I was never an avid feminist. I do not mean that I think any less of my gender but I simply never even imagined that there is something women cannot do, something they are not allowed to do or are inferior at. You want a great career? Go for it with all that you have. You want to have a whatever job and devote yourself to your family? Go for it. You want to climb mount Everest or go to space, win a Nobel prize or cure a disease? Nothing stops a woman from doing either of these things.
I never had many women role models as I was growing up. But nothing wins my grown-up admirations more than a woman who has battled her demons and won over, a woman who was shaken to the core by some events or people in her life and then used everything she had to build herself up, a woman who in carving her armour out of steel did not lose her kindness and grace.
I said I did not have role models but when I look at some women I’ve known in my life, I can have nothing but respect and appreciation for what they have done. Exhibit number one — my grandmother. Still feisty at close to 80, and filling her time with work (though officially retired for many years now), she was one in a family of 6 or 7 children. Most of them were younger than her and all but one were girls. When her father died, her mother was struggling to make ends meet, so my grandmother had to quit school and start working to provide for her young siblings. She never had the chance to go back and complete her high school degree but this does never stoped her from being a bright and intelligent woman. Stoically, she gave up her education and yet, times were still very tough. When I was a child and refused to eat some food she made for me, she tried to cajole me with all stories of her childhood when they did not have much to eat but a bread among all of them every now and then. And still, she managed to pull through somehow. She sent both her daughters to university, one of them to complete a few degrees, and was always doing the majority of work involving fixing different things around the house (and also all the cooking and cleaning) and never seemed to complain or want much. I don’t think she ever had a vacation. She has never seen the sea and refused to come along when with my parents we invited her to join us. I think she simply did not want to be of trouble. And her love and kindness has been like a bright light in my childhood years.
And yet, I never thought that this is what a woman is supposed to be when I was growing up. I never strived to resemble anyone and I simply let my experiences shape me. Recently I was thinking that perhaps one of the biggest compliments to a woman is to call her strong. Don’t call her beautiful since she has little to do with the looks she is born with, but if you call her strong, it means she survived a number of storms without being destroyed by them. It means you acknowledge and admire that about her. Perhaps the first big drama chips off a big part of your innocence and faith, or your sense of security and order. Since I became conscious about the world around me, I felt insecure, unsafe and unloved. Later I was bullied all through secondary and high school. Sometimes when I look back at the things I went through these years, I am proud of myself for going through them sane without losing my faith in people and ability to believe that I, too, deserve good things to happen to me. Instead of letting these events ruin me, I used them in the best possible way I could. I was engulfed by books, I became interested in school subjects (which does not win you any friends at school where I come from), and thanks to that I managed to flee away from it all. Now I am purusing the highest an education a person can get and I derive pleasure from how challenging it is. And everything I have achieved in my life, as little as it is, I have done so thanks to myself, not because of daddy’s help, mommy’s love or relying on any man. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a type of a person who needs either of these three to progress in life. It’s all about personal choice and need. Or you simply make do with what you have.
But the thing I am most proud of (because I have not achieved much yet) is that I’ve known loss without losing myself in the process, without making me insensitive and unkind. If anything, it has increased my ability to sympathise with others (ok, I do have my bitchy days as well). It puzzles me how mean and unnecessarily unkind people are to one another. There is a quote by Bukowski I love which says it all: