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The Women Who Gave You New Models
You share stories of the women who expanded your sense of what a woman could be
This week, I have some highlights from your descriptions of women who expanded your image of who you could be as a woman. Next week, I’ll share some of your comments on “boring” friendships and affection.
Elizabeth shared several stories of women who expanded her understanding of who a woman could be, and this was my favorite:
My mom's former Sunday School teacher has a stall at a farmer's market I've gone to for the past few years, and I've found it tremendously encouraging to get to know her a little. She's extremely perceptive, is an independent thinker, knows a lot about history and theology, and communicates very directly. While she's much more outgoing than I am, I find it encouraging to watch her, because for the first time I feel like I can maybe imagine what I would be like as an older person. Much as I admire my mom and grandmother, my personality is very different from theirs, so it's really helpful to see an older woman whose personality is at least a little more like mine. Plus, it's nice to see that she can be the sort of person she is while remaining down-to-earth—it's not often I meet a farmer who can combine scientific and practical knowledge so well.
I love her point about the value of seeing who you might be at an older age. We miss so much when our friendships and society are fairly age-segregated. When I lived in Washington D.C., I met older people only at my parish’s Sunday School for adults.
It took seeing them there to notice their absence everywhere else.
Amy admired the way a graduate advisor said, “No.”
She showed me how to live my life on my own terms within systems that pressure all comers, male and female, to live according to their rules. When I joined her lab she had just achieved tenure and her lab consisted of one undergrad student, one early stage (1st or 2nd year) grad student and one late stage (final stages of dissertation) grad student. By contrast, another female professor in the same department had a lab group that was at least double, if not close to triple that head count. I know my advisor was under constant pressure to write more grants, take on more students, etc, etc, but she quietly resisted. This was how she was going to run her professional life and no one, from the department chair on down, was going to change her mind or her m.o. Now that I'm in a different but similarly competitive/demanding field (engineering consulting) and engaged in my own subversive practices (I only work 25 hours/week because I have 3 young children, among others) I even more deeply value her lessons on how to be (to borrow a term she would never have used) in a particular world, but not of that world, even more than I did 10 years ago.
I very much like the idea of finding people you admire because they have rejected a false image of success, and have found more by “settling for less.”
Meanwhile, Anne Camille Talley’s life was shaped by women who offered a very specific “yes” to life as a religious sister. Several women in her family entered the convent, mostly joining the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, Long Island.
Aunt Gene was the first woman I knew of who earned a Ph.D. And it was in Chinese history! I recall the party at the St. Angela Hall convent when she received the degree. I also learned from my Dad's Aunt, our "Aunt Bob" (baptized Rosamund & nicknamed Bob as a girl) who was the Mother Superior there at that time, that women can lead organizations.
It was not much of a leap after that realization to appreciate the leadership shown by my Mom's cousin, a Sister of Charity, who served as a college President.
Then, seeing religious women leading hospitals and hospital groups, gave me a whole new standard of what women can do.
Thank you for sharing these stories with me! And, if the woman you thought of is still living, I do recommend sending her a note. We all shape each other’s lives in more ways that we know. It’s a rare privilege to glimpse your handiwork.
P.S. The Abigail Adams Institute is holding an event on February 15th on Suffrage-era postcards.