Pretty much anyone who has ever spent more than 10 minutes with me knows two things — my mom is my best friend and I'm a staunch feminist. Even though we currently live 3,000 miles away from one another, she still gets a blow-by-blow of my day, whether she wants it or not. My mom has influenced my life in countless ways, as most of our moms have — but being raised by a feminist mom has particularly shaped my life and the person I've become.
My mom taught me the basic definition of feminism when I was very young and I immediately embraced it —it seemed like a no-brainer and it still does; and growing up in a household where the word "feminism" was considered positive rather than alienating undoubtedly influenced my confidence about proudly labeling myself as a feminist. But my mother's feminist influence on me went way beyond simply explaining what it is and why we need it. My mom's feminism influenced the way she raised me in many subtle ways — and the lessons she taught me have influenced my attitudes towards politics, relationships, and life choices throughout the rest of my life.
Since March is Women's History Month (and my mom's birthday is coming up), I'd like to thank her and all the other feminist moms out there who have lead by example and empowered their daughters to be strong, independent, and proactive women. My mom taught me the following 12 important lessons — and they have had an amazing impact on my life.
1. She Taught Me The Exact Meaning Of Feminism
According to a poll conducted by Vox last year, only 18 percent of Americans identify as feminists. This statistic makes me cry a little on the inside — but there's hope, because the same poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe in "equality for women." Since feminism is, by definition, "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities," this stark contrast illustrates that many people either simply don't understand what feminism is, associate it with negative stereotypes, or a combination of the two. (For example, plenty of people seem to equate feminism with man-hating.)
Of course, we can learn about feminism from many people in our lives and it's never too late to embrace the word or the ideas behind it — but I credit my mom with teaching me the meaning of feminism at a very early age. Long before I understood the complexities of politics, I knew that I was a feminist because it seemed downright crazy to think of myself a second-class citizen. As I got older, my mom and I had many enlightening discussions that helped me further understand the importance of feminism. She came of age during the second wave of feminism and was a pretty badass activist during high school and college — and knowing about her experiences gave me a greater appreciation of some of the rights that I previously took for granted.
2. She Taught Me That Feminism Comes In Many Forms
Feminists share the belief that we deserve equal opportunities and rights — but, beyond that, there's no one "correct" way to be a feminist. When my mom chose to stay home with my brother and me, she received no shortage of rude responses and questions about it. Didn't she feel badly about "wasting" her degree from a prestigious college? Or "guilty" for staying home while my dad worked long hours? (Because, you know, homeschooling and taking care of two young kids is such a walk in the park.) My mom chose to stay home with us for a long period of time before reentering the work force because it was 100 percent what she wanted. If she dreamed of being a high-powered executive, she would have pursued that instead. Feminism is all about choice — and her example showed me that everyone from stay-at-home moms to CEOs can be feminists.
3. She Promoted Body Positivity
My mom made a point of not harping on the physical appearances of other women — and, although she always cooked healthy meals, she emphasized the importance of splurging when we went out to eat, on holidays, and sometimes just for the heck of it. I always took this for granted until I developed an eating disorder after a few too many years of intense ballet training.
During treatment, I was shocked to learn that many of my fellow patients' mothers had encouraged them to lose weight, even when they knew their daughters were engaging in seriously unhealthy weight loss methods. And, when I returned home from the hospital, my mom was integral to my recovery — mainly because she lead by example. Sure, she gave me pep talks when I needed them, but I paid close attention to her behaviors and slowly but surely internalized the notion that eating real meals was the only way I could ever become physically and mentally healthy again.
4. She Introduced Me To Feminist Role Models
My mom did a top-notch job of educating me about all the amazing feminists throughout history, from Sojourner Truth to Susan B. Anthony to Gloria Steinem. She also encouraged me to read books that featured strong female characters and they became my role models, too. We read To Kill a Mockingbird together when I was in sixth grade and talked about why Scout was such an awesome character. She bought me a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn later that year and Francie Nolan became such an inspiration to me that I wrote my college essay about her.
5. She Taught Me To See Other Women As Allies, Not Enemies
My mom taught me that when women work together, amazing things happen. I'm a perfectionist who has spent her life surrounded by seriously impressive and talented friends and peers — so I won't lie and say that I haven't experienced jealousy. And, since I tell my mom everything, I've confided these feelings to her multiple times. She's encouraged me to learn from these women and be inspired by them, rather than choose friends who I perceive to be less intelligent or competent than me. No one's really "less than," anyway. We're all impressive in different ways.)
Because my mom instilled this mentality in me, I chose to attend a women's college — and my experience as a student and alum proved that she was 100 percent right. While I was on campus, it was empowering to work alongside so many intelligent, driven young women. And, when I graduated into a rough economy, members of my alumni network went above and beyond to help me land a good job in New York City. Before I moved to Seattle to become a writer, I got in touch with the city's alumni network and I once again received an amazing amount of support.
