It’s not just out of respect for my mother, Jeannette Authier, that I choose her to be the first woman I highlight in this series. It’s because she is without doubt a strong beautiful woman. She set the groundwork for my respect of women.
If you haven’t already read the intro blog to the series to know why I’m writing this Strong Beautiful Women series you can do so by clicking here.
While I was growing up the concept of women being inferior never entered my mind. I’m not saying I didn’t pick up a few chauvinistic bad habits from the culture I was part of, but the thought of women not being equal, my equal, just didn’t come into play.
I’ve worked with women my entire life. I’ve had women bosses; I’ve had many as colleagues, and I’ve been the boss to a few. In all cases, I can say I’ve never had to try to treat them as equals. I simply saw them as such. Gender equality has never been an issue for me. I have to give my mother most of the credit for that. My sisters too. My wife’s strength helped cement it later in my life. More about them in the next few blogs.
I saw my mother’s strength, her intelligence, her determination, and her commitment to her family. The level of respect I held for my mother made it next to impossible to consider women inferior.
She didn’t take crap from anyone, especially men.
I say that because when I grew up in the sixties and mid-seventies there were still plenty of men who thought women weren’t equals, that they were weaker, that they could be preyed upon. I pity the men who tried to take advantage of my mother.
I remember as a six or seven-year old boy being at a car dealership with my parents. It was around 1965 or 66. I don’t remember many of the details. I don’t’ even remember if they even bought a car that day. The salesmen must have said something to my mother that was quite patronizing because she quickly put him in his place. I don’t recall everything she said. Actually, almost none of it. But I do remember her saying, with her French accent, “Don’t think for one minute that because I’m a woman you can fool me. I’m not a fool.” I can still hear the strength and conviction in her voice. I can still see her dark black hair moving against the backlight of the showroom window.
She was strong. She was beautiful.
It’s not that she was a feminist per say, because she would never give herself that label, or give it much thought. She was simply a strong person, who happen to be a woman. She knew women had a tough go of it, that they were discriminated against my men, that they were sexually harassed in the workplace, or in the communities they lived in. She knew it because she lived it. She simply wasn’t going to allow those injustices to hold her back from asserting herself, from doing what she needed to do to help support our family.
My mother was always a working mother. She worked outside the home since I was five years old. It’s not that her and my father, or her alone, decided she’d go out into the workplace because she didn’t want to stay home. She had to work. It was a matter economics, of survival. My father had shut down a business and chose to pay off his debts rather than declare bankruptcy. This left our family with a considerable financial burden. She did this during an era when working mothers were frowned upon by many, men and women. She didn’t let others determine the fate of her family.
I never heard my mother complain once about this burden. It wasn’t until well into my adult life, and after my father’s death, that I learned about it.
I have many fond memories of my mother. I felt extremely loved as a young boy. I was a happy child. I had a great childhood. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience what I did.
One of the ways I learned respect for women from my mother is because I saw her work so hard her entire life. When I was five years old I remember her giving us kisses as she headed off to work at the local Arrow shirt factory. She’d come home from work to make dinner for the family, do some work around the house, like sew most of our clothes, and then came the nightly ritual of her nodding off on the living room sofa, next to my dad, while we watched TV. Seeing her fall asleep from exhaustion in the early evening was a sight I’d see for years.
It was a constant reminder of her dedication to her family, of her strength.
After a few years of working at the shirt factory and a few other sewing mills, she worked as housekeeper in a hospital for a dozen years or so, then as the housekeeper and cook at her church’s rectory.
Gender equality isn’t something my mother talked about. She simply lived a life that helped me understand what it was.
Thank you Mom.
The picture above is mother at 26 in 1963 with me and my two sisters. My younger brother, Rick, was born the next year. The inset picture is my mother today, at 80. Still a strong beautiful woman.