Last week was huge for me in celebrating some of the women in my life. My twenty-five-year-old daughter Sophia was married to the man she loves. It was a beautiful moment for me and for her mother Laura, and, as part of my “Father of the Bride” speech, I shared the following story with her new husband, Travis.
It was a story accompanied with a gift: a twenty pound bag of dirt.
But not just any bag of dirt.
It was from Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro Arkansas. People go there to dig for diamonds and if you find some, you get to keep them.
So the story is that one day, about 15 years ago, Laura and Sophia were watching TV and they happen to see a show about Crater of Diamonds State Park. There was electricity in the room. An idea soon formed in their minds.
The ladies like diamonds.
So I find out later that we’re going on a road trip. Going to some place in Murfreesboro, Arkansas and then camp the night and then back home. Gonna find us some diamonds.
After setting up camp, we drove over to the State Park and, just as we pulled in, the sky full of nasty-looking clouds started to pour down buckets. But nothing was going to stop us and we scrounged up raincoats and got out there and braved the rain, because DIAMONDS.
Sophia’s raincoat was an elegant white-colored affair. Pure white. I remember pausing during a frantic spell of digging in the muck and the mire—pausing and looking across the Crater of Diamonds to see Sophia digging furiously and she is totally oblivious to how her pure white coat is now the color of Arkansas mud.
At some point our fever-lust for diamonds broke and we were grimy and soaked to the skin and we retreated back to our campsite, only to find that it had collapsed under the force of the rain. Nearly a foot of water in the tent. We had a moment where we just looked at each other, silently, because what do you say to ridiculousness?
The lunch Laura had planned was ruined, but Laura could always make a way out of no way, and I have always appreciated her for it.
Laura put something together, and, shivering, we gobbled it down.
The tent was demolished and hopeless and we decided to just abandon it and go home. We did, and I have to say, I was not fun to be around. The whole thing seemed to me to have been one big disaster. Sophia and Laura were giggling about diamonds and I was NOT giggling about diamonds.
I was in my cranky place.
And then something turned. I’ll never forget it. I saw myself being cranky and realized that I was totally missing what was happening. The crazy rain—Sophia’s white-turned-to-Arkansas-brown-coat—her and Laura digging in the muck like mad—Laura’s makeshift lunch—our hopeless tent which we abandoned—Laura and Sophia giggling. It’s then I realized that this had actually been the BEST road-trip ever, and this was going to be a story that needed to be told over and over.
THIS was the diamond I found at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas.
And my crankiness faded away and we all had the best time driving back home in the rain and in the dark.
I shared this story with Travis because it was a way of celebrating two women who have been and are so important to me in my life. The experience I had with my own mother was traumatic and filled with violence, so to have witnessed Laura’s mothering was incredibly healing for me. And as for my daughter: the great choices she’s made, the dreams she has—I love her so very much.
What stories might you share today on this Mother’s Day that celebrate the women in your life? The mothers and grandmothers, wives and partners, daughters and granddaughters, cis-gender women and transgender women, mentors, hero figures, and any others?
To know the stories is to celebrate. To know the stories is to begin to know women’s reality and honor it.
In particular, all the ways in which women continually make a way out of no way.
I was speaking to a friend the other day about her experience of being a mother and was very moved by her story. “When I had my first child, “ she says, “I wasn’t prepared for the depth of the changes that occurred. Giving up my body and life energy completely in the service of another human being who relied on me completely was intense. For a several years, I was only mom. That was my new identity. It was emotionally and physically draining. Eventually,” she says, “I remembered that I was also a person. [Eventually I learned to spend time] on myself as well as my children. Now I am the old me, the mom, and the new me.” My friend concludes: “The struggles/responsibilities of motherhood are ever present. They don’t go away. I still have to keep my children alive, fed, comforted, loved, supported, but I don’t drown in it anymore. It’s the same as having a rough day though… Some days are just harder than others.“
So moving to hear all this. The intensity even as there can be joy.
There’s so much to the story of what it means to be a mother.
But, now, what happens when a woman dares to go off-script, and to be different from motherly? In the “nevertheless, she persisted” variety. What’s the story then?
And when I say off-script, I’m thinking about PBS Newshour reporter Daniel Bush and his article entitled “The Hidden Sexism That Could Sway The Presidential Election.” Obviously, an article written before Tuesday, November 8th, 2016. He’s trying to make sense of the phenomenon of men (and women) who insisted that they weren’t sexist but also said they were uncomfortable with the thought of a female president. At one point in his article, Daniel Bush quotes psychology professor Terri Vescio who said, “The more female politicians are seen as striving for power, the less they are trusted and the more moral outrage gets directed at them.” Violate gender norms—refuse to throw like a woman, or take back that phrase and make it a good and proud thing—and it’s like stepping on a hill of red ants, or poking a stick at a beehive.
