Sunday, January 15, 2012

An Iron Lady with Soft Spots

Yesterday we saw a great new movie about Margaret Thatcher, called The Iron Lady. Meryl Streep is a tour de force in the role. The film is about England under the leadership of the first and only female Prime Minister in their long history. She is depicted in an interesting contrast to her public persona. In real life she was thought to be defiant, demanding, and difficult. The movie shows other sides to this powerful woman. A softer, fragile, and more human side of Thatcher is shown as she ages and deals with love, memories, health, and loss.

As a progressive Democrat I was not a huge fan of hers when she was in office. But I did admire her tenacity and leadership skills. She is an enigma – both tough and tender. However, she was in a role in her public life that led her to only allow her tough side to be shown. It is an issue many strong, determined women must face on a daily basis.

But the issues we face today are nothing like those faced by women in the past.

I know that I am privileged by the amazing benefits of the feminist movements of the past. I am also privileged by a system of education that has allowed me to pursue and gain two Masters degrees and a PhD. I am privileged by an economic system that allows me to make decisions about my son's life and education that others do not have. I am white, middle class and highly educated. I have power just because of those facts.

But I am also a woman and the expectations of being tender, passive, and demure are still prevalent in our culture – no matter how far we think we have progressed. Being passive and demure is not part of my life - fortunately. (Those of you know me may snicker loudly now). Women who are assertive are called names, while men who do the same thing are called leaders. That is a sad fact many women must constantly deal with.

Even I have been told to "sit back and let the boys decide the important stuff" too many times. I work in the church and in academia and men still hold the majority of powerful positions. Growing up in Texas I was told on more than one occasion (not by my parents but by the culture around me) to be strong but never beat a man at anything, to let a man take care of me, and to not rock the boat when leadership required tough decisions (they said a man could get it done but not a woman).

Obviously I am not a woman who stands back and let's others make the decisions for her or take care of her simply because they are men. And it has gotten me in a bit of trouble in my life. I have had bosses that resented my strength and determination. That strength has probably resulted in the loss of a job at least once, as well. It cost Margaret Thatcher. But I believe that it has served me well on more occasions than it has hurt me.

I have had other women resent the roles I have played either because they thought I did not deserve the role since I was a woman or because they wished they had followed a similar path themselves. In ministry the most difficulties I have had were almost always with women – for the above reasons mainly, but probably for others as well.

I have a soft side, too. I have shared that in this blog before. I am a weeper. I cry easily and am a softie. I am sentimental and sappy. Some of the wounds and voices of the past still surface and try to derail me. I try not to listen but sometimes the voices are very loud. These moments make me angry and they make me feel weak.

But I am also strong as iron. I am determined and occasionally defiant. I will stand up to injustice for others but sometimes become demure and unsure when it is about me.  My upbringing in Texas probably taught me that - unfortunately. And I have to continue to love myself because of and despite of this.

I am a tigress when it comes to my kid.  Hurt him and you WILL deal with me. I am iron willed when it comes to my faith and moving the church forward.  I am a momma bear when it comes to my students.  I am a sometimes helicopter parent who is getting out of it more and more. I am a crying baby on occasion.  And I am a determined challenger to institutional racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, sizeism, and other things that belittle and demean others. I am a lot of things - some I love and some not so much.

I am an Iron Lady with soft spots. And that's ok.

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