Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Strong Women

I come from a long line of strong women. My father's mother was both orphaned and widowed as a young woman, with her newborn first child. She weathered the trial and, when I was a child, I always knew Grandma would say exactly what she thought and would do exactly what she wanted to do, even if that meant going on a European cruise alone because my grandfather refused to go. Her own mother was strong. She raised her 4 children alone after her husband died and managed to run and keep the family farm during the hard years of the Great Depression. Her mother, in turn, was also strong. She carried on when her husband went to the Klondike in search of gold, found it, and returned back to their small town to live with that gold and with another woman. This is a picture of the last of my strong grandmothers--the only one currently living. Although nearly blind from macular degeneration, she walked all over Lagoon with us 2 weeks ago, and at 88 years old, she went on almost all of the rides. Here she is taking Mister on the kids' roller coaster.

I've always wondered how the women in my family managed to maintain their strength. My interest in strong women has, of course, leaked into my academic interests. For the 13+ hour drive back home last week, I listened to hours of interviews I conducted almost a year ago with the women who graciously agreed to participate in my dissertation study about their online writing. I typed notes and transcribed sections, balancing J's laptop on my lap, while handing back drinks and snacks to kids, switching out DVDs, and finding dropped crayons. It was almost enough to make me car sick. But I loved it. I loved hearing the women talk about how their blogging and their contributions to their discussion board empower them. They didn't use that term, but they talked about being strengthened and supported by other women when they didn't know what they were doing as a mothers or when they didn't know what to do with a challenge in their lives. They also talked about needing to help and support others, needing to feel like their advice and life experiences are worthwhile.

I love this stuff because it resonates in my own life. The type of feminism that I have experienced isn't necessarily the postmodern feminism that's popular in academics today, but it's the cultural feminism that's been mostly rejected. Cultural feminists celebrate the uniqueness and power of women and argue about the importance of connecting with other women and finding a voice. Even though this isn't academically popular, I do see the women in my study talking about this need for connection and about how this connection, through online writing, gives them voice.

Last Sunday, I was sick in bed, and I picked up a book I love but have never finished (ironically enough, since it's called Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry). I re-read the intro and loved this quote by the author, Katrina Kenison: "Yet I do believe that, as mothers, we all walk a common path, through a rugged and ineffable territory of love and fury, exhilaration and exhaustion, self-doubt and self-discovery. . . . Over the years, I have been grateful to all the women who have gone this way before me and have been willing to shine a light upon the trail, that I might find my own way with a bit more confidence."

Well, I guess I'm long-winded tonight. You made it to the end of my post! I should end with a huge Thank You to those of you who are the women in my life--friends and relatives--who have shown a light or who are currently shining a light on my path.

1 comment:

smart mama said...

great post catherine- great women help create the future generations of strong women- I too feel a strong feminist sense- but i feel different from the typical post modern def of fem. also- I have never been able to label it well but more of a domestic, relational, nuturing, moral feminism whose voice is just as strong but whose great power comes from influence, from the deep bonds of relationships, of service, of commitment--