Grandma was a feminist. She never burned her bra or screamed at a college rally. She liked and respected men. She worked hard her whole life. She was one of the strongest women I have ever known, and she left an indelible imprint.
Berthe was the second oldest of twelve kids born to French Canadian immigrants. Raised on a farm she could serve hearty meals to a table full of workmen by age twelve and often did. She helped with household chores including minding the younger siblings. She also graduated at the top of her high school class, determined to make the best of her life. She took a trolley to work in a downtown office and began to save her money.
She was not going to marry until she owned her own business and had her own car. This was an unusual view in 1920. So unusual that her father, who deeded land to his sons, also decided to grant Berthe some acreage as she was “too independent” and “too stubborn” to attract a husband. Imagine his surprise when after this “old maid” had opened her own restaurant and indeed owned her own vehicle, she fell in love with the man delivering soda to her establishment. Shockingly, he was Protestant, not to mention six years younger than she, but undeterred by social expectation she eloped with him to New York.
Her beloved “tea room” was a successful business but she decided to sell it when starting her family. She raised three children of her own as well as foster children, staying active in the church and community. She would rise early every morning to garden and housekeep. There was soup on the stove and treats in the cookie can for any who came to visit. She carried her family through not only the Great Depression but many years after, eventually becoming matriarch to a thriving line of descendants.
Berthe had a strong moral code and was not a woman who minced words. She was not rude but knew her own mind and was unafraid to express her opinions. She firmly believed in prayer and humility and lived a life dedicated to others. She knew hardship, some of it extreme, but always moved forward with faith and courage. Fierce and stern when warranted, she also had a sly chuckle and a twinkle in her eye. She loved her card games with the ladies and had a definite soft spot for children and animals.
She was not a saint. She had her foibles as we all do. But as a woman she knew herself. She knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. She did not waste time arguing with a system and never wailed about her lot in life. She was the impetus for the change. She was the reason for the choice. She actively shaped her own destiny and stood by every decision she made. When she decided to excel she did. Giving up was not an option. When she wanted to work she worked. When she raised children it was her choice and happened in the way and time she selected. To Berthe, it was very simple. She was mistress of her destiny and shaped it as she willed.
To me, true feminism is pride in womanhood. It is excellence in creating the life that you envision. It is strength of will and purpose. It is choice and determination. My grandmother taught me not to whine. She taught me to stand up straight and stay true to my beliefs. Be proud of what you want and who you are. There is nothing wrong with traditional female roles if you choose or in smashing social expectations. You are a woman. Be the woman you want to be.