Monday, May 11, 2009

Women, Mothers, Role Models

Recently, Bea Arthur of "Maude" (and, later, "Golden Girls") fame passed away. This past week, Marilyn French, author of "The Women's Room" - a story of a woman getting a divorce and moving into single motherhood - also died.

The work of both of these women became popular in the 1970s, when I was in high school and after my parents had divorced. My mother, sister and I had moved to Tempe, AZ from southern CA so my mom could pursue a graduate degree (after having gone back to college later in life to get her BA). These images of strong women - or women working to get strong - through Bea Arthur and Marilyn French coincided with my mother's own paralleling journey, and the journey of her friends in AZ who all were, in some way or another, working towards similar ends. It was "The Women's Room" that struck me most as resembling my mother and her friends, because that book is a story of women working together to prop each other up and give each other encouragement in the midst of huge transformation, and it was the life I saw when I came home from school on any given afternoon - these women, mothers, students, professionals, working together to encourage fulfillment of dreams. I remember, too, being known as the kid in school with the "cool" mom, giving me something of an edge as the newbie in town.

What I remember from the artistic endeavors is not the put-downs of men (which existed, I'm sure). (Hey, it was the '70s.) (I do remember one story from "The Women's Room," before Mira's divorce, where she decided to confirm her husband's belief that she was stupid by making mistakes on purpose - like sending him to work with uncooked eggs for lunch that he thought were hard boiled...) What I remember most from the show and the book is what we call today the "female bonding." The support. The willingness to believe in a life with options. The show "Golden Girls" was an extension of that same thing, just a few years later.

So in my Mother's Day card to my mom this year, I wrote about Bea Arthur (Marilyn French hadn't yet passed away). "You and the 'gang' from Tempe have been on my mind with the passing of Bea Arthur - all those independent women!" I said. "And a role model for me of what choices I could make. Thanks for it all."My mom was so tickled by my card that she sent the text to one of her friends from that time who also was very tickled and sent it to her now-grown kids. My mom and her friend added their own memories - of how young they were at the time (which they were - just in their 30s) (!), so that the comparison to the more-mature, very-strong Maude made them laugh - and then their own memories of falling apart to varying degrees (which made my teenager-memories of strength seem funny to both of them).

But I do wonder about the impact on my life, that I had the chance to witness these women choose the paths they chose and the real pain and excitement that they had when making these different choices. What if they had not shown that to me? Today, I take independence for granted. But didn't I have to grow into it? Didn't I need a role model? Or, at least - didn't the role model from my mother and her friends make it easier for me to imagine having an independent life? And then, I learned the friendships too, didn't I? I still have my strong women friends. We still figure out how to hang out together even though we each have been in varying degrees of relationship with men in our lives. We are lucky, to be friends - to value our friendships. I just got off the phone with one of my closest friends who lives in Phoenix. We still are close, even though we haven't lived near each other for 18 years. My mom and her friends showed me at a young age what it can mean, to value the women in my life.

Here's to Bea and to Marilyn, and to Sharon and Syd and Pat and Mary... to all those women who were making a difference, in the moment, over time, for all the rest of us. Happy Mother's Day, one day late!

No comments: