I learned the definition of feminism via the internet, and then I learned the “real” definition of feminism via my Gender Studies class. Today’s lecture posed the question of mother/daughter relationships and intersectional oppression.
Would my mother label herself as feminist? I never got to ask this question. I don’t think I even knew what feminism was until 2013-2014. My mom got sick circa 2012 and passed away circa 2014… the timing was never right. I didn’t even get the opportunity to ask her about this. Was she a feminist?
She certainly described herself to me, her life in Iran, when she was alive. She told me about how she chose to study a STEM field, but she also told me how her father “suggested” to choose industrial engineering versus what she wanted – mechanical engineering. I mean, my mother grew up in Iran, where the patriarchy is obviously present in every day life. This makes sense. Her lack of choice does not make the possibility of her being a feminist any less, though.
As long as I can remember, my mother encouraged my studies. Encouraged my interests. She encouraged me to a point that I realized – from my involvement in so many extracurriculars as a fourth grader – what I didn’t want to be involved in anymore (sorry, piano and Farsi lessons). She told me that I should take advantage of everything that is offered, that I was lucky to be living in a country that allows girls, women to be PRESENT in these activities. Does this make her a feminist?
She encouraged me to make sure I studied hard, to make sure I got a degree that would allow a stable job so I didn’t need to rely on my husband to pay for me. That I could be independent. This for sure stemmed from her prolonged maternity leave-turned “stay at home mom” status. Her insecurities projected themselves onto bettering my life, onto making sure that I understood that economic-independence was extremely important to the well-being of a woman. Does this make her a feminist?
Her expressions about how she did not feel good in her body, how she didn’t like her chubby tummy after she gave birth to my sister, how she didn’t fit into a size 8 anymore… she was dissatisfied immensely with specific parts of her body image. And, as any child would, I accompanied her to her shopping trips – where she didn’t really buy anything ever, even though I was like Mom. It looks good. You look good. That’s a great color. I love the pattern. she was just never satisfied or pleased with how certain things looked. Does that not make her a feminist? Are the negative emotions regarding her body image, when voiced to her small female child, not make her a feminist?
Body image. Choice. Encouragement of academics. Trying to make her daughter into a better version of herself. Take those swimming classes. Learn Farsi. Learn piano. I always wanted to learn piano, I wished I could’ve learned piano. Her multiple states of oppression (growing up in a patriarchal society, moving to America where the Western woman was the ideal image of beauty) definitely influenced her life. Influenced her choices. Influenced her actions.
But that doesn’t necessarily make her a feminist or not. Did she believe in the equality of sexes? Probably. Did she believe that there were actions that needed to be taken, that activism was necessary to enact this change? I don’t know. I guess that’s the part that sucks. Not knowing.
I hope my mother was a feminist. I hope she would have supported me in my beliefs, in my actions (by taking this class my first year of college).. I hope she would have supported me in my decisions.
Who am I kidding. I know she would have supported me. I mean, what kind of person – that was so encouraging to her daughter to be well-educated, well-rounded – would be this way, if she didn’t believe that the patriarchy stopped her from doing the same? If she didn’t want the best for me?
She was definitely aware of the inequalities present in her life, that were present to women in general. I’m fairly confident of her stance as a proponent for the rights of women, but hey. Death doesn’t let you make claims, just educated guesses.
All I can hope is that she would’ve believed in what I believe in… but I never got to ask.