Apparently, I’m only the third woman to ever receive this award, and I’m so honored to…be numbered with Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg. But I do hope that women are achieving at a rate these days that we can stop counting what number they are… – Tina Fey, accepting the 2010 Mark Twain Prize for Humor
Ailsa at WheresMyBackpack has shared that today (March 8) is International Women’s Day. It turns out that this celebration is over 100 years old. Coincidentally around the same time (1908), Mother’s Day was first celebrated on the second Sunday in May.
There’s an interesting dichotomy here. On the one hand, the happy Hallmark-moment celebration of motherhood, and on the other, the socially conscious call to recognition of the needs and contributions of women. Affection and practicality. Sort of sums us up, doesn’t it?
I’ve had some pretty strong female role models in my life.
My loving German (paternal) grandmother Wilhelmine was described by several family members as a doting mother hen. She had seven children and 22 grandchildren. She never forgot a birthday or an anniversary, and prayed daily for all her chicks and for many others. She weathered the death of both her parents when she was a teenager (and worked as a secretary to help support her family.) She endured the service of her beloved husband Henry in both World Wars (they were engaged during the first), raising a family in the Great Depression, and finally losing Henry and living on another ten years without him. She loved her family fiercely, but not the domestic life. She was sometimes overwhelmed. Once the children were out of the house, she even went back to work for a while. She always put her family first, and was an incredibly sweet lady. Rest with God, Billie.
My maternal (Scottish) grandmother was made of somewhat sterner stuff. She was a nurse, and practiced as a midwife in the old country. She was assigned to a rather poor section of Glasgow, where she never lost a mother, and lost only one (premature) baby. We found one of her log books after she passed away, and the details were amazing. My mother always said that in another time, she’d have been a doctor. After immigrating to the US, she worked for doctors and private families, eventually settling in as the charge nurse for a thriving OB/GYN practice in northern New Jersey. “Nurse Dickie” ran a tight ship. She was also a member and leader of her chapters of the Eastern Star, Daughters of Scotia, and the Order of the Amaranth (Papa was pretty high up in the Masons). She was competitive and, in her younger days, a bit of a flapper. She survived the loss of a child, and was never the same. She taught Mum, my sister, and me to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. She was a large presence, although she stood well under five feet tall. Thanks for the inspiration to be the best we could be, Nana.
My own mother, though empowered to work, had more her father’s disposition. Not competitive, she never understood the jockeying for position that went on around her. She just did what she loved, and did it well. She was an avid reader, and from a young age wrote poetry and stories. Although she trained as a nurse out of duty during World War II, her primary career was as a writer and editor. She digressed for a few years working for the YWCA, where she supervised five VISTA (domestic Peace Corps) volunteers, and served the community in several other capacities. She taught us that we should each take a turn – Citizenship 101. My Dad encouraged her to try all sorts of things, and believed she could do anything. She accused him once in a poem of biting off more than she could chew. She was brilliant, beautiful, and as I’ve said before, a tough act to follow. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom – rest in peace.
Of course, there have been other women who have inspired me. Most recently, young Malala Yousufzai from Pakistan comes to mind. Forsaking her own safety and putting herself in the forefront of our minds, she stood, and continues to stand, for the rights of all women. She will be one of the voices that changes her country.
In recent history, we’ve seen Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, and Angela Merkel at the helms of their countries. The US has had female Secretaries of State from both major parties. Further back Queens Elizabeth I and Victoria of England were remarkable leaders. So why is there still a glass ceiling?
Here’s to raising our daughters and sons to respect one another and work together to build our future, using our individual strengths without regard to gender, but respecting and celebrating our differences.
Lifting half of us lifts us all.
This post is in response to a weekly travel theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack, on the subject of International Women’s Day. To see other bloggers’ responses and get more info on her challenge, click here.