Category Archives: Resistance reading

Remember the Ladies

During this Women’s History Month, I want to share some memories of my mother and parts of an email she sent me a few years ago in response to a book about Abigail Adams that I had given her as a gift. She was thinking about what it means to be a feminist, and of course, delighted in reading and learning more about the important women in our history.

My mother passed away just three weeks shy of her 99th birthday last July. Even at that advanced age, she was still very much “with it” right until the end.  I loved that she was able to text me using her iPhone, and that we talk every day on the phone, most often about books. She was an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, with a life-long love of history. She was very politically informed, reading daily articles from The New York Times, the Washington Post, and her local newspaper (both paper copy and online!).  If you have followed my blog for awhile then you already know that she was my reading mentor/buddy, but she was also my feminist guide! She lead by example in our family, and with all who knew her. She was very much involved in women’s issues, and would be so happy with the new level of women’s involvement in the new Congress in Washington, D.C.  “Remember the Ladies” and “It’s Up to the Women” are quotes from two of her favorite historical figures, Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt, and she often talked with great respect about both women.

In the letter she sent me, she included a link to a History Channel page that quoted from a letter that Abigail Adams sent to her husband John Adams.

In a letter dated March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John Adams, urging him and the other members of the Continental Congress not to forget about the nation’s women when fighting for America’s independence from Great Britain.

The future First Lady wrote in part, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Mom then shared with me some of her thoughts on the changing roles of women in our culture today, ruminating about her own experience with the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

…It did made me think and try to identify where I fit in at that time. I began my own search of books I’d read that emphasized changing roles in women’s lives. I began first to recall women in history. Much that influenced me seemed far removed from the active, dramatic time of the bra-burning, when it was no thank you to men opening doors, or in any way making us feel weaker and dependent on them.

Eleanor Roosevelt, whom I admire so much, came immediatey to mind for she was truly a powerful role model. She made a mark in world history. Doris Kearns Goodwin said of her, “She as America’s most influential First Lady blazed paths for women and led the battle for social justice everywhere. She set women’s rights and involvement to a higher level.”

Reading Natalie S. Bober’s book Abigail Adams, I was charmed and loved Abigail. She was a quiet, dignified lady, and was a feminist ahead of her time. “Remember the Ladies,” she said to her husband John, then serving as delegate to the Continental Congress, who played a leading role in persuading Congress to adopt the United State Declaration of Independence. He laughed at her and said he’d be laughed out of the congress if he suggested such a thing.

There were other women during the early days of our country’s history that I consider feminists. At her peril, Dolly Madison’s courage saved us our most treasured painting of George Washington. Rosa Parks was a true feminist whose courage changed history. These women were our early feminists, ahead of their time…

I realize I was incredibly fortunate to have a mother who shared these thoughts and ideas with me, a mother who was a strong positive role model who encouraged me (and my brothers) to be strong and understanding, have integrity and courage to speak out, and to make a commitment to improve the lives of all women.

I miss her very much, but her ideas live on and her gentle guidance continues to influence me and our family.

A few of the books that she enjoyed reading and which shaped her thoughts on women’s rights:

It’s Up to the Women

Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my heroes! When I ran across her book, It’s Up to the Women…  “tips for living well”, I knew I must read it.  I loved the title, and expected the book to be much more political. It turned out to be more of a practical guidebook for women on how to survive difficult times during those Great Depression years. Although much of the book was dated, much of the advice was also timeless! She had so much respect for women, and her words were very encouraging and full of common sense ideas. The last few chapters of the book did deal more with women and politics.

“It is important that women think beyond the mere moment through which we are passing and acquaint themselves with all phases of life and conditions in our own country. I think we shall have fulfilled our mission well if when our time comes to give up active work in the world we can say we never saw a wrong without trying to right it; we never intentionally left unhappiness where a little effort would have turned it into happiness, and we were more critical of ourselves than we were of others.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother would often say to me, ‘You are a girl and I expect you to be more sensible and more thoughtful than your brothers.’ She was of the generation which did not demand so much recognition for women, but which accomplished many things by working through the men when they hardly knew they were being influenced. I do not mean for a minute that we should go back to the ideas of that generation or that women should return to the old status. I am merely pointing out that women, whether subtly or vociferously, have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world and with so many of them now holding important positions and receiving recognition and earning the respect of the men as well as the members of their own sex, it seems more than ever that in this crisis, ‘It’s Up to the Women!'”

