This month marked International Women’s Day, a made-up day of recognition I never pay any attention to. Except this year was a little different, because a few days before March 8, my grandmother, Etta Deutscher, died at the age of 97. This got me thinking about what it really means to be a woman.
I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about International Women’s Day because I find mainstream feminism tends to present one view of what it means to be a woman. I know there are many ways to celebrate International Women’s Day, but generally speaking I feel young girls are inundated with the message that they should desire the things that men have: power, sexual promiscuity, and independence. Emphasizing these ideals has in many ways tainted feminism, and I know women who would die before they’d call themselves a feminist (Grandma certainly did!)
But there is also a version of feminism that is a lot easier to get behind because it does exactly what feminism should be doing. This feminism celebrates women for who we are rather than trying to turn us into men. It celebrates service, commitment, and healthy relationships, which are things the women I admire most have in spades. Grandma Deutscher was particularly good at all three of these things, so in tribute to her I’d like to offer the following reflection.
The first thing International Women’s Day seems to be hammering into young girls is that to be successful they need to have power. The word “empowered” has been interpreted to mean high-level careers and having ultimate control over their destiny.
But a mature woman like Grandma could tell you that this type of control is just an illusion. Like the other women of her generation, Grandma lived through the Second World War II and knew she had no control over whether she would end the war a widow or a happily married wife. During this time she devoted herself to being a nurse, and I believe she found her empowerment through this life of service. Accepting her powerlessness gave her power, which is a paradox I could spend the rest of my life trying to sort out.
The second bit of misinformation modern feminism seems to push on girls is the idea that promiscuity is somehow empowering. Girls are encouraged to sow their wild oats, but this too often leads to heartbreak. Why? Because women are wired differently from men. We aren’t just looking for fun; we’re looking for commitment, for stability, and for love.
The strongest women I know are the ones who have been honest with themselves about this and have demanded a high standard from the men in their lives. They have demanded faithfulness and respect for their bodies. In turn these women have made a commitment to the people they value. Grandma demonstrated exactly what was important to her through her commitment to her family and her community. I never once heard her say she regretted that these were the focus of her life, and her commitment is the reason her funeral was a celebration of her life in the truest sense.
My grandmother also succeeded where the feminist movement fails because she understood what healthy relationships look like. The feminist movement all too often preaches that women need to dominate the people around them, particularly men. Grandma was the matriarch of our family, but she got there by service and commitment, not by an independent focus on herself. Her family loved her because she held nothing back in her love for them. I don’t mean to suggest there were no hurt feelings or misspoken words, but the evidence that Grandma’s life was well lived is in the fruits of her labour. Grandma raised six sons who all grew to be respectful of women, and although she had no daughters of her own, she was a mother to her daughters-in-law and granddaughters, all of whom admired her. With family members coming home for her funeral from around the world, you can rest assured that this woman was deeply loved and respected
This reflection is not to suggest that there is any one formula for being a woman. Whether one has become a mother, has developed a career, or has put her energy into both, I believe the true values of feminism — service, commitment, and relationships — will help all of us to become the women God has created us to be regardless of the path we are called to follow.
I am grateful to be able to share these insights from my grandmother’s life in the Prairie Messenger. As a member of St. Peter’s Colony from birth to death, I don’t believe I ever saw her prouder of me than on the days she would show my column to her friends. I just wish I could see her face now that a column has been devoted to her and to all the hardworking women who have given of themselves to build the kingdom of God. Rest in peace, Grandma. You have earned it.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She recently attained a PhD in public policy at the University of Saskatchewan.