How I Learned About Feminism From My Mother’s Failed Marriages
My mother has been married three times, engaged two other times that she didn’t follow through with, and is currently single at the age of 57. For a long time, I saw my mother as emotionally dependant and weak. In my mind, all of her marriages failed because she had terrible taste in men and her need for security overcame her judgement. It wasn’t until I entered into adulthood that I came to see my mother as a strong and resilient woman, embodying my understanding of feminism.
My mother always wanted to see the best in people and wasn’t deterred by the fact that one of her fiancés was an ex-convict or that one suffered from crippling manic depression. She would spit statistics at me, like the percentage of people that had been in prison at one time or another in America, the number of crimes committed in our own suburban neighborhood everyday, or how one in five people suffer from mental illness but don't have the means to help themselves. I’ve never asked her, but I get the feeling that my mom took in a lot of stray kittens as a child.
Her first husband (my father) was an alcoholic that was never able to rein in enough willpower to take control of his disease. He wasn’t a mean drunk, but mostly kept to himself in the garage and fixed up old Ford trucks. It took 16 years of being married to him for my mother realized that she didn’t want my dad to be the representation of what it means to be a man or a father to her children. At the time, I thought she was a quitter and giving up on him. Now, I realize the amount of strength it must have taken for her to leave her husband and take on the role of being a single working mother to three children.
My mother has been a working professional since I can remember. My earliest memories are of her getting ready for the work day. She would be walking around in her bra, skirt and pantyhose, getting the household up and ready for the day. She would iron her shirt and rush out the door to start a ten hour work day after making sure we made it to the bus stop. Being a single working mom is representation of feminism; in knowing that she is as capable as her male counterpart of succeeding in the workplace and having the ability to provide for her family.
My mother’s career has been very successful. She has climbed the corporate ladder and is the current vice president of her company. She shares the executive meeting table with one other woman at a table that seats 26. After leaving my father, she pursued further education and obtained her masters degree at the age of 52. Her drive and success was the ruin of her second marriage. He was threatened by her success and her ability to thrive in any situation. However, this didn’t stop him from helping himself to her profitable gains; he stole thousands of dollars from her before she finally left him.
It was interesting for me to see the opposing dynamic that I thought existed in financial roles. My mother being the breadwinner made me realize how money can play such an important role in relationships. It made me consider how women can feel so helpless when they are financially dependant on their male partners. I was proud of my mother for being as successful as she was and being completely unapologetic for it.
My generation is obsessed with the term “feminism”. Women are experiencing more empowerment, equality and uplifting than at any point in American history. Some feminists feel that we have reached this point in our culture where it feels as if “we’ve won.” Some still believe that we are just getting started. The word is taking many different connotations and meanings, but I have taken my own perspective from watching my mother develop as a woman and announcing herself as a feminist relatively late in life.
After her third divorce, she began to find solace in her girlfriends and her sister. She started having ladies nights, going to concerts and comedy shows. She seemed so genuinely happy to just be living her life as a single woman. She found a strong man after this period in her life. He was a happy and prosperous man that had a strong free-spirited past. It helped her to further find a balance. Even though he was financially stable, his affinity for marijuana proved to be an issue. As much as she wanted to foster her newfound zest for life, she didn’t want to have to marry a pothead to do it. Although he looked good on paper, it wasn’t a good match. It was amazing to watch my mother come into her own power and not settle for another man that didn’t entirely meet her needs.
My mother’s marriages may have been failures but they taught me how to fail better — and how those experiences lead you to feel stronger and more secure in your feminine skin. Each man that she dated, married, and left placed a scar on her heart, but it taught her valuable lessons on what to avoid moving forward. Failing isn't what it's made out to be. Failing is a form of succeeding because you learn more from failure and hardship than when taking the easy road. Choosing the hard road, whether intentionally or not, is a form of power and a show of resilience and courage.
Being a woman of strength and poise, I am preparing to go into my master's program and will likely be one of two or three women in the program. Only 6 percent of graduating STEM students are women. I don’t think that I would have ever felt comfortable moving forward with my education in a male-dominated realm if it wasn’t for my mother.
I know that my mother is just happy that she has survived the men of her life up to this point. She doesn’t reflect on her life and see herself as someone to be considered as a role model. I have very rarely times seen the glimmer of empowerment my mother feels in simply being a woman. Although, I will never forget how proud she was to put on her pink pussy hat and walk into her office on election day. I can only envision her sitting down at the table with her male colleagues on the day of the most recent election in support of Hillary Clinton with her chin held high.
Thank you for failing at your relationships, mother. Your trials and tribulations have taught me life lessons about being a woman that I could not have ever learned from my own life experience. I am proud to say that I will never let a man hold me back from my education, hinder my career, or to ever devalue my self worth.
W.M. Chandler is a Colorado native and works best with her head in the clouds. She is an avid researcher and enjoys writing about unfamiliar subjects. She writes passionately about nature and the outdoors, human connections and relationships, nutrition and politics.