MY MOTHER DIED of Parkinson’s disease almost 16 years ago, but several years before she died, she suffered some sort of stroke that eventually left her bedridden, unable to speak. Not long after that stroke, when she could still talk, she told my sister Dora that she believed God was punishing her.
When Dora asked her what she was being punishing for, my mother said that it was because during every one of her nine pregnancies she had begged God not give her a girl.
It wasn’t that she hated girls, or that she liked boys better, she explained. Rather, her concern was a practical one, based on reality as she saw it. Experience told her that girls are destined to live a difficult life, much more difficult than males, and the last thing she wanted was to bring into this world a child condemned from the very beginning to a life of suffering.
My mother gave birth to five girls. It was those daughters who fed her, bathed her, spoke soothingly to her, every day of the last four years of her life as she lay, helpless, in her bed. Two of those daughters were with her when she died on New Year’s Day, 1991.
I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT my mother’s words to Dora quite a bit over the last 16 years, and I’ve wondered whether she truly believed that her God had punished her for her supplications. Or was that simply her way of coming clean with her daughters?
Regardless, what a burden to carry, all those years.
But equally as intriguing – and tragic – to me is the fact that my mother felt so strongly about the fate she believed awaited her daughters that she was willing to forsake the joy of giving birth to, holding and nurturing a daughter, and guiding her into womanhood.
And she was willing to do this because she knew for a certainty that those daughters would be subjected to cruelty and abuse solely because of their sex.
My mother was right, of course. My five sisters are all strong, intelligent women and they have triumphed in life. They are not perfect and they are not famous, but each of them is a star. As they have gotten older, various health problems have slowed them down, yet they remain strong, proud and unbroken.
But each of them, as they struggled to take care of their families, has had to fight to defend herself from the vile, disgusting sexist impulses in men (and some women) – in the home, in the workplace, in their churches, in society – that conspired to keep them down, and still do. (Not to mention the obstacles placed in their paths by racism.)
TODAY, ALMOST 90 years after my mother gave birth to her first girl, I can’t help thinking of her and of my sisters, every time I am reminded of the constant battle Hillary Clinton has had to fight throughout her political life because she is not a man.
And, over the last five or six days, I’ve thought a lot about my mother and my sisters as I keep reading and hearing about the vile, degrading language used by a man who wants to be the free world’s next leader and who still has millions of supporters.
Aren’t we supposed to be past this kind of thing by now?
I think of all my nephews and nieces and friends who have brought daughters into this world, and who love them to death, and I wonder what kind of thoughts are going through their minds about what their daughters will encounter out in the world. Do they have to lie awake at night fearing that their daughters will one day (or on many days) have to deal with a Donald Trump or a Billy Bush or a Bill Cosby?
When are we going to say that we’ve done enough damage? When are we going to make our society one into which all mothers will be happy to bring a baby girl?
November 8, it seems to me, would be a good starting day.