I once had a boyfriend who told me that women have no history outside of their husbands and children. I was a young history major at the time and was only just discovering where my interests lay but his ignorant remark sparked in me a profound desire to prove him wrong. Needless to say, our relationship did not last much longer but I was left with a new found feminism and a love of women’s history.
Over the next couple of years I would study the lives of Hildegard Von Bingen, Martha Ballard, Alice Paul, Betty Friedan…all women who left a mark on history outside the framework of domesticity. Also around this time I received a copy of my grandfather’s memoir which included his version of the end of my grandparents’ marriage. As I read through this story of my grandfather’s life, I wondered how different my grandmother’s version of their divorce would be. She probably would not have painted herself in the light my grandfather had. Unfortunately, her story is lost to history and what remains of her life is only in the memories of her sons and ex-husband.
By the time I graduated from college, I knew the importance of women’s stories but I also understood that historically, women have had to go to greater lengths to get those stories heard. As an idealistic young feminist, I was determined to create my own history; husband and children might come but I would not allow them to define my life, let alone allow myself to be lost in their history.
What I did not understand as an idealistic young feminist was how easy it is for any woman, feminist or not, to fall into this trap. I fully admit that I have lost some of my resolve. None of us can write our history in advance and so as my life has failed to follow the course I imagined, it has become easy to define myself in terms of my husband and children. It is so easy to proudly talk about my husband, the orchestral conductor who is so smart and so talented.
It is a delight to revel in my beautiful Monster who dances and laughs in and out of my presence or Baby Valkyrie who thrives on my love and brightens my life with her smile. I have re-defined myself in the terms of my family because it is the one thing that I feel truly good at, that I am proud of. Yes, I have a life and a career outside of my home but those things are not as fulfilling as I imagined them to be.
I feel at times that my life is at a standstill, waiting for my husband to finish school and get a job, or for my babies to grow up a little or for me to go back and get my graduate degrees. Often I feel like I am just waiting for my real life to begin. I suppose that we all need times of limbo to help focus ourselves, to make the way forward more clear. But how sad if I allow myself to get stuck here.
And so in honor of Women’s History Month, and in honor of my fore mothers, I resolve once again to make my own history. But this time I make my resolution with a little less naivete, with the understanding that my husband and children are part of my history. Part of my history because I have given so much of myself to them and in return they have given themselves to me. And with this gift I realize that it is up to me to be the mistress of my own history.
Who are the women from history that inspire you? How do you define your own history?