I was raised by strong women. When I was four years old, my father died, leaving my mother, my older sister and I with no place to live and no money. We went to live with my maternal grandmother and grandfather on the lower east side of Manhattan. My grandma was a tall forceful woman, who had lived through World War I without her husband, but with her four children. She arrived on these shores in 1921 and made a life for herself and her family. She was a staunch leader in our family and would brook no interference from anyone, not even her husband. Grandma spoke and we all listened.
My mom was someone who paralleled grandma in many ways. She was a fierce protector of her children. They were the most important things in her life. Her story is long and complicated. However, there was no crossing mom. I can recall instances when she would defy all of the rules just to make a point. She waitressed for 35 years to keep her family together.
My older sister, at age 84, is still someone you don’t want to cross. She is still the strident young women I knew when I was growing up and being babysat by her. She used to take me along on her dates and woe be to the young man who complained about my presence. Even today, she has her views on things social, economic and political. Her three daughters are pretty much in her image. They are forceful, know their own minds and sure of the pathways of their lives.
All of these women had their soft sides. Outsiders may not have seen it, but I have on numerous occasions. I can still call my nieces, who are physicians, and get some help with any kind of physical problem. They also keep their own families at the forefront of their obligations. They are all natural descendants of my grandmother.
I was fortunate to find the same kind of blend of strength and kindness in the woman that I married. I have written about how my wife can sit down with a child and straighten them out with just a series of words, “I am very disappointed in your behavior.” I can’t understand how that works, but it gets our grandchildren every time. She taught gifted children for 13 years and worked her magic on a variety of little ones. I have seen it firsthand.
Our daughter fits that mold to a T. She is the mom of three children. She has two jobs and does both of them well. Her straightforward way of communicating reminds me somewhat of my sister. Her friends, acquaintances, business associates, know that when she speaks, they had better listen. She is also one of the kindest people that I know. As I see her daughter grow into womanhood at age 15, I see the same kind of forthrightness that her maternal antecedents had/have.
This is certainly not a paean to all women, or a slight to all males. It is just my own background and my family’s. However, there is a point to what I am saying. As I watch the procession of talking heads propounding the news about the current presidential election cycle, I am dumbfounded by how women candidates are treated.
Even on the debate stage, one candidate points to a woman candidate and disses her facial expressions. How often are we going to hear about the different hair styles and clothing worn by the female candidates? This is not the only time that this has happened. It appears that women’s looks are fair game for opponents and the media. This is certainly not a liberal or conservative addiction. It is somehow, a slap against strong women.
It has been going on for a long while. Maybe it has been exacerbated by the women’s liberation movement? The scorn heaped upon those women, even by other women, was a surprise to me. Why do we not want to see any more Margaret Thatchers or Golda Meiers? Is there some trigger that makes us suspect that these women are somehow a threat to the established order? Would we rather see women sitting around a table on television, gabbing about the inconsequential, or making doilies, cooking up a storm, or as hostesses of children’s programs?
I just don’t get it. I know that my upbringing is skewed, but really . . .