All of my life, I have looked up to women who worked their tails off and created a livelihood out of nothing. Who worked as a team with their families to scratch an existence out of the rock and clay. Who were just as likely to be bottle nursing a baby calf in the bathtub as a baby human in their arms, and who’s love shone off their faces in those moments equally as intensely.
Women who were up at dawn in mud boots, pouring grain in feed bunks before taking the kids to school. Who would spend most of the morning driving a tractor while putting hay up, only to race to the house and whip up a meal for 12 in about 20 minutes so the guys had something to eat once that load was empty. Women who’s idea of romance was sharing a horseback sunset with their mate, who wouldn’t ever feel entitled to a thousand dollar meal overlooking a city or rose petals in their beds. Who were just as beautiful when elbows deep in a calving cow as they were spiffed up to head to the dance at the local hall.
I come from a long line of these women. Who, at their husband’s sides, fought and clawed and scratched and saved for every bit of security that our family has ever known. Who raised good kids and better livestock, left a generational legacy, and gave so much of themselves to so many people in their communities that the memory will live on in the minds and lives of others for years to come. Nobody handed them a thing. Even when they were treated unequally, they handled it with grace and usually won in the end. I see that liniage in my sister, in my cousins, in my nieces, and in myself. If we can be half the women our mothers and grandmothers were, we will consider our lives a success.
Imagine my shock, once I started moving from the conservative side of the political spectrum to the more liberal and stopped avoiding tough conversations, to learn that not every woman I spoke with was afforded the same kinds of opportunities I was.
While, as kids, we wore mostly thrifted clothes and had mostly second hand books and toys… we still had them. My sister and I were encouraged to know and learn things. We had a big family and a lot of support, some of it by virtue of being in a small town. I spent a good chunk of my childhood free time reading paperback novels while my horse navigated us around out in the mountains. (If my parents read this, I plead the fifth. No, I don’t know how me or a horse never ended up dead after falling off the hillside either.)
Not everybody gets support and chances like that. Not everybody gets a safe and pretty good school with lots of one on one attention. Not everybody can figure out how to afford sports and 4H and FFA to help their kids learn professionalism and competition and self confidence, or even care to.
I look around the world now, and realize that it wouldn’t be that damn hard to give every girl that kind of opportunity. Adjusting taxes, eliminating waste, increasing programs to help those who don’t have many social advantages, creating a safety net for health care so that saving a life doesn’t cost a family their property and their future. Adjusting abuse laws to give men and women a fair shot at existing without being under the control of others. To find true freedom and their core selves.
It could be so easy. If only those who were ahead before the race even started could glance in the rear view with empathy and kindness rather than judgement and fear. We could make this country what it has been advertised as all these years, a beacon of hope in the world, rather than a place where the chance to make it depends too much on sex, skin color, zip code, and family’s generational wealth. Bootstraps only work if you have boots.
(This post also appeared at medium.com/@reflectivity.)