There's a woman who left her home in her early twenties to run a school. She didn't want to be someone's daughter-in-law when there was work to be done and children to be educated. So for sixty years, she has worked. Worked and worked and worked till her bones could no longer carry the weight of her burden and her real name was forgotten in favour of respectful titles her awestruck employees bestowed on her. Her bedroom-which is on campus, directly across the computer lab that offers free technological training to young women-is furnished like the room of any other octogenarian. A walking stick, a few cushions, a framed photograph of someone's daughter and son-in-law. A television set and a locked box full of newspaper clippings about educational programs. A menthol smell and a gaudy blanket. A stash of books under her pillow. She told me she wrote them. I am sure she did.
There's a woman who left formal education hanging like a question mark when she decided to start a family. She raised several children and taught hundreds more, picking up wisdom and experience along the way. She marks school books with generous tick marks and smiley faces, leaves notes in loopy cursive for the parents of wayward students. Listens admiringly when others talk about accomplished women, women with real jobs, women who balance children with full-time careers, women who complete PhDs. She reminds herself that she has done no less, but sometimes forgets. Sometimes she questions and sometimes she believes them when they say she never achieved much.
There's a woman who lives in her own world of books and authors, in an intellectual utopia of her own making. She is constantly surprised to find that others don't know the things she does, or that the trivia she considers terribly important is considered less so by others. People look down on trivial trivia. They laugh at it, laugh at her bewilderment that the world is not more learned. Her horror at their ignorance is never condescension. She always thinks that people who don't swallow encyclopedias are in a minority and her faith in humanity never truly wavers.
There's an angry woman who is happiest when protesting the injustices of the world. She quotes revolutionary poetry, saves trees from being bulldozed and supports grassroots campaigns for the oppressed. She is as disgusted by drawing room debaters as she is sympathetic to the underprivileged. Her twinge of guilt at avoiding her family to spend time with fellow activists is defensively explained away for the greater good.
There's a nanny who loves other people's children to support her own. She left her country soon after her husband proved to be an alcoholic and chose to make the most of her homeland's reputation for grooming excellent caregivers. So she gives care, for a small price. She bathes and rocks and feeds for the money, but counsels and fiercely loves because she can't help it. Her own children grow into strangers as she keeps telling herself she'll go back one day, but she finds herself weeping at the idea of being separated from her wards, who will never love her back quite the same way.
There's a woman who works as a nurse because her parents asked her to. She was never inclined to study much and would have preferred to have married into a comfortable life, but she knows her education has afforded her something her mother and grandmother did not have. Kind, well-meaning people tell her it's important to learn, to be different, to know her rights. Less kind people taunt her on buses, stand a little too close in crowded public spaces and occasionally seriously frighten her. She considers it part of the package, part of being a modern woman. She remembers her married sister is not much happier, anyway.
There's a woman who loves to dress up. She loves jewelry, loves makeup, loves feeling beautiful. She scoffs at people who say women buy into brand-sponsored ideals of beauty, because she knows people always turn around to look at her. She also knows she is more than that, because back in her day, girls were taught how to speak and when to argue, how to cook and entertain. The idea of looking ungroomed-or worse, undignified-repulses her. She doesn't wear tacky clothes or switch to ugly shoes as she grows old. She moves into it with unexpected grace, retaining her diva-esque charm long until the day she dies, knowing she will be remembered as beautiful forever.
They will be remembered, if only once a year, if only by some, if only by us.
Happy Women's Day everyone.