My feminist journey started before I was old enough to remember anything. My father’s mother caught my mother sorting apples into two piles. One pile consisted of beautiful, big, perfect apples and the other contained small, shriveled, spotty ones.
“Why are you sorting them?” my grandmother asked.
“The good ones are for your son and baby Clarissa,” my mother explained. “And I’ll just take this other pile.”
“No,” my grandmother said. “Just no. This is about the worst thing you can do for yourself, my son, and baby Clarissa.”
Then she slid the beautiful pile towards my mother.
“You eat these,” she said. “And let me never hear this self-sacrificial crap from you again. Your biggest duty is to take care of yourself.”
Several days later, the two women were walking down the street when they saw a long line of women queuing in the scorching sun.
“This is the place where they sometimes sell peaches!” my mother exclaimed. “Let’s join the line!”
“Are you suggesting we stand here in the sun just to buy something?” my grandmother asked in an appalled voice.
“Well, it will only be about 2-2,5 hours.”
“No,” my grandmother said. “We will not stand here with all these weird women, baking ourselves in the sun for hours. Instead, we will walk over to the marketplace and in ten minutes have all the peaches we want.”
“But the peaches at the marketplace cost 10 times more!”
“And how much does our health and our comfort cost?” my grandmother retorted. “What did I tell you about sacrificing yourself?”
This was when my fate as a woman who would never consider sacrificing herself was sealed. Unfortunately, the majority of other grandmothers forgot to hold similar conversations with their daughters. The generations of women who came of age in the twenties and the forties, who survived the Civil War, the World War, Stalin, starvation and genocide, who destroyed traditional gender roles and never looked back, forgot to mention to their daughters that strength and resilience had to be accompanied with self-respect.
As a result, they brought up a generation of women who thought that since they were strong, it was only logical for them to sacrifice themselves for their weak and helpless children and men.
[To be continued. . .]