One of my favorite cars was a VW Rabbit I had for many years. I drove it from Erie, Pennsylvania, stuffed full of my belongings and moved to Phoenix, Arizona after I got my Masters degree from Arizona State University. I moved from Phoenix to South Dakota when I got my first university teaching job at the University of South Dakota. That little car carried me all over the country through extremes of weather and population for several years and kept me moving to follow my dancing dreams. I drove it through the sweltering heat of Phoenix summers and had to plug-in the engine to keep the car from freezing in Vermillion, South Dakota. It was a good car and carried me far along the path to where I am now. I am forever grateful to Volkswagen for creating the rabbit and letting me hop all over the country to follow my dreams.
In that same spirit of following my dreams through traveling miles and miles across this country I now relate VW to valuing my voice as a woman. That too has been a very long path and I have traveled a great distance to arrive at the place I am now, which is to value myself enough to express all of my voice without apology or needing permission.
I often hear that women are starting to find their voice and know nothing could be farther from the truth. Unless there is a true issue with the vocal chords and mechanisms to produce sound, we all have a voice. The problem has been that many of us have not listened to our own voice and have not demanded to be listened to. We have been afraid. Many of us have spent our lives trying not to make a spectacle of ourselves by demanding to be heard and causing a scene for fear of what others will think. If you are like me, you have been uncomfortable asserting your self into what has been, for a very long time, a man’s world. Specifically it has been a white male’s world in which women and minorities have not had an equal place.
We are changing that and we are changing it now. Women are speaking up and demanding to be heard.
For the past six years I have been sitting in organizations filled with men in most of the positions of authority and power. I have consciously morphed from ‘Neil’s wife’ and a ‘creative ex dancer’ to an authority of what it means to bring one’s full self to the table. I have worked very hard to listen to my own voice and to value what I had to say and have demanded by my simple presence at the table of mostly men to be listened to and heard. Looking back over the last 6 years I now realize it wasn’t the men that were the problem. They reflected back to me what I thought about myself. The problem was me. I didn’t value my voice as a woman as much as I gave credit to the men in the room.
I had a father who didn’t value my voice. There were 4 girls in our family and he wasn’t present at any of the births. He wanted boys and had only girls. I can’t imagine what he would have been like as a father to boys. To girls he wasn’t empowering in fact he was dis-empowering. He couldn’t see that women could be powerful in their own right. He didn’t know what that looked like and didn’t have the awareness to look for it in the world. He lived in the fear of scarcity and unhealthy competition. He was born in the 1920’s, married my Mom at 22 and started having kids. Most women in that time were subservient and deferential to men. Men held almost all positions of authority in our country and through most of the world. Men had most of the responsibility for the family. My father was no different.
It’s Mother’s Day today and I am missing the wonderful times and memories I have of my Mom. Watching the interactions of a family that was fraught with fear and dysfunction after my father died last year I learned about myself as a daughter, sister and as a woman. I learned that the decision and responsibility to live the life I want to live is mine no one elses. I learned that the person I want to be is completely up to me. I realized that my voice matters and that it is clear and strong and powerful and that I can trust what is important to me. I also learned that if I don’t use my voice I cannot blame anyone else for what I don’t have or am not doing because it is not up to anyone else except me to claim what I need and want.
My mom and I took many wonderful long trips across the country together stopping often to drink in the beauty of this country and what we loved around us. We went through the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park and the northern United States in my little VW Rabbit and had countless moments of shared love, respect and joy. We shared a love of moving and following what was important for us. Those experiences matter deeply to me and formed a foundation of love and respect for my Mom and my self as women. I learned to value my Mother and her true self which she so often gave up when we were in the presence of my Dad and others in this ‘man’s world.’ Through her leaving this world last summer she gave me the gift of knowing my voice matters and is essential. She asked me often to tell her about my work and was delighted that I was doing what she was never capable of doing herself. That she never had the opportunity or knowledge of how to use her voice fully helped me bring my self to this ‘man’s world’ and teach others what it means to value our voice as women.
I honor my Mom today and am so grateful for what we shared and how we loved one another. I also honor my daughter today for her strength and unyielding determination to be her own person in this world and to not give her self up for anyone or anything. Hannah is her own woman and she uses her voice in such a way that expresses a strength so powerful and clear it is undeniably heard and felt as a force to be listened to. My mother and my daughter are gifts that I love beyond words. Both have helped me find my voice and asked me to use it in a way that has empowered me to form into the woman I am today.
I love you Mom and Hannah and am grateful to both of you forever.