a woman of authority

So about a year ago I went to Barnes & Noble with the intent of buying Simple Abundance and wound up buying several other books instead… books that I have yet to read.  I bought The Good Son, Shaping the Moral Development of our Boys & Young Men by Michael Gurian, and picked up The Wonder of Girls, Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters, also written by Gurian, simply because if I’m going to buy a book about the boy, as an Equal Opportunity Parent, I feel compelled to buy a book about the girls.  After I bought these books, I checked some reviews and was a little put off by one review that classified The Wonder of Girls as an attempt of a man trying to tell women what their nature was when he, by nature, could never have a true understanding of women.  Although both books were overall very well reviewed, that may be why I’ve never started reading them… but in fairness, in the year since I made these purchases, I have been consumed by the reading of other books which seemed more relevant to where I was in my own personal growth as well as my parental growth… Eat Pray Love, White Like Me, and Does Anybody Look Like Me come to mind. Those were all books that I read intensely and voraciously…taking them everywhere I went and unable to put them down at night.

I decided that, having made the investments in these books, regardless what anyone else thought of them, I should actually read them before I start on any others on my list. Though I’d already read a chapter or two into The Good Son, I decided to start with The Wonder of Girls because, frankly… it’s the shorter of the two.  And I was a girl once upon a time, so I figure reading it will be like eating cotton candy… sweet but requiring little effort.  But it’s taken me well over a week to read this book.  Not because I can’t get into it, but because I find myself rereading passages because a concept is so profound.  Gurian includes a great deal of scientific detail, neurological information about how male and female hormones shape our reactions and development, and debunks a great deal of the argument that boy and girl behavior is all due to socialization.  Gurian doesn’t dismiss it entirely, but makes a very strong case that while socialization plays a role in behavior, socialization has been overemphasized and biology has been grossly underemphasized. I don’t know a mother who hasn’t lamented on the difference between her boys and girls… even mothers who, like me, have been committed to raising sensitive young men who are not afraid of their emotions and who, like me, are committed to non-violence… mothers who have banned toy weapons and violent media, only to find her preschooler happily shooting her with the pistol he made from Lego’s or Connex (you know, those toys we buy in part because they are CONSTRUCT-ive rather than DESTRUCT-ive) in a gleeful game of cops and robbers that he is happy to play all by himself.  If these mothers are also blessed with girls, they’ve often compared and contrasted stories of their girls turning their brothers’ toys into babies, and sticking baby dolls under their shirts to nurse them.

Sometimes I reread a passage several times to fully let the meaning sink in, or to examine some of the knee jerk reactions I feel and separate what I have been taught from the truth that I have always felt to be true. There is a very strong emphasis on mothering in this book (and for the record, there is also a section in the same chapter about fathering), and also an emphasis on the fact that was we mother our daughters, we are shaping future mothers.  I’m not so young that I don’t remember being told, perhaps not in such blunt terms, what and where “my place” is.  At the tender age of five or six years old, I asked my mother what college was.  She told me it was where girls go to meet their husbands. So there are certainly times when the Femi Nazi in me rises up at any hint, no matter how remote, of what my role or “duties” are as a woman or mother.

But even in the midst of those knee-jerk reactions, I sense truth in this writing, and also realized that this is a book written BY a parent, FOR other parents… would it be complete if there wasn’t an emphasis on the importance of mothering? A comment someone made to me keeps coming to my mind. A good friend of mine, who is not a biological mother, asked my then 6yo daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up.  My daughter responded, probably with little hesitation, that she wanted to be… a mother.  I say with little hesitation because Halle has been telling me, since the tender age of three, that she wants to be a mom… and not just a mom, but a mom who cooks.  Imagine that… thirty years of fighting for women’s rights, and my daughter wants… no, she yearns… to be barefoot, pregnant, and standing over a hot stove.

My friend relayed this story to me, with the lament that “they” sure start conditioning girls at a young age.  I was not offended, but I was definitely at a loss.  I had no idea how to explain to my friend how incredibly proud I was that my daughter thinks the highest aspiration… above being a dancer or cowgirl… is to be a mother, or why I think that’s such a GOOD thing. I almost felt like it was time to surrender my feminist card and oust myself.  

I was raised in a very dysfunctional family by a woman who very clearly had grown to resent the imposition of responsibilities that she had chosen for herself. Watching her anger and bitterness as she pushed more and more of the responsibility for mothering my siblings onto me, I vowed time and again that I would NOT be having children. I remember overhearing my nana lament sorrowfully that she was sure I would never have children of my own because my mother had robbed me of my childhood and forced me to become a parent far too soon. That I have become a mother, and done it with such grace that my daughters, as well as my son, want to have children of their own is a source of pride, the depth of which I cannot even begin to explain.  They can see the pleasure it brings me to nourish not just my children’s minds and hearts, but their bodies.  My daughter’s desire to become a mother is not a result of social conditioning… she, like my son, sees the joy that mothering has brought to me, to my life… and despite how hard the job is, they both see, through my living example, a sacred purpose in it.

So back to this book… there were many times where, while reading this book, my eyes stung with tears. When terms like “womanism” are defined and expanded upon, when the concept of the intimacy imperative and the three family system are offered as vitally important to women and girls… something that Christie, Eileen, Becky, myself, and others have discussed… sometimes at length.  (Oh, and Christie, to answer your question in another blog that I don’t think I got around to going back and responding too… it was a commune we were talking about starting back in those days.) There were times where I felt a sweet ache in my throat as well as I read something that filled me with a sense of pride in the job I am doing and complete awe in the sheer sacredness of the task I have undertaken.  I’d like to share one such passage.

…even as I study world cultures, it strikes me powerfully that we are, should we choose to assert our ability, capable of helping to innovate a sacred role for girls and women that is among the most unlimited, and also among the most well ordered, in the world.

…In all languages, whether moder, mater, meter, maternus, or matr – mothering is the highest ideal in female life, the most universally respected. And one etymological fact that is perhaps of greatest interest to us in the wake of thirty years of experimenting with the possibility that women didn’t need to define a sacred role for themselves is this: In its linguistic roots, mothering is associated with being a woman of authority as well as being a female parent of children.  For our age, this expansive definition of mother seems most fitting.

Needless to say, if you have daughters, I highly suggest reading this book.  Even if you are not a parent, I think you’d find this book informative and enlightening.

And to my friend… I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for (in this womanist definition), being a mother… a woman of authority… not only for my daughter(s), but also for my son. It will benefit them beyond measure to see and know the many forms of mothering, and to know that their lives benefit from the divine and sacred wisdom of womyn who are strong in their convictions and offer their gifts to serve and improve their communities and who, even if they are not biological mothers, still help to mother the world.

In reading back through this post, I think I’ve got more than one soap box under me. If I can manage to climb down without injuring myself, I’m off to read The Good Son… and after that, I’ll be in hot pursuit of The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do to Shape Boys into Exceptional Men… and probably anything else written by Michael or Gail Gurian.

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