Most people who know me well would pause, waiting for the F-word to follow what’s connected to the word mother when I use it. But not today. As I get older, so many memories of my mother remind me of good times, bad times, and lots of laughter. Regardless of the relationship, you may have had with your mother, there is one thing that we all have in common — we all have or had a mother. I am writing this blog post because of my love and respect for women and the tough job of being a woman and surviving in a world that treats them as inferior or second-class citizens. Finally, I understand many of the lessons that my mother taught me about women and why it’s essential to understand many of their struggles.
As enjoyable as it may appear to be, being a woman and a mother is a tough job if you weren’t born with a golden spoon in your mouth or in your pocket. There are so many rules to becoming a mother, and additional ones for being a good mother. Many women have two roles to play, the mother and the father. Mothers are working hard to bring home the bread to keep the family running well. Sometimes it’s simply not a choice when it must be done by any means necessary. Growing up without a father, my mother worked three jobs to make ends meet, cleaning houses for rich people and a couple of evening shifts as a waitress so that leftovers could travel home with her to feed three excited children. In their spare time, mothers taught their children about values, integrity, confidence, and making sure we completed our homework assignments. They also stressed the need for their children to learn to be independent. I was taught how to iron shirts, pants, skirts, and towels at a young age. Of course, I never understood the need to iron towels. None of these are easy tasks when you are exhausted from working long hours all day. My siblings and I learned early to do as we were told and try not to make too many mistakes along the way.
Despite the tremendous progress made in the struggle for gender equality, today, women continue to face violence, discrimination, and institutional barriers to equal participation in society. Gender bias continues to create obstacles for many women. Ongoing struggles include ensuring equal economic opportunities, fairness in education, and housing, and the elimination of gender-based violence. The law allegedly allows the rape of women without the necessary ramifications for the male attacker. Women have a difficult job proving rape and that it wasn’t a sexy outfit they were wearing or if they were flirting or teasing to tempt the attacker. Men seem to think that they have the power to touch any part of a woman’s body and that she should be thrilled that he paid attention to her. It’s painful to see political leaders, leading actors, and everything in between commit these types of crimes and receive accolades from their supporters while blaming women. This attitude goes very deep and is much in tune with the fake power that men, especially white men, have received since the beginning of time. It turns my stomach when I think of someone like Donald Trump and so many others inappropriately touching women and bragging about it.
The treatment of African American, Asian Pacific Islander, and Latina women is worse than white women when it comes to the law. Most women of colour don’t even bother reporting rapes or other attacks because they will be blamed and humiliated in their communities. Most women of colour earn less money than any man, even a man of colour, regardless of doing the same job. If reported, many women may lose their jobs and be called an angry black woman. So, they stay quiet. Women are promoted less than men and often disrespected behind their backs. During my many years of working in corporations and community-based organizations, I have observed how some women hate other women and will do anything within their power to destroy each other. I am still trying to understand the intensity of such hatred instead of pulling together and pulling each other up. It’s called the crab mentality. If one crab is trying to climb its way out of a barrel to reach freedom, the others will pull it back down. This action is a well-known issue with people of colour and probably exists across all races.
Being the mother of two boys and one girl, I now understand why my mother was like a brick wall when teaching valuable lessons in life. I often question why I remember every single discussion today. Our family conversations about the role of women jump out at me as I watch and listen to everything happening in history today. As boys, my mother taught us to respect all women, young or old. She taught us how hard women had to work to be recognized, but not equal in the eyes of men. Even among black men, black women were often not treated equally. The greatest lesson she taught us boys was never to lift a hand or try to beat a woman who may become your wife or partner. As the curious 8-year-old boy, I would ask, why would a man hit a woman? Isn’t he stronger? When looking at my sister and brother, I knew from the look on their faces; that I was about to be beaten for asking a silly question. Instead, my mother cocked her head to the side and started to explain. She said, “Boo, Black men are hated in this country because of the colour of their skin. When they go off to work, they are mistreated, teased, humiliated, called names, expected to work harder, and paid less than white men. They arrive home in an angry mood and often take it out on their wives or children.” My hand went up again with another question, but I didn’t have to ask it. She continued, “Strong women will not take any bullshit from any man because she is strong, and there are many things that can be done behind the scenes.” My sister glared at me, so I stopped questioning my mom. Besides, I think that my sister was going on a date, and I was making her late.
