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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

My Feminist Journey, Part I

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. . .]

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29 thoughts on “My Feminist Journey, Part I

  1. I would kill to have such a mother in law in the future.

    Btw, you often write about not perfect mothers, why never about fathers’ mistakes too?
    Today PostSecret has Father’s Day theme and I was most impressed by:

    Are such attitudes common in FSU too, or is it more a US thing?

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    • “Btw, you often write about not perfect mothers, why never about fathers’ mistakes too?”

      – For some incomprehensible reason, I only meet really good ones. I’ve heard many stories about bad fathers, but it’s hard for me to retell what I haven’t seen close and personal. The worst problems with the fathers I do know is that they love their children so much that they become a little ridiculous about it.

      I guess we all encounter exactly what we are set to encounter. 🙂

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  2. In my family the best apples would have been for baby Clarissa as much as she wants, and what would be left – for adults of both genders.

    Generally, if there isn’t enough good food (fruits and vegetables OR meat too costy), isn’t it parents’ role to give all necessary to children, who develop and need it more? Though I see it wasn’t so in your example.

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    • “In my family the best apples would have been for baby Clarissa as much as she wants, and what would be left – for adults of both genders.”

      – Nah, big mistake. 🙂 The best approach is when everything is shared equally, good and bad.

      “Generally, if there isn’t enough good food (fruits and vegetables OR meat too costy), isn’t it parents’ role to give all necessary to children, who develop and need it more?”

      – I hear it leads to all kinds of problems later in life. But I don’t know from personal experience.

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  3. // Unfortunately, the majority of other grandmothers forgot to hold similar conversations with their daughters.

    They didn’t forget. They thought it would be wonderful for their adult sons to be treated like “in mother’s house” and get the best cuts, as if they were still kids. As for what the women’s mothers thought, I am sure they were like that themselves all their lives.

    One can’t “forgot to mention” such a basic thing, it’s something taught from birth, not told after an adult daughter marries. The previous generations didn’t “destroy traditional gender roles and never looked back”, they exactly believed in your post’s last paragraph.

    // – I hear it leads to all kinds of problems later in life. But I don’t know from personal experience.

    What is “it”? Having not sufficiently good nutrition in childhood? Science say it definitely leads to life long problems.

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    • “What is “it”? Having not sufficiently good nutrition in childhood? Science say it definitely leads to life long problems.”

      – We are not talking about societies on the brink of starvation. We are talking about situations where the need to sacrifice for the child is not motivated by fear for the child’s life.

      “As for what the women’s mothers thought, I am sure they were like that themselves all their lives.”

      – I can’t imagine my grandmother and great-grandmother sacrificing anything for anybody. If, say, my grandmother needed her beauty sleep, everybody would stand motionlessly and hold their breaths for as long as she needed them to. 🙂 And my great-grandmother would bully an army into submission and plow over everybody if she ever needed anything. There was not an ounce of anything traditional, let alone gender roles, among them and the women of their generation.

      The problem, as you correctly point out, is that this kind of women not only brings up very powerful and resilient daughters. It also brings up very broken up, beaten down sons. Such sons are prevented by the ultra-powerful mothers from ever growing up. So they attach themselves to women in adulthood not in the capacity of grown men, but in the capacity of little boys. And, as you just said, there is this whole mentality where small children deserve sacrifices.

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  4. I agree that women should not sacrifice herselves for their husbands or for other adults, but the first duty of a mother is to take care of the children. (unless the children is an adult)

    (but maybe in this case, there was enough apples for you, so your mother have not had to sacrifice herself)

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    • “I agree that women should not sacrifice herselves for their husbands or for other adults, but the first duty of a mother is to take care of the children.”

      – taking care and sacrificing are NOT synonymous. As you know, people on airplanes are always warned to put on their air masks first and only then to put them on the children.

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      • The first duty of a mother (and a father also) is not taking care of herself, it’s taking take of the children (unless they’re adults). If a woman wants to take care of herself in priority, the feminist thing to do is to not have children.

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      • If someone doesn’t take care of themselves, they won’t be in any position to take care of anyone else. The duty of anyone who considers it their duty to take care of someone else is to take care of themselves at least as well as they’re taking care of their charges. A mother (or father) shouldn’t sacrifice themselves for their child in the same way they shouldn’t demand the child sacrifice him/herself for them. Sacrifice – especially such personal, direct sacrifice as one person’s sacrifice for another – is a huge burden to put on the beneficiary’s shoulders. No good parent would do that to their child.

