Friday, March 7, 2014

International Women's Day: a letter to my grandmothers

Dear grandmothers, great grandmothers, great great grandmothers, and all the rest of you that came before,

I never got to meet any of you. My grandmothers, you died in the decade before my birth, and the rest of you long before that. I've been thinking about you recently, while working on this blog. I've especially been thinking about you all now I have a daughter.  I think about all of the things I'd love to talk to you about. Most of all, I'd love to hear your stories. Not the big and exciting stories that make it into the history books, but the simple, everyday ones. Like: what was your favourite article of clothing when you were in your 20s? What were your labours like? How did you fix your hair? What chores did you hate the most? Was the father of your children your first love, or a love at all? What did you do for fun? Did you do anything for fun? Did you want to travel? Were you happy? 

And to the women of my matrilineal line - my mother's mother's mother's mother's right back to the seven daughters of Eve: when you spoke to your children, were you shocked by how much like your mother you sounded? I hope so. Because I often am surprised by how much like my mother I sound, and I like the idea that I might be sounding like you too, although we've never met. 

As I write this, I'm also a little ashamed. I'm ashamed that I know so few of your names. I know the names of many of my male ancestors, as these have been better passed down through the generations. So few people even care about your names. When I was pregnant with my son, many people asked if he would be named after my father, or my husbands father. When I was pregnant with my daughter, not a single person asked that about my mother or husband's mother. It didn't occur to them, and unless that changes, my descendants won't know my name either, when they may know my husband's and my son's.

I'm also ashamed that when I was thinking of my own answers to the questions I asked above, I decided the chores I hated the most were vacuuming and doing the dishes. You didn't even have vacuum cleaners, and to me, the dishes involves a dishwasher.* My household chores are a drop in the ocean compared to what yours were, if you didn't have a maid. Especially if you were the maid. Either way, I probably have so much more free time than you did. I'm ashamed that recently I've used far too much of that free time that I'm sure you would have loved to do nothing more than argue with random strangers online about points of grammar. And lost. 

I also wonder what you'd make of the world my daughter - the most recent girl born of the line that leads from me to you - has inherited. She probably won't have seven children like my maternal grandmother, and be forced to stop school at 12. She'll have opportunities to study, work and travel that you never had. But, she'll still face more barriers than my son will. Statistically, she's likely to earn less and face more discrimination in the workforce. She's only five months old, but already the toys marketed for her are pink and pretty, rather than exciting action heroes. The animals that adorn her clothes are rabbits, horses and kittens, whereas my son's clothes are covered in lions, monkeys and dinosaurs. Clothes for her are marketed as "Autumn Bloom". If it was a boy, she'd get to be a "Modern Aviator". I don't like the messages that sends to either of my children, and can only hope that during her lifetime true equality between the genders is achieved. 

As I said earlier, I wish I'd had the chance to meet you. Especially my grandmothers. I'd love to sit and talk to you over a hot drink during International Women's Day, and ask about your lives. I'd also love to introduce you to my daughter. Most of all, in the case of so many of you, I'd like to find out what your name was. 

* At least I have recently developed a new found appreciation for my fridge

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