Most of my relationships in life have primarily been with strong women. Women have taught me so much about surviving in an unfair society. They have also taught me the powers that I possess as a man and how they can be used to help others. One of the key lessons is learning to recognize different feelings and emotions without reacting negatively. It has allowed me to listen very carefully and hear what’s not spoken aloud. Growing up with nine aunts had an impact on my life. My three uncles were usually too busy working. Ironically, all my aunts, including my mother, communicated with spirits on several levels. Be it with tea leaves, reading tarot cards, or palms, or creating spells to help someone or eliminate someone with evil goals. I am lucky because I absorbed everything like a sponge. When women would show up for readings, I learned to be a little gentleman and show respect. I also learned how to prepare a great pot of tea with cake for the guests.
During the era of COVID-19, working mothers certainly had a challenging time working at home and being responsible for online education for their children. Regardless of the job, it’s not any more comfortable to do it from home or in the office. Deadlines still must be met, reports written, numerous online calls, and pretending to be happy and glamorous while online. Have you noticed that no one says, how was your day, or have a great weekend anymore?
Are there more choices for women today? The more I read and study about women’s rights, I become saddened by how so many things have stalled or how so many men in power are working to keep things unequal. I often ask myself as many questions as I used to ask my mother and aunts. The ones that keep rising to the top are, why hold people down and why do men want to control the reproductive rights of women? Women are the primary caretakers of children and elders in every country of the world. International studies demonstrate that women help the family adjust to new realities and challenges when the economy and political organizations change. Many of the issues women are fighting for today were the same ones when I was a boy. They include reforms on reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women’s suffrage, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. Being a Black man helps me to understand and relate to the struggles that women are facing today. We are all fighting for equality and justice in a racist system designed to keep its foot on our necks. It’s annoying to be judged by our gender or the colour of our skin.
After many years working as a massage therapist, I learned how strong women were that entered my studio. I made the mistake of assuming that a massage for women would be easy with light strokes. I learned quickly after one of my best female clients announced to me to be a man and put some power into the massage movements, I learned in massage school. I explained that I didn’t want to hurt her. She giggled and said, “Sweetie, I gave birth to twins; there is no worse pain, now show me what you got.” To my surprise, it was my male clients who couldn’t stand the deep pressure.
Every day, I think of the lessons that my mother and aunts taught me. Here are a few of them:
- Treat everyone with the respect they deserve.
- Always stand whenever a woman leaves or returns to the table or enters the room.
- Kindness is a gift. Treat people the way they treat you.
- Always be in touch with your feelings and emotions.
- Think before you speak or respond.
- Always hold the elevator door and allow women to enter and exit first out of respect.
- Listen well, the way women do, but respond with power.
- Speak softly during arguments and always plan with facts.
- Always give up your seat on public transportation to pregnant women, the elderly, or disabled persons.
- Before judging anyone, try walking in their shoes, even if they are in high heels.
- Always create an exit or contingency plan.
- No matter how small others may think you are, know that you are powerful and invincible.
- Always open doors for women, even if it’s your car.
- When walking with a female friend, always allow her to lock arms with you.
So, what lessons did your mother or grandmother teach you to become the strong woman or man you are today? You don’t have to share them with me but write them down and be grateful for the love you received.
When my mother died in 2001, all I could think about was Helen Reddy’s song, You and Me Against the World, and I felt so alone. The lyrics gave me strength in hearing that remembering will have to do, and our memories will get us through every day to keep rising with confidence and resilience. Huge thanks to all the mothers and women who made me and supported me to get to where I am today.