Category Archives: heroes

The Women Upon Whose Shoulders I Stand – Part Two

 

In a recent post, I acknowledged three women who influenced and inspired me: Mary Tyler Moore, Gloria Steinem and Melody Beattie. Here I celebrate two more who shaped how I approach my world.

In my family, anger was a subject only to be glanced at from the corner of our eyes. My father would verbally explode or keep his anger inside, only to sit up at night weeping in the wee hours. My mother was somewhat more direct and might say, “I’m cross with you!”  I don’t remember ever expressing my anger openly—it felt safer to retreat to my room and eat until the feelings faded. No one ever thought of sitting and talking about how to handle anger. In my twenties, Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger opened new possibilities, both for understanding my own scary feelings, and how to survive others’ anger without total annihilation. It still sits on my bookshelf.

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As a divorced mother in my forties, I struggled with how to co-parent my two young sons with their father. Was I doing it right? Would they be okay? No one I knew was co-parenting, and I felt more alone than ever in my life. Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s writing in The Dance  touched and nourished me. “What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature—gentle, compassionate, and capable of living fully and passionately present?” Then I reached a few pages where she described her experience of helping her eighteen- and twenty-year old sons prepare to take part in their father’s remarriage.  Her words felt like sweet rain in the desert.  I was not alone! Others shared these bittersweet, mixed-up feelings.

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These women, by speaking and writing about their experience and perspectives, expanded my view of what my world could be.

Upon whose shoulders do you stand? Who has opened paths of possibility for you? If we share torchbearers’ names, others can find them and by their light, see a wider future.

 

The Women Upon Whose Shoulders I Stand

My years as a young working mother passed in a blur of seemingly endless tasks and challenges. I often wondered if I was doing things right, or enough, or how to measure up to so many expectations. I looked forward to Wednesday nights, when “You’re Going to Make it After All”, the theme song for Mary Tyler Moore’s sitcom, signaled thirty minutes of respite and encouragement. Mary’s joyful smile as she flung her hat into the air helped me grind through tough weeks. I watched her on The Dick Van Dyke Show and then on her own sitcom in rapt appreciation of her confidence, beauty and zest for life. The episode of Chuckles the Clown’s funeral still makes me laugh, watching Mary try to keep a straight face.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, she was a role model for me.  A woman striking out on her own path, who achieved success without flaunting huge boobs or fretting about her lack of a male partner.

Remembering her brought to mind the many women from whom I have drawn strength.  At key points in my life, their actions or writing appeared which I watched or read, mulled over, and took solace from. Each unfolded a view of the world I hadn’t yet grasped.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by [Steinem, Gloria]

Gloria Steinem spoke at my university when I was eighteen. Here was a woman taking on the world on her own terms! Intelligent, confident, and unafraid of stirring up trouble, she was the first woman I encountered who intellectually and politically challenged the status quo. I read many of her books over the years, strengthened by her ability to frame powerful arguments and boldly express them. In Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions she declared, “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.” I took sips of her courage each time I opened her books.

One day in my thirties, distraught and overwhelmed, I wandered into a bookstore.  Picking up Co-dependent No More, my eye was grabbed by the question, “Is your life Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by [Beattie, Melody]unmanageable?”  Melody Beattie’s matter-of-fact voice was my constant companion for several years as I came to terms with choices I had made. I rested my bruised spirit and read, “It doesn’t matter if…. It doesn’t matter… IT DOESN’T MATTER.”  Subtlety was not what I needed. Melody gave me straight facts and insights that found their way in through the cracks in my ego and wounded pride.

 

These three women expanded my view of what I, and my world, could be. My next post will talk about two more women.  I hope that this sampling will stimulate your own thinking.

On whose shoulders do you stand? Whose words and actions have brought you to who you are today? Of course, for me and most of us there have also been male pathfinders; but for women, it is particularly important to identify and celebrate our pioneering female leaders.