What My Single Mother Taught Me About Feminism and Gender Equality

Mother and her teenage daughter hugging outdoor in nature with setting sun in background, wide angle.
Mother and her teenage daughter hugging outdoor in nature with setting sun in background, wide angle.

My mother and father separated and eventually divorced while I was still very young. My upbringing was not unlike many other kids raised in the 1970s by single parents. Women's liberation meant that women no longer had to depend on men for financial security. Birth control enabled women to have sex without the fear of pregnancy and in case the contraception failed, abortion was made legal in 1973.

When my mom and dad split, I was three. Weekdays were spent with Mom and weekends with Dad. I was fortunate in that both of my parents loved me and wanted to be present in my life. They loved me so much, they were able to put aside their differences with each other so that I would grow up knowing my parents were there for me. Today they have a friendly relationship.

When they separated, my mother was in her mid-20s and because she didn't want to engage in a contentious divorce, she didn't fight my father for money. He provided child support, but she needed to work. She was a single working mom and I was a latchkey kid.

I'll admit I wanted my parents to get back together and while I wasn't devastated, I certainly shed more than a few tears in the hopes it would be enough to convince them to reunite. My tears didn't work, and eventually I got used to life with divorced parents. I've come to realize their decision was for the best. They weren't well suited for each other and I experienced a healthier environment as a result.

Being the daughter of a single mother in the '70s and '80s reinforced the feminist messages I saw on television, movies and advertisements. Women were not only bringing home the bacon, they were frying it up in a pan. After they took care of business, they went on dates and maybe even had sex.

My mom dated, and, of course, at the time I hated it, but I survived. Much to my chagrin, my mom was not Carol Brady. She was more like Mary Tyler Moore with a dash of Rhoda. She was independent and self-sufficient. We had a routine: dinner together every night followed by family time in the living room before my nine o'clock bedtime. On the weekends, Dad picked me up and Mom was free to party and date as she pleased.

What I witnessed was a woman who worked and earned a living with little help from anyone else. If the car needed oil, she changed it. If the sink was clogged, she unclogged it. If the rent was too high, she found a roommate. She was in control, responsible and also a loving, hands-on parent.

When I was eight, she decided she wanted to leave her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland and move to Los Angeles, California. For a year she saved her money, and when she told her friends and co-workers, most didn't believe she'd actually follow through with her plan. The following summer, I lived with my grandmother while my 30-year-old mom drove across country all by herself, found us an apartment and enrolled me in Brentwood Elementary.

As a woman who enjoys adventure and always likes to keep things interesting, she's had many jobs. Eventually after a successful run selling and financing cars, she needed a change. She'd been working at a car dealership she described as a "pressure-cooker" and had enough and wanted to quit. She was unable to find anyone in management to whom she could tender her resignation, so she decided to go out with a bang and announced her resignation over the public address system. Every time I think about that, I smile. Not only was she a strong, independent woman who took the bull by the horns, she was a badass. I'd also like to note that prior to her quitting on the loud speaker, she'd been the first woman in the area offered a position of Sales Manager at a previous dealership. She was interested in the title, not the actual position -- she wanted to know she could get it, and she did. As soon as it was offered to her, she declined. Again, badass.

My mother taught me that, as a woman, I was capable of being and doing whatever I chose. Her confidence gave me strength. Her fortitude made me believe I could be a strong, independent woman in charge of my own life and decisions. More importantly, my mom wasn't afraid to reveal her fears and insecurities to me. While she didn't constantly bring them up, there were occasions where she felt overwhelmed or frustrated and she didn't try to shield me from her emotions. From this I learned that strong women can be scared, but that fear didn't mean defeat. It simply meant those fears would have to take a back seat to the reality of what needed to be done.

My mother taught me that by speaking up for myself, I'm less likely to be taken advantage of -- in the workplace and in personal relationships. I learned I'm capable of performing and even excelling at a job that was once considered a man's profession. I learned women can be strong and feminine and badass and scared and insecure and confident all at once. She taught me that my gender didn't define who I was or what I could be.

Her influence has helped me to believe in myself. I've lived on my own and paid the bills with no help from anyone. I've negotiated impressive salaries, thrived in competitive sales situations, and I've successfully stood up for myself when I experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. All of the lessons I've learned have provided me the desire to encourage other women to recognize and exercise their individual strengths.

My mother is also perpetually late. And that gives me a giggle considering I'm writing this right after Mother's Day.