Editors Note: This is the fifth in a series of guest blog posts about the experiences of women in a variety of settings. Jodie Lopez (pseudonym), a professional in housing and residence life, discusses how her mother shaped her identitiy as a feminist and the lessons she learned from her mom.
The Mommy Problem
by Jodie Lopez
I’ve learned my greatest lessons in feminism from my mother. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know this because the vast majority of these lessons arrived in the form of her missteps and weaknesses. For as long as I can remember, I’ve perceived my mother as weak. Much of it is related to her lack of wanting more for herself than what she had. After my parents divorced, she held a string of ill-paying jobs. Though smart, she is not well-educated and has not in my lifetime actively sought to increase her knowledge outside of her kitchen.
Before you assume that I hate my mother, rest assured that I love my mother. I simply don’t always like her as a woman or a role model. The feeling is mutual; she doesn’t like who I am as a woman and makes that known regularly.
Growing up, I pushed myself harder than either of my parents pushed me. I fought to have more than what I was handed. It was a high school teacher who pointed out to me I would do well in college and walked me through the process of applying. When faced with the knowledge my parents would not be able to contribute to a college education – even unable to obtain a loan in either of their names – I funded my own education. I wanted more than a job so I built a career for myself. I actively find professional development and personal growth opportunities for myself, challenging myself and the way I think.
Because of my mother and her perspective, I’ve found the strength to choose for myself. I know who I am and what I want and how I want to be both perceived and treated. I’ve earned the respect I’m given (and am sure I deserve to not be given respect by those who feel that way, too). I’ve made my decisions because I saw how happy – or more often, unhappy – she was in her own shoes.
Still, even as an adult, I’m disappointed in who my mother is. She perpetuates stereotypes of women both through her actions and her thoughts. She frowns upon my career because it has interfered with a normal (according to her) life schedule of marriage and children. She doesn’t understand why my partner and I haven’t married and continue to live in different houses. She criticized my appearance my entire life because I wasn’t feminine enough. She can’t make sense of what my life is and why I choose this for myself.
I can’t thank her for these lessons. I can’t tell her that she’s been better for me than a bra burning protest or a private meeting with Gloria Steinhem. I can’t articulate to her that she influenced me to be this way by not doing it for herself.
Feminism isn’t only about equality for women. It’s about the way women treat one another. If my mother were happy with her life, I would feel differently about her choices and support her. She’s clearly never been happy, though, and wants me to be able to commiserate with her instead of celebrating who I am. I can’t do that. Who I am is my greatest accomplishment.