I’ve been called a bra burner. A man hater. A femi-nazi. A bitch. But what nobody realizes is that those words don’t hurt. What hurts is that people label me as a cold and sarcastic person who is too independent. The independence thing has ruined relationships in the past for me, with people who could not handle a woman being able to look after her own.
I didn’t come from a family with a particularly strong head. Both my parents had their skills, sure, but they were never really dominant in anything. My dad cut the lawn, my mom cooked most nights except for Saturdays when dad made homemade mac and cheese and a fresh loaf of bread every Saturday throughout the winter. There were clear gender roles in my household. It didn’t bother me. My parents were complacent at best, and probably at worst, as their marriage ended when I was 13. At the most awkward time in anyone’s life… Grade 9. Ugh.
When my parents split up, my dad went his way and my mom went to work. And she worked a lot. For selfish reasons on the bitter spouses’ part, our finances increased exponentially but, of course, the income didn’t. Suddenly my mom had two kids to look after with a minimum wage waitressing job and welfare to top up her wages. She got a job in a factory with mandatory overtime and we ended up never seeing her: the classic single mom working to pay the bills story. Through this, I ended up raising my little brother. I made sure he was cooked for, cleaned up after, homework done, in bed at a normal time, etc. And nobody was really there to look after me. So look after me I did; at 13, 14, 15 and so on.
I have a history though. Since I was 4 years old, I’ve always looked after me. I had to. I was protecting everyone in my life from the stories that would eventually come out and devastate them. I had secrets of sexual abuse at the hands of two men my family entrusted to look after my brothers and me. So, from four-years-old on, I was protecting others and ensuring they were safe. I ended the abuse of one man when I was nine years old because I heard my brother coming down the stairs and told the assailant to stop because I didn’t want my little brother to see and be traumatized. The other man fell out of our lives when we moved. Looking after my brother became second nature to me. He is actually the primary reason for my return to Brantford and I owe him a big thank you for that.
When I moved away to college at 17, I was looking after me. Budgeting, completing my schoolwork, obtaining Dean’s List grades, working – I did it all. During university, I had to help my older brother out of a predicament and we are able to laugh about it now. In fact, we wish we had those predicaments again because, man, being an adult with adult responsibilities sucks.
At some point in our lives, we have to decide whether we’re a leader or follower. I don’t think this is a conscious decision however, but often times there will be someone in our lives who we wish to emulate. There have been a few people in my life who I admire and, if I can be one tenth of the person they are, then I feel like I’m okay. My Grandad, Les, was the strong male lead with a soft side. A soft side for me. Use your heart wisely, he taught me. He had a big spot in his heart for me and I ensure that the people who I entrust with a piece of my heart are aware of it. Another one is my Grade 8 teacher, Ms. Vothknecht. That woman taught me that you could be as smart as you wanted, as athletic as you wanted and as strong as you wanted and never had to hide it. She was my first real, true experience with a feminist, without her even realizing it. Then, I did a co-op placement at the Sexual Assault Centre of Brant while in high school. The women there taught me so much about me while I was trying to find my place in this world. Going away to college and university enabled me to put my skills into place and, upon my return to Brantford, my hometown, my heart, I morphed into the person I am today. Obviously parenting has softened me a lot in the process. Good or bad? That remains to be seen. I cry now. I never used to.
My husband is a man who accepts me for who I am. He has known me for 17 years and knows that when I feel strongly in something, I will pursue it, I will argue it, and I will speak it. As long as I believe it is truth. We all have people in our lives who have given us some inner strength that we are able to later turn around and show to the world as who we are. Me? Sure, I do things my way, I pay my own way, I work, I cook, I clean, I cut the lawn, I do the garbages, I paint, I bake, I parent, I play sports and I volunteer. I do it all on my own, with someone who is there beside me because I want them there and not because I need them there. So, next time you think someone is stubborn or too independent, praise them and ask who inspired them. We all have our stories and mine is one of self-sufficiency and assertiveness.