6. She Educated Me About Consent
My mom pulled no punches when she spoke with me about consent. She instilled in me that I didn't "owe" any guy anything just because he paid attention to me, that I had a right to change my mind if something felt uncomfortable, and that consensually hooking up with someone once didn't give them a free pass for any and all future sexual activities.
7. She Let Me Make My Own Mistakes
Although my mom has always been honest with me when she's concerned about certain behaviors or decisions, one of the best things she's ever done for me is let me make my own mistakes. After she says her piece, it's up to me to decide how to handle it — not because she wants to see my fall flat on my face, but because she ultimately wants me to make my own decisions and she knows that, sometimes, you just need to learn firsthand. Best of all, she resists the urge to say "I told you so" and she's the first one to comfort me when things don't exactly turn out the way I hoped.
8. She Taught Me To Not Be Defined By Romantic Relationships
As someone who generally prefers the single life for many reasons, I'm eternally grateful that my mom instilled in me that I don't need to get married and have kids in order to be a "complete" woman. And, when I am in a relationship, it shouldn't be the main thing that defines me and drives all my decisions.
As my friends get engaged, the topic of marriage and kids comes up more often because I'm the one who brings it up — I tell my mom that I just don't see those things in my future. She gives me the same answer every time: like everything else in life, married life and single life both come with positives and negatives, and we just have to do what's right for us. If I do decide to get married sometime in the future, I know she'll support that too.
9. She Taught Me The Importance Of Voting
I could not wait to register to vote when I turned 18, which felt like a feminist act to me — after all, the only reason I can go to the polls is because many brave women fought hard and sacrificed a lot to secure my right to vote. But I was perhaps more excited to register to vote than many of my peers because, from an early age, I went to the polls with my mom for every election — both local and national. She emphasized to me that, even though local elections don't get huge turnout, the results would often directly affect my everyday life — so it would be ridiculous to not take a stand.
My mom also taught me that, even though it's depressing, I can't be complacent about my basic rights as a woman and simply assume they'll always be there. She remembers a time before Roe v. Wade and, if I do have kids, I'll remind them of the fact that Planned Parenthood was (figuratively and literally) under attack and gay marriage was illegal when I was in my teens and 20s.
10. She Taught Me To Stand Up For Myself
My mom taught me not to tolerate mistreatment or disrespect from anyone — male or female. But she also encouraged me to not act rashly when a friend or boyfriend acted disrespectfully — she urged me to talk with them about my concerns before cutting ties, because sometimes people aren't aware of how their actions affect us and we should give them a chance to mend their ways. But she also taught me that, no matter how long I'd been friends with someone, it was OK to end it if I was being used or mistreated. When I ended up in a difficult workplace situation that showed no signs of improvement, she told me to hustle and find a new job where I would be treated fairly.
Above all, my mom taught me to not let people walk all over me and then simply sit back and complain about it — she empowered me by teaching me to stand up for myself and to walk away from relationships and situations where my voice wasn't respected.
11. She Encouraged Me To Embrace My Passions & Follow My Dreams
As long as I was working hard and pursuing a goal, my mom never pressured me to follow a "conventional" path when it came to my education, career, or personal life. Although she never deluded me into believing I was the most brilliant, talented young woman in the world, my mom always emphasized that hard work and passion would get me where I needed to be — even if the path was often complicated and challenging.
Plenty of people balked when I chose to online school during my junior year of high school, attend a women's college, and quit my corporate job to move across the country to become a full-time writer. Although my mom always urged me to think things through and not make hasty decisions, she ultimately taught me to follow my heart. Plus, she emphasized that even if things didn't work out the way I hoped, it was 100 percent in my power to figure out a different way to reach my goals. And, if something turned out to be the "wrong" decision, I was perfectly capable of learning from it and then moving on.
12. She Promoted Equality In Every Way
Although the literal definition of feminism is equality between genders, we need to strive for equality for everyone. Growing up, my mom couldn't care less if I threw around curse words, but she rightfully reamed me out the few times I used the words "gay" or "retarded" as insults — and, she explained to me in great detail why it was so wrong.
Since feminism is about equality, it makes sense that my mom made sure to educate me that all humans are equally deserving of respect, regardless of their gender, race, religion, age, or sexuality. And while we certainly spent a lot of time discussing the sexism faced by American women, she also emphasized that feminism is definitely not just about me and my rights — we also need to fight for the girls and women who live in countries where they can be legally forced to marry their rapists and must risk their lives in order to attend school.
So, Happy Birthday, Mom! Your feminist ways turned me into the feisty, driven, outspoken woman I am today — and I couldn't possibly be more grateful.
Images: Caitlin Flynn; Giphy (13)