My whole sarcastic, party girl facade melts away when I talk about my mother. In some ways we are radically different, but my mother is my best friend and the reason I am a feminist. She never indoctrinated me with any oppressive ideologies, but instead led through her singularly inspiring example. A fiercely independent polymath, she traveled the world alone, started an international business, designed her own clothing, fronted rock bands, published novels, survived life-threatening illnesses with humor and grace, and still had time to raise me to be the hellion I am today.
I love being a child of divorce — however painful it has been in certain respects — because it offered me a unique way to foster a one-on-one relationship with each of my parents. The years my mother raised me on her own while working full-time were some of the best of my life, and it was then that our BFF relationship was initially forged. That is not to say we were always on the same page about my aesthetic or behavioral choices, but whatever rifts occurred are par for the course in a mother-daughter bond. It may have taken me a decade or so into adulthood to come around to the kind of girl power my mother championed in my youth, but I couldn't have done it without her. Here are eight ways my mom inspired me to be a feminist.
1. Being a female pioneer in a predominately male field
In the 1970's, my mother started an international consulting business with a female partner in Southeast Asia (where she also happened to be singing in a band). Not only was she an anomaly in her field, but two women working together and running the show was unheard of at the time. She taught me that gender is never an excuse not to do something — regardless of whether it's socially acceptable.
2. Traveling the world alone
There's something about traveling alone as a single female that fortifies you. Taking her example (she crisscrossed Europe, Asia, and Africa more times than I can count), I took a 10-day trip to Japan on my own once, and it was a defining experience. There's nothing quite like it to electrify your sense of lady power.
3. Dressing for herself — not anyone else
One of my favorite tales my mother tells is about getting whisked through the velvet ropes at Limelight (New York City's infamous hedonistic club) in the early 1980's because her outfit was just that good. She always dressed to kill because she loved fashion and style, not to attract a man or to live up to a certain standard of beauty.
4. Cultivating a close group of female friends
My mother taught me not to see other women as rivals, and to cultivate a few, close female friends. In practice this hasn't always been easy for me, but I'm definitely making strides. She still has a cadre of amazing BFFs that have been around for over 30 years. They've seen each other through multiple husbands, births, deaths, careers, and hairstyles — and somehow have retained a sense of humor about it all.
5. Being her own best friend
I used to think it was corny and super uncool when my mother would instruct me on self-love, but, seriously, that shit is for real. The process can be incredibly rough, but I've heard it eventually pays off...
6. Leaving relationships that didn't work
My mom dealt with her fair share of challenging relationships (to put it lightly), but always left with dignity when they were beyond repair. I so admire her fearlessness in leaving men who didn't give her the respect she deserved, and her ability to learn from the painful process.
7. Never letting age define her
My mother changed careers and directions countless times, but never let age define what she did. In her early 60's she published an award-winning novel, which definitely made my whole obsessive "success-before-30-or-bust" seem silly.
8. Teaching me to "fake it until you make it"
When starting a new career or life path, women are more likely to feel like frauds than men are, my mother used to say. I totally get what she means now, and her advice to have faith in my abilities even if I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing has served me well. I have a long way to go to achieve even a fraction of my mother's worldly feminist wisdom, but I am eternally grateful that I still have the chance to learn from her.
Images: Kristen Sollee