I was recently interviewed on a radio program and the host asked me if I might name one way my mother influenced my life. I immediately knew the answer to her question. Evelyn, my mother, taught me to fight for the under-dog. She never verbalized it, but I think she felt like an under-dog. She grew up in Louisiana in the 1940's. It was a time when women had little choice about the direction their life would take. She had no protections like Roe v Wade. Her mother was a janitor and education for women was not a priority. Her world view consisted of getting married, keeping a roof over her head and her kids fed. I can still remember her and my step-father, too poor for a decent meal because selling vacuum cleaners door to door was not putting food on the table, eating corn chips with some cheese spread for dinner. Sometimes my breakfast cereal did not come with milk, but water to moisten it. Ham was out of the question and I came to love bologna sandwiches, especially if I had potato chips to slap between the slices of bread instead of lettuce.
Never having taken a class in Women’s Studies and a product of the conservative South, I don’t think Evelyn can name the cause for her circumstances. I can still hear her misplaced loyalty to her Southern roots as my step-father, a northerner from Iowa, would tell her of the rampant ignorance and racism in the South. Sexism never came up, however. Afterall, women just had their role in society. Evelyn’s life path was not in question - it was normal for the times, but I doubt she was happy. I wonder if she even felt happiness was something she could hope for. I got the feeling she was happy surviving. I wonder how her life would have been different if she had the option to finish high school and go on to college or if she could make enough money not to have to get married or fulfill society’s expectations that women have children. So, yes, Evelyn instilled in me to fight for the under-dog, probably because she felt there was no one fighting for her.
She encouraged me to reach out to the lonely kids on the playground who were rejected by the popular kids. We shared what little we had with neighbors who had less than us. She told me to go out and get what I wanted in life because it would not come “knocking on my door.” She tried her best with what she had to work with, which wasn’t much materially or education-wise, but she had compassion and empathy, which I believe, made her very rich.
So it’s no surprise, today I consider myself a social justice advocate. I fight for “THE OTHER” because today, so many more of us are THE OTHER. We are the ones with a boot on our neck. The boot of white, male, fundamentalist Christian men and their female counterparts who benefit from the oppression of others. Yes, this is the root of so much of the oppression and denigration and it’s not just oppression from the elites. Often it’s poor, white, male, fundamentalist Christian men and their female counterparts who play their part in this patriarchal scheme.