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 three women and me, and nearly 70 percent of our staff members are women. Most of the readers of this blog are women, too.
So I suppose you could say that I’m a bit of a lady’s man, if by that you just mean a guy who gets along well with women. (If you mean something else, you likely haven’t met me in person–which is not to say I’m not adorable in a nerdy sort of way …). Anyway, 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 something of 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 city 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 have been marching on Washington this weekend–with Jesus, West Virginia, and women’s rights all in her heart. In today’s political discourse, her views would have made her a “nasty woman.”
I suspect that, like others, she would have assumed that moniker proudly–and so silently ridiculed it, even as she drew energy from the attempted denigration behind it. She would have stood up and raised her voice and still treated everyone with respect and dignity and care. She would have pitched in and lifted up and, if necessary, led the charge.
In so doing, she would have taught me, again, what it really takes to get along well with women: the understanding that they are exactly “nasty” enough to be your equal, your friend, your leader, or really anything else another person can be. Her lesson, taught in both words and deeds, was simple: You should treat women with respect and dignity and care. Not because they need some sort of special handling, but because we all do.