I was one of the unfortunates who had come from a family that struggled. They were Irish Catholic Republicans, which was a real oddity at that time. They believed that hard work would always prevail. The cruel twist of my parent’s fate was that the very people they voted for were the ones that tore down all of their hard work till it was nothing but ash and oppressive life long debt.
My father inherited his boyhood home which put a struggling salesman and his family in the middle of a white upper middle class neighborhood full of lawyers, doctors, and politicians who’s wives didn’t work. Their children’s cloths came from Neiman Marcus and mine came from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog. We were always the outcasts everywhere we went, even in our church because my father had married my mother, a divorcée.
I was even more an outcast than my family because I was a freethinking, questioning, intelligent tomboy who didn't accept “you can’t because you are a girl”. I was tough and fierce and earned my way into being one of the boys when I was a kid. I believed if I proved I was equal I would be. I believed in working hard, in confidence being the key, and I believed in the empowerment of fighting for and proving your worth. I challenged convention and refused to lose my self to marry well. I had the audacity to want to be free. All of these values and beliefs were as American as it gets, but these were the ideals of men and were unacceptable in women.
The church tried to destroy my spirit and pollute my faith with their assertion that not only was I not equal, but I was unfaithful because I asked questions. I was not a good Catholic because I did not blindly accept what I was taught and fall in line. In Catholic school the nuns asked, “Where did I learn such a heathen attitude? “My father!” I answered. My father had taught me to read everything, to appreciate art and literature, and to think for myself. He had taught me that the world isn’t fair and if you wanted to be treated fairly you had to fight for it. Without realizing it my father had taught me to think like a man. The church didn’t like it and they told him so. Then my father sat me down and had the “you need to behave like a lady” speech. The very person who had lifted me up betrayed me.
The more I went out into the world the more I heard I wasn’t equal. No amount of hard work could change the fact that I was a woman. I had no interest in conforming, but I also intended to survive. I compromised. I turned a liability into an asset and played the system with a bat of my eyelashes watching for any chance to pull myself up. However the best chances always had an emotional and spiritual cost attached. I married my first love, but we were young and stupid and when my son was born everything changed. Every choice I made effected him, so I sold out. I left love, married security, and ended up in hell. I became trapped in an abusive relationship and convinced myself I could endure it for my son’s future. I wound up in the very situation I had sworn to avoid and I became beaten down by it. I walked a very dark road for a time. Eventually I pulled free of that nightmare, but at a very steep cost. I lived in poverty or just one foot out of it with minimum wage part time (couldn’t get full time) jobs for the next 20 years.
Today I have a certain level of prosperity I never believed I could achieve. Maturity calmed the rage and I learned to make healthier, less tragic compromises. The fear is always there that one misfortune; one turn of luck could take it all away. I have something more to protect now and I’ve tended to spit fire at home and quietly smolder outside so I don’t upset the delicate balance that keeps me just above the minimum wage abyss. I know I can survive anything, but now that I have had something more, survival will never again be enough.
Standing on this delicate edge I see a country declining to third world levels of poverty. I see a government no longer run by the people and an economy manipulated by the super rich which is trying to push more and more of its citizens into that abyss. I find myself less willing to put my own world at risk to stand up for what’s right. I’ve become more likely to fall into the spiritual degradation of judging other’s just below me on the economic ladder to make myself feel safer. I was even against, for while, the idea of raising the minimum wage. There was a fear that it would diminish my achievement if the minimum wage were closer to my wage. “No! I worked so hard and suffered so long to be above minimum wage and now they want to pull me back down”. See what years of wage slavery and poverty does? It warps you. If you finally break free you run from it, leaving everyone else behind hoping to stay away from it’s gravitational pull because once it knows your name, it never forgets. Instead of wanting to pull everyone up you push against them for leverage to keep yourself from falling back in.
However, my passionate sense of social justice has reawakened the fighter. I might not have the bite I used to, but my bark has more power than ever before.
I’m angry because I care about the ones I shared the struggle with. I’m angry because I fear for the future of young women. I’m angry that what little freedom women won for themselves is being attacked. Those fat white f@#$ers are pissed that for a while we had them on the ropes. For a while it looked like equality was within reach and now they think that they can push us back down “into our place” without a fight.
Am I scared to lose it all if I fight? Yes. Of course I am, but the reality is I could lose it all anyway. One thing my struggle has taught me is that achieving something at the cost of your conscience and humanity is a poison that will blacken your spirit and eat your soul till you hate yourself and everyone around you.
There are limits to what I can do. I can’t fight the boys like I used to, but I can be a mighty warrior with a powerful pen.
12:58 PM PT: Wow. The positive response is really appreciated. I want to add that I have nothing against men. Really. I have some amazing guy friends who are champions for equality and a few who, by their own experiences, do understand my struggle. I will never discount another's struggle or diminish it in comparison to my own. Blowing out someone else's flame to make mine look brighter is not how I roll.
Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 10:00 AM PT: Thank you so much to all of the people who commented and shared their stories as well. Its overwhelming. This diary was even listed on the daily recommended email. Holy Fricken' wow! I look forward to posting another diary. I feel very encouraged to continue writing and I'm pretty sure I already know what I'm going to write about based on some of the comments.
I would also like to say that I know there will always be some haters. However, for anyone who really wants to make a difference in women's issues at the political level, we have to let go of hate toward men. Really we do. Hate will accomplish nothing but more hate. If you really read my post you will see that other than my expletive about the establishment, there is no hate. Only righteous anger. Hate must be left outside our fight if it is going to accomplish anything.
Thank you so much for reading. I will not be able to comment further so that I have time to write something new.
Thank you soo very much for your support.