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        • “If someone doesn’t take care of themselves, they won’t be in any position to take care of anyone else. The duty of anyone who considers it their duty to take care of someone else is to take care of themselves at least as well as they’re taking care of their charges. A mother (or father) shouldn’t sacrifice themselves for their child in the same way they shouldn’t demand the child sacrifice him/herself for them. Sacrifice – especially such personal, direct sacrifice as one person’s sacrifice for another – is a huge burden to put on the beneficiary’s shoulders. No good parent would do that to their child.”

          – And once again, Stille says EXACTLY what I want to say, in those exact words I’d like to use.

          If we imagine a child whose mother hands him their only apple and stares at him adoringly, swallowing her saliva as he eats it, and a mother who says, “Hey, let’s share this apple” and they both take bites out of it by turn, something tells me the second kid will be happier in life.

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      • Nobody should sacrifice eirself but the first duty of a mother is to taking care of her children.

        “Self-sacrificing mommies always demand a very VERY high price for every apple they sacrifice.”

        You’re right. Self-sacriying is not “taking care of the children”.

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      • I agree with you, David. If someone decides to have children, they should take care of the very vulnerable and powerless beings they have created. However, glorification of the mother’s sacrifice for her progeny is counterproductive to that.

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  5. hkatz on said:

    ““Hey, let’s share this apple” and they both take bites out of it by turn, something tells me the second kid will be happier in life.”

    Also more considerate. I’ve come across quite a few people who got the whole apple over and over again, and who never learned to take into account that other people with needs and desires exist; they’re little children, forever. It’s healthy for kids to see a model of caring that includes both personal fulfillment and kind, considerate actions to others.

    The self-sacrificing (self-debasing) parent doesn’t want their child to truly grow. The parent is half a person, the child is the other half. And they’re bound together to form an unwholesome whole.

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  6. Pretty off-topic, but I’ve seen this bit on the treatment of Soviet female soldiers post-WW2 make the rounds on Tumblr. Is it true?

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  7. Abortion is more regulated in Sweden than in many places in USA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_Sweden

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  8. My feminist journey began when my communication was sabotaged. I’d say to people, “Look, I want to talk to you about this problem I am facing, and let’s see if we can work something out,” and they’d respond, “No. We certainly can’t talk to you at all, because there is an emotional component to your request, which means it is invalid.”

    Like

  9. Kathleen on said:

    Clarissa, this is a very good point you have made. I agree with you whole-heartedly.

    Like

  10. Pingback: On partners | Urocyon's Meanderings

  11. Tango on said:

    “Never” sacrifice anything for anybody? What a sad, self-serving, life. Everybody does some measure of sacrifice. Yes, your grandmother spent 10 times the money. Which means that your grandfather had to work 10 times more for those peaches. Which means that HE paid for her comfort and health. Which I bet he did gladly, because men tend to think about it not as “sacrifice”, but simply as their duty towards their family.

    Not to sacrifice anything for anybody only means that there is somebody who is sacrificing something for you. And probably without a thank you, while at that.

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    • If you think her grandmother spent the money a man had worked for, I don’t think you’ve read this series very carefully.

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      • “If you think her grandmother spent the money a man had worked for, I don’t think you’ve read this series very carefully.”

        – Exactly. 🙂 🙂 We never had any non-working women in the family until the 1990s. During the USSR era, not working would land you in jail for 7 years. And before that, we were all extremely poor on all sides of the family, so everybody worked.

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    • “Yes, your grandmother spent 10 times the money. Which means that your grandfather had to work 10 times more for those peaches. Which means that HE paid for her comfort and health.”

      – You are trying to project your own experiences on my family history and the result is funny. 🙂 Women in my family were not kept objects or pathetic housewives. 🙂 My grandmother was a corporate lawyer who never lost a case in her entire long career. She made her own money and bought her own peaches. 🙂 And in the USSR, nobody could work 10 times more. Everybody had a very strictly defined work day and a very strictly defined salary.

      It’s a very good idea to avoid chirping stupidly about unknown realities.

      “Which I bet he did gladly, because men tend to think about it not as “sacrifice”, but simply as their duty towards their family.”

      – You lost your bet, you silly thing. 🙂 I’m talking about a different culture here.

      “Not to sacrifice anything for anybody only means that there is somebody who is sacrificing something for you.”

      – That’s their choice. If you were a little less intellectually primitive , you’d know that nobody sacrifices anything without a huge payoff.

      Like

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