I hope people will read it, understanding that life then was very different AND very much the same as now. Although it had some valuable and timeless parts to it, I’m afraid that I can’t recommend it without qualification. It was most interesting if you read it as a history of women and their roles in society, and in appreciation for the role Eleanor Roosevelt played in helping and encouraging women during that difficult time period. Our society and womens’ roles have changed dramatically since the 1930s and 1940s, so our sense what seems politically correct is also very different and must be kept in mind while reading this. I did appreciate the leadership and wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt, and especially her reminder that women “have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world.”

Definitely one of my heroes!

Dreams From my Father

My book blogging friend, Andi, at Estella’s Revenge, recently listened to the audiobook of Dreams From my Father, by Barack Obama (narrated by the author). She rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, and talked about how much she enjoyed listening to it. She inspired me to follow suit, so I downloaded the audiobook from Audible and am just starting it. My mother (age 98) is also going to listen to it so that we can share our thoughts about it on the phone in our daily conversations. We both miss the Obamas greatly and thought that listening to Barack Obama tell stories about his life and family would be very enjoyable. Thanks, Andi, for the idea! This little shared project is going to brighten our days!

Mom and I have been sharing books and reading experiences for a lot of years!

 

Bookends

 

My first read of 2017 was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, We Should All Be Feminists, so it was very fitting to read another short work by her, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,  to end my reading year. Wonderful bookends for 2017!

Click here to reread my review of We Should All Be Feminists. I feel even more strongly than I did one year ago, that this short book is essential reading for all! The word “feminist” is such a scary word to so many people, but this book gives you important understandings of why we need to set aside fear and open our hearts to the ideas of feminism which empower and enrich the lives of both men and women.

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions was a letter written in response to a request from Adichie’s friend about how to raise her newborn daughter. Simply put, I wish this book had existed when my daughter was born 39 years ago. I did have some strong female role models that inspired and guided my parenting of both my son and my daughter, but this little book, so succinctly and eloquently written, would have been my hand guide. I decided that I will give a copy of it , along with the knitted blanket and baby sweater gifts I make for the new arrivals of family and friends. It would be a gift of love and caring for both the new family and for the future of our planet!

These two books were excellent bookends for a year full of conflicts, contradictions, and challenges to our national norms and priorities when it comes to families and the future. There is HOPE in these two books, and ideas that can make us better people making better choices.

A photo from 39 years ago! I am, more than ever, in awe of my strong, resilient, beautiful daughter!

Son and Grandson

A photo from 6 years ago. I am also in awe of the gentle and nurturing way my son parents his own son!

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The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's TaleOn finishing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the only thing I could say at first was “Wow!”  It is quite a story, so very well written, so very powerful, and so very sobering…I think it will stay with me for a long, long time.

Set in a dystopian future, in what these days seems chillingly like the near future, women have lost all rights. “Handmaids” are the only women who are still able to bear children, and their existence is completely dependent on being successful in producing a child…a child that another woman of a higher status will raise.

The story is an interesting exploration of the lives of women in a totalitarian regime.  It is a profound immersion into the “What Ifs” we must all ask ourselves about our society. I found it sad, disturbing, and fascinating, but not without hope!  I couldn’t put it down.

I’ve been thinking about it since I finished it a few days ago and realized that I am looking at things differently now. This is a perspective-changing book, and during this tumultuous time in US history, I think it is an important book for exactly that reason. It was written in 1985, and I was aware of it but until last week was too intimidated to read it. However, I’ve been so concerned about the direction our society is taking these days and the difficult challenges we all face, that I felt that instead of “escaping” (my usual response to overwhelming  news), I needed to tackle some of these ideas head on. I’m glad I finally found the courage to do so.