An Ode to All the Women Who Made Me6 min read
I sit down and think about all the women who made me. All the silent suffering, invisible effort, and unappreciated work that went into being dutiful daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers.
These are the women that I know personally, like both of my grandmothers, my own mother, my aunties, and women that I do not know at all and might not have even heard of but to whom I am eternally connected. I also let my mind wander to the realistically high chances of all these women encountering some form of violence throughout their lives. I wonder how trauma and fear are transmitted from generation to generation; passed down from mother to daughter with mother’s milk. But if we are capable of inheriting traumas, we must also inherit such things as strength and resilience.
Resilience. It is a word that often came up in my thoughts after my mother’s mother passed away on 8 March 2018. I thought about her – a girl with no proper birth certificate and only four years of primary school education to rely on. A young woman giving birth to twelve children, out of whom only eight were destined to survive infancy. A widow left without her husband in 1979, who would live to her mid-nineties and see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up in a new century and a new country.
Resilience. It is a word that came back to me now, as I watch my father’s mother struggle with late-stage cancer, stubbornly refusing to let go of control, even as her own body and mind are failing her. The matriarch of the family. The woman who had an impressive career serving the communist state in a small region of the north of Kazakhstan. The woman who was more educated and had more professional potential than her husband but who, nonetheless, always put her family first, as every dutiful wife and mother was taught to do. Seeing her slowly fade away, giving in to the terrible disease that makes its way through her earthly form, shakes the whole family to the core, as we are unable to imagine life without her.
Resilience. Isn’t that a word that would come up in any woman’s mind when describing her female ancestors? When I first set out to write this text, I thought I would tell you all the details of my grandmothers’ lives and maybe sprinkle some funny anecdotes on top. When I asked my only living grandmother to tell me about her life, her initial reply disappointed me. Her mind might be fogged by the pain of her condition, mixing facts and dates, but she explained the gist of it clearly and promptly: “What is there to tell? It was work and life, work and life.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, from a certain perspective, she was right.
As women, we are often taught to diminish and devalue our hard work and achievements. A lot of the time, our work is not even seen as work but as a duty, for which we should not be thanked or acknowledged. This does not mean that my grandmother does not have a fascinating life story to tell. Of course, she does, and she has told her story before, and her family was there to listen and understand. Her story is unique and full of light and love, as any person’s story should be.
Her story is probably also similar to that of millions of other women from Kazakhstan and around the world. It is a story of accepting one’s life conditions and making the most of it; of always prioritizing family and their marital partner, which is not necessarily a bad thing but a complex choice; of not thinking twice about whether the choices she makes are her own but owning up to them as much as she can anyway. It is a story that we should not question nor depreciate the agency of its central figure, while at the same time recognizing the rigidity of the societal structures the woman is placed in.
Every woman I know, especially as she grows older, possesses a buried treasure of knowledge and wisdom that she casualizes by refusing to recognize its intellectual and emotional power. It took me reading many books of feminist writers like Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Patricia Hill-Collins to think back to all the women I had around me growing up and recognize their buried treasures for what they were.
“What is there to tell?” There might not be much for those of us who have still yet to learn the power of the honesty and empathy that comes from the mundane lives of the people around us. As feminists, however, I urge all of us to revisit the stories of the women around us, provide them with their well-deserved space to exist, and give these stories the value that was robbed from them when we were chasing objectivity and the ‘Western’ understanding of intellectual power.
I sit down and think about all the women who made me. I think of myself as a daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, and partner. I feel gratitude fill me up, as I recognize that I am allowed to transcend these roles today and settle into my own self, a woman whose life should not and will not be dictated by gender stereotypes and whose body should not and will not be weaponized by her community. I aim to rise above the binaries of feminine vs. masculine, of ours vs. theirs, individual vs. collective that plagued the lives of my female ancestors and that probably caused them a lot of pain, even without them knowing.
I sit down and think about all the women who made me. I understand clearly that my present privileges and the ability to become who I am are the results of the accumulation of power and work of all the women who came before me. Without them even realizing this, these women have been raising the bar and transmitting their strength and resilience from generation to generation. They have done it in the ever-changing and often challenging circumstances of living in times of scarcity and colonialism, and, later, dictatorship and economic instability. None of them may have thought they have a story to share. But I am here, as an amalgamation of their lives and effort, to recognize the treasures I inherited from all the women who came before me and I will carry them with me as my foundation and my home wherever I may go from here.
I am all the women who came before me and I am all the women who will come after me.