Hilary Clinton dared to go off-script. What happened is another one of those stories that we all need to know, to honor women’s reality.
Persistence in the face of adversity.
Which is not necessarily an adversity of outright hatred (although there was that, too….)
This is something that Amanda Hess, writing in Slate, explores. She says, “A new review of studies on discrimination by the University of Washington’s Tony Greenwald and U.C. Santa Cruz’s Thomas Pettigrew makes the succinct case that discrimination in the United States is not primarily a product of overt hatred for others, but rather simple preferences for people like ourselves. In a review of five decades of psychological research, they found that while most researchers defined prejudice as an expression of hostility, the more pervasive form of bigotry in the United States comes from people who favor, admire, and trust people of their own race, gender, age, religion, or parenting status. Even people who share our birthdays can catch a break. That means that—to take just one example—sexist bias isn’t largely perpetuated by people who hate women. It’s furthered by men who just particularly like other men.” That’s Amanda Hess.
What’s really powerful about this insight is how it dismantles what common sense holds about sexism (or racism or ableism and on and on)—that they are principally about hatred. To be sexist is to feel hatred towards women. But this is not so. Your sexism can be “benevolent”—researchers use this term to oppose it to the more “hostile” variety. You can be a man and open doors for your wife and feel tender towards her but when she asserts herself in a way that doesn’t feel very “feminine,” there’s backlash. You can even be a woman and witness the outrageous disrespect that “he who shall not be named” showed over and over again towards people of your same gender—and still vote for him, as the majority of white women in this country did.
Hilary Clinton put herself out there in the line of fire, and she is a hero. Next generations of women will succeed in ways she was not able to, because of her.
But Hilary Clinton is not the only hero. Every woman is. Statistics say that at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her.
Just listen to that story. The patriarchal world is dangerous to women like my daughter and women are hurting and yet they keep showing up to their lives and relationships. They (we) keep on fighting a slow fight for human dignity and equality and respect. And we do it in a country where the current President once bragged during a conversation with an “Access Hollywood” host that he could grab women without their permission—this is a man who was accused by 11 women before the election of inappropriately touching or kissing them.
To all women living in this world: thank you for persisting.
In a speech where she addresses Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women (and the rest of it), Michelle Obama said, “The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect […] It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts. It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. […] It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them, or forced himself on them and they’ve said no but he didn’t listen — something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day. It reminds us of stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how, back in their day, the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough.”
“We thought all of that was ancient history, didn’t we? And so many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect, but here we are in 2016 and we’re hearing these exact same things every day on the campaign trail. We are drowning in it. And all of us are doing what women have always done: We’re trying to keep our heads above water, just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak.”
And then Michelle says, “In our hearts, we all know that if we let Hillary’s opponent win this election, then we are sending a clear message to our kids that everything they’re seeing and hearing is perfectly okay. We are validating it. We are endorsing it. We’re telling our sons that it’s okay to humiliate women. We’re telling our daughters that this is how they deserve to be treated. We’re telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country. Is that what we want for our children?”
It’s so hard to hear Michelle’s speech, post-election. Because the clear message did get sent.
I feel like I’m back at Crater of Diamonds State Park and it’s miserable and the rain is pouring down and I’m up to my eyeballs in the muck and the mud.
But then I think about how the diamonds are really there. And what’s required is persistence. Just keep looking.
We’re here today to fight the good fight (feminist women and feminist men together), and we’re sending a counter message, and we are going to win this one, however long it takes.
The Women’s March on Washington was the largest single-day protest in U. S. history.
OneBillionRising has organized millions around the world (including our flash mob dancers here today!) to defy the injustices that women regularly suffer, to break the chain, to proclaim:
This is my body, my body’s holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers,
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures (Tena Clark, “Break the Chain”)
“Run like a girl” CAN mean, win the race.
As men and women:
Perhaps we should start by speaking softly.
The women must learn to dare to speak.
The men must learn to bother to listen.
The women must learn to say “I think this is so.”
The men must learn to stop dancing solos on the ceiling. (Marge Piercy, “Councils”)
All the work to eradicate sexism in our personal relationships, in our families, in our workplaces, in legislation and law, and more.
All the learning and the unlearning….
If we are going to celebrate the women in our lives, truly, let’s do it like this.