In my life, I’m surrounded by women. At home, I have a wife and three daughters, none of whom is a little girl any more. At work, my team has long consisted of multiple women and me, and more than 70 percent of our staff identify as female. Most of the readers of this blog are women, too.
So I suppose you could say that I’m a bit of a ladies man, if by that you just mean a guy who gets along well with women. (If you mean something else, I’m not your guy, though my wife thinks I’m adorable in a nerdy sort of way). In any event, I credit my mother for preparing me for this role of male-in-a-mostly-female world.
By the measure of today’s identity politics, Mom was a contradiction. Ideologically, she was both a feminist and a Baptist. She played the piano and taught Sunday school at our church, but she never believed that Jesus was a patriarch. The Jesus mom knew–and knew well–was a social radical who preached a gospel of love right up to and through his death. Mom regarded people who wield the Bible as a weapon of oppression as contemptible, yet she still strove to forgive them in her heart.
Geographically, Mom was both a West Virginian and a Washingtonian. She grew up in the land of “Country Roads” but migrated to the capital in the 1960s to work as a public health nurse. She served people from all sorts of communities, literally from coal mines to ghettos, and of all races, creeds, and colors. She taught me that what all of them shared was frailty of some sort, and what all of them needed first was kindness and compassion.
And that’s where she thought politics, or at any rate public policy, should start. With compassion. With the coal mines and the ghettos alike in mind. With service to the poor and hope for the oppressed as fundamental moral obligations. And with women, obviously, as equals.
If she were alive today, she would be working for women candidates and fighting for women’s rights–with Jesus, West Virginia, and Washington, DC, all in her heart. She would tell my three daughters to aim high, always fight the good fight, and keep bending the future toward justice and truth. She would tell them to stand up, speak up, lift up, pitch in and, when necessary, lead the charge.
In so doing, she would teach me, again, what it really takes to get along well with women: the understanding that they are exactly strong enough, smart enough, creative enough, and compassionate enough to be your equal, your friend, your leader, or anything else another person can be, really. In the end, the lesson Mom taught me was simple: You should always treat women with respect and dignity and care. Not because they need some sort of special handling, but because we all do.