This is the second post in this series. The first can be found here.
So what is it that mothers teach their daughters about who they are and how their lives should be led? I realize I’m generalizing when I make the following observations, and there are certainly many individual exceptions to what I say. But as I read the mother-to-daughter legacy, which is transmitted most of the time by most mothers (and I am not excluding myself), it goes something like this:
- A mother says, “Don’t compete with boys or you’ll never catch a husband.” (In other words, don’t live up to your potential.)
- A mother says, “You should always look pretty.” (Appearance is the main item of value in a woman.)
- A mother says, “Wait until your father gets home and he’ll punish you for that.” (In other words, I, a woman, have no authority, and neither will you.)
- A mother says, “You have to clean your room and pick up your clothes, but your brother doesn’t.” or “You have to help with the dishes, but your brother doesn’t.” (In other words, you are going to become a drudge, and he will be free.)
- A mother says, “My name is Mrs. Charles Edward Jones, and my husband is an engineer.” (I, a woman, find my identity in my husband rather than in myself, and you will too.)
- A mother says, “Don’t trust other girls; they will take your boyfriend(s) away from you.” (A boyfriend is more important than girlfriends.)
I could go on, but the above list is long enough to make the point. The consequences of all this very subtle and more-or-less continual conditioning is that, when little girls grow up to be women, they have pretty thoroughly incorporated ideas about themselves and about other women into their very sense of being, such as:
- I have no authority
- I have no mechanical ability
- I must have a man through whom I can find my identity and in the light of whose accomplishments I will be judged
- I must not defend myself overtly
- The condition of my house is a reflection of my personal worth.
- I am of value so long as I am attractive.
Women learn these things about themselves very thoroughly, and they often resent any challenge to such entrenched generalizations about their selfhood. It has become increasingly clear in the women’s movement during the past few years that the greatest obstacle to equality of the sexes exists in women themselves.
Sometime last fall, after a sermon by one of the male members of the congregation, another woman and I were discussing the service, and she said, “Oh, if only he and ___ and ___ (she named two other male members of the congregation who have given sermons from time to time), if only these three could take over, we wouldn’t need a minister.”
Now, there have been several female speakers in the pulpit over the past two or three years, some of them quite good. Several recent vestry chairmen have been women, and they have done a fine job of keeping the church functioning in difficult times. Several women have been active in organizing and running church programs at times other than the 11:00 am service. And certain women in the congregation take upon themselves readily, even automatically, such pastoral duties as visiting the sick and the elderly, and caring for those who are troubled.
And yet, none of these women was named to the suggested ministerial triumvirate. Why? Because—and I’m guessing now—a minister is a person of authority, and women have no authority.
I am guessing again when I say that I would bet if a man had been naming people to a team of substitute ministers, he might well have included a female’s name on the list, since men often have more respect for the abilities of women than do other women. And they are often able to be more objective about analyzing women’s abilities without the self-doubts that color women’s views of other women.