The power of having a choice, and the hope that comes with it

I am regretting not attending the Women’s March in Boston this past Saturday. I knew that it would have been crowded, and worried about taking my younger two with me. Ever since I started working through the week, I am back to weekends being the only time I get to spend with them. I would have taken them if I was going. Frankly the idea was very overwhelming but I stayed connected via Facebook.

What a mistake that was.

On Facebook, people were attacking the march saying that it was about sore losers. Other women kept saying “These women do not represent me!” or “Last time I checked, I still had my rights.” It makes me want to vomit even now. Who do you think got us those rights we enjoy today? Who marched so that women could be treated more equally in the workplace? Who carried signs supporting a woman’s right to choose what happens in her body in the early 70’s? How do you think we got here?

Like many others, the phrase “Making America Great Again” made me think that the goal was to make America the way it was during the days before sexual harassment became a “thing.” The comments made by my president about women make my stomach turn. It reminded me of when I was assaulted as a young woman, the response was “Well, were you drinking?” It was my fault that three boys decided it would be fun to have their way with me. I didn’t say “No” loud enough I guess. I guess the tears running down my face meant that I was having a great time. The irony is one of these boys grew up to have a daughter so karma does exist. Sometimes I wonder what he would do if someone did to her what he did to me.

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by strong women- all incredible examples  of strength, poise, and intellect. All worked hard for what they wanted in life. The values I have stem from their determination to make the world a better place for future generations. None took no for an answer.

One of my favorite books growing up was “Free to Be You and Me.” It was a book about female empowerment and what it meant to truly be equal to the opposite gender. I have fond memories of my Mom reading me the dialogue between two babies, one male and one female talking about stereotypes. Another favorite was the story of a girl who instead of freeing herself, passively waits for a man to save her from tigers. The end of the story shows a picture of the tigers wearing her shoes, dress and hat.

The moral of the story? Don’t wait to be saved when you can save yourself.

My mother was one of the few female administrators in a male-dominated office. Dinner time included stories of how she had to approach certain issues with some of the men at work. She fought (and I use this term because to me, it what it was) to gain respect from her colleagues and staff. Not everyone was thrilled with having a woman for their boss. When she retired, she was one of the most respected educators in the area.

My grandmother Adeline Keller was a stay at home mom who built schools in her spare time. She sat on the school committee for over 25 years and pushed for better facilities to house the future generations of Plymouth. She was petite, but her voice made it clear that she was a force to be reckoned with. In the evening after dinner, the apron would come off and she would attend meetings on how the town could improve education. PCIS, South Elementary, Federal Furnace, former Plymouth-Carver High school, and West Elementary were the fruits of her efforts. She owned real estate in Boston, was the bookkeeper in my grandfather’s dental practice, and was a savvy businesswoman in a time when women were not encouraged to learn business.

Helen Levin was another incredible woman I had the honor of being related to. She fought to raise money for the State of Israel and for Hadassah, a women’s organization that helps communities around the world get access to better healthcare. She spent time driving to local businesses in the Garment district in Boston to get donations for her Hadassah thrift shop . She did not take no for an answer. I had the pleasure of talking with a woman who went on an excursion with her and heard how she would not back down. She channeled her ambitions to raise an incredible amount of funds for Israel and the hospital in Jerusalem.

My birth mother was a strong woman in my opinion because she carried me to term and enduring the pregnancy alone. She made the difficult choice of giving me up for adoption. I am so glad she did. That was her choice. When I was in a similar situation I made a different choice. I remember the sinking feeling of knowing what I had to do and being sick about it. That was my choice, and thank God I had one because the other party ended up overdosing years later.

I never felt like I was strong like the women I was related to. I felt frightened about 90% of the time when I was in school. In today’s standards, you might say  I was bullied for being different. My classmates made fun of my clothes, my hair, my face, my size and my religion. Perhaps I was an easy target since I reacted every single time. I tried to be tough but people could see right through me. My need to be accepted was stronger than my need to express myself. That changed the day after I was assaulted. I haven’t quieted down since.

The march that took place on Saturday was about keeping those and many more options open for women. It was about reassuring one another that we have each other’s backs, and to show the world that we can unite regardless of backgrounds. It was a statement that we were not objects for people to do whatever they want with.  To me, it was about progressing and moving forward instead of backwards. It was also very empowering and gave people hope. I know that was the effect seeing all of the posts and pics my daughter was sending gave me. Hope is what nourishes my soul in times where light is absent. Seeing all of those women standing up and saying “No, we will not give up our rights to medical care, equal pay, and social justice” gave me hope 45 miles away.

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