Business Casual: Strong Women

My first meeting with a super-strong woman occurred the morning I was born, when I was officially introduced to my mother.
susan percy smiling at camera with red background

My first meeting with a super-strong woman occurred the morning I was born, when I was officially introduced to my mother. I arrived a bit ahead of schedule, but she was ready – and never missed a beat thereafter, not even when she was widowed at a young age and left to raise a six-year-old daughter by herself.

I was lucky enough to celebrate a lot of Mother’s Days with her, even if it took me longer than it should have to realize that she was pretty extraordinary. She had a way of making things look easier than they were.

This was a woman who successfully navigated the “working outside the home” waters before it was cool – and long before a lot of support systems existed for working moms. She was smart, funny, talented – played the piano, sewed, repaired small kitchen appliances, had a flair for decorating and was said to be a pretty fair point guard in her basketball-playing days.

When our family lived briefly in the rural Midwest, just before my dad died, a low-flying pheasant got its neck caught in a wire fence in our backyard and was flapping and squawking in a fruitless effort to get free. Several men in the neighborhood ran to the distressed bird; one brought an axe but could not bring himself to put the dying bird out of its misery. So my mother, in her soft Georgia voice, said, “Give me that.” She grabbed the axe, took careful aim and finished off the bird.

Out of gratitude, a neighbor dressed the bird and presented it to my mom as a dinner offering. She dutifully cooked it, put it on the table, then left the room.

I’ve been fortunate to know and benefit from knowing a lot of strong women – not all of them wielding axes. Many have used their strength quietly to benefit their families, their workplaces and their communities. They have been aiding and applauding the progress women have made, hopeful if not confident that their work would steadily break down barriers and shatter glass ceilings.

Yet a lot of the strong women I know have been feeling especially discouraged over the events of the Democratic presidential primary season and the fact that some pretty sharp females didn’t make it to the final round. I share that concern. I believe this disappointment goes way beyond agreement or disagreement with the politics of the individual women who dropped out of the race. It’s more about frustration and anger. More waiting? Really? More pats on the head, condescending reminders that we have come a long way and promises that our turn will come?

It is deeply personal for many of us – it certainly is for me. I have a daughter I promised myself would not have to wait, as my generation did, would not have to settle for small victories, incremental changes and hope for the future.

I have grandchildren, including a five-year-old granddaughter who wears princess dresses and plays with toy chainsaws and believes she can do anything. But can she? Is the deck so firmly stacked against her and her peers that they will be allowed to dream, but never actually reach the big prize? Will all those Abbies and Maddies and Emmas be prepared and coached and promised so they can watch the goal posts be moved yet again?

Strong women are used to coping with disappointment and deferral. I watched my mother save a number of her male bosses embarrassment when she caught their mistakes – grammatical, tactical and otherwise – to be rewarded by being told she was the best secretary ever. She was, but she was a great deal more.

I am not sure what it’s going to take, but I am committed to living long enough to see possibilities become realities, to see promises kept, to see a woman attain the highest office in the land and to see that become commonplace. Sooner rather than later.

This Mother’s Day, I will be celebrating that goal and anticipating its attainment. I will be remembering my axe-brandishing, piano-playing, coffeemaker-fixing mother and all the other strong moms who paved the way but won’t get to see the final triumph.

I’ll be hugging my daughter, who has her grandmother’s grit and her own formidable talent and resolve. And I will be reminding my granddaughter that she really can do anything, with or without a plastic chainsaw.

Categories: Business Casual, Opinions