When I became a teenager, my mother became politically active. She propelled herself into the center of the women’s movement fighting for the “ERA”. The ERA was the acronym for the Equal Rights Amendment. I was mortified to learn that men and women did not earn equal pay for doing the same exact job, even if they had equal educational training and the same number of years’ experience. I just couldn’t believe that our country would legally support such discrimination. I am still mortified, to be honest. When I was a teenager, however, I was confident that the wrongs would be made right. I believed, and so I was carefree as my mother threw herself into the cause.
Mom was often gone attending rallies and meetings. And when she was home, she read and wrote poetry about women – self discovery, empowerment, pride – these were her themes. She was busy and happy, and as everyone knows, a happy mama makes for a happy family. Our house was buzzing with intellectual chatter. Mom hosted gatherings of women on a regular basis. The phone rang often and she would run to answer it, light up at the sound of the voice on the other end, and delve into conversation that sounded to me more like song. Books, magazines, and documents were scattered about the house, all touting the same message: equal rights for all. The frantic tap, tap, tap of Mom’s typewriter was a common, soothing sound in the house.
Though I didn’t join her cause, this time in her life was very influential on my own development. I took the message to heart. Equal rights for all truly meant all to me – not a gender distinction, but a concept that included racial boundaries, economic boundaries, social, intellectual, and emotional boundaries. I didn’t join Mom’s cause because I believed that she and her friends would win the battle. I was innocent, naïve, and absolutely trusting in the ideology that right would prevail. I didn’t yet know how unfair the world could really be.
When the ERA failed to pass in 1975, I was 15 years old. Mom was devastated, but quickly bounced back with the hope that it would pass next time around. I had already been formed by her efforts. She told me I could do anything I wanted to do and I believed her. I was strong, curious, and opinionated. Quickly discovering my own independence, I truly believed the world was my oyster.
Years later, after countless discriminations based on my gender had defeated me, I felt that the women’s movement had let me down. I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do! They had lied! And if I had known the truth, I might have made different decisions.
I’ve come full circle now because I understand life as a series of cycling circles that repeat and overlap like a spiral, all in the process of slowly evolving into something new. We seldom recognize change as it is happening, but are always surprised years later to look back and see how different things used to be. I realize that I can’t do everything I wanted to do, but I also realize how fortunate I am to live my life with a strong sense of self and self acceptance. The women’s movement taught me to dream big and reach for the stars. It taught me to believe in myself, and it taught me how to stand up again, time and again, after defeat and disappointment. These skills and attitudes are worth more to me than equal pay for any work I do alongside men.
The men in this world have homes and cars and boats. They have wives and an entitlement to arrogance. I don’t envy any of that. I covet my own passions, passions that bled into me from my mother as she discovered her own voice, her own strength, her own gifts and the joy of sharing them throughout her life.
We should always fight for equal rights: it is moral and humane and therefore the right thing to do. However, we must always know that we are all different, and in our differences, there are inequities. But if you believe in the ying and yang of the universe, you will see that in the end, these inequities find their balance.