My late mother grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s (she was born in 1948). She grew up in a time that was already pretty damn conservative to begin with but it was even worse because she was raised with fucked-up Catholic conservativism. This was the overwhelming fear, shame, and guilt that was heaped on children and a brutal suppression of their own thoughts and feelings. Or as my mother said about her childhood: “God forbid you had an original thought in your head.”
And growing up female back then made that a million times worse. My mother was not a bra-burning, street-protesting feminist. She was just a woman that sat and took shit and did what she had to do to survive. She didn’t think she had it in her to speak out and not get buried for it. She didn’t think she had a right to pursue her own dreams that weren’t the silent-housewife-in-the-suburbs one that was shoved down her generation of women’s throats. She didn’t think she was smart, or pretty, or worthy of love and respect.
This is an era that I believe conservative people want to go back to more than anything. But why? Why live in such an era of brutal repression unless you’re so fucking repressed you can’t see past your puckered-up asshole?
It was an era when happiness of any kind was strictly mandated and any deviation outside of that was met with very harsh resistance. It was when women were raised to believe their only value was their ability to have children, but only within a heterosexual, non-interracial marriage. If a woman got pregnant outside of marriage, she was sent away and forced to give up her child.
Stories of women who had their children taken from them like that affected my mother deeply. I believe she knew young women that had happened to, had seen them return an empty, hollowed-out shell of loss and unspoken grief. It’s why I feel so strongly and so deeply when I read these stories now because it’s not just my empathy and compassion, but my mother’s that I carry inside of me, too.
My mother was raised to believe she was ugly, stupid, and worthless. She wasn’t any of those things at all. She rose above that and never, ever said anything like that to me. And I was also lucky to be there when she broke free of that for a while and began to really think for herself. After that, our conversations got deep, and more than a bit free-wheeling at times. Though that was preparation for the last seven years of her life when she needed to let her guard down with someone she could trust like me.
In the 1960’s when the birth-control pill became legal, only married women with their husband’s permission could get it. Eventually, that restriction was struck down and my unmarried mother got it to treat her god-awful acne and other hormonal issues until my grandmother found about it. After that, my mother told me she started planning on saving up her money (she had a full-time job) to get a room at the YWCA women’s residence so she could walk to work (her job was in downtown San Antonio). Now I’m sure some dip-wad here will say if she’d done that then I wouldn’t be here. That’s not the point and it never was. The point was what she always told me, that a woman should always be able to support herself.
Conservatives want women to be silent and live only within their narrowest, strictest confines. They want women to only think and feel in certain ways. They want what my mother suffered and endured in silence- to feel ugly, stupid, and unworthy if they don’t conform to their standards.
A generation of women rose up in the 60’s and 70’s and gave me the freedoms I have had in my lifetime. I will not allow their legacy to die. And I will not allow my mother’s sacrifices and suffering to be for nothing.
As the heroine of the novel ‘Jane Eyre’ said (a novel that was both a favorite of my mother and I): “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
This is why ladies, especially to those who identify as ‘conservative’ I say to you: it’s not about just the freedom to control your own body, your reproductive health, to make your own healthcare decisions. It’s about your freedom to decide how you want to live your life, your education, your professional goals, your creative goals. Your freedom of movement, of financial control, to vote. Most of all, it’s your freedom of thought and feeling, and not just thinking and feeling, but expressing it.
I will stand and fight against this forced return to a time no one should have to live in. I will do it not just for myself, but to honor my mother and her generation for breaking the chains first, and suffering in silence, too.