I am able to raise my daughters to find people who inspire them, women who the would like to emulate, and I hope I am worthy to be one of them.

1 comment:

The Brook Family said...

I also have two girls and I've been on the hunt and have found some real beauties. :-) I love listening to "Talk Nerdy" by Cara Santa Maria. She hosts a science podcast. She is also an ex-mormon athiest.