As they left the church, the preacher shook their hands and surprised them by announcing his decision to join them at their house for lunch. Said he’d change clothes and be right over. The mother hadn’t prepared enough food for an extra hungry mouth, and of course there was no time to increase the quantities, so when the preacher arrived, threw back his shoulders, patted his paunch, and announced how very hungry he was, the three girls did the only thing they knew to do. They passed the platter of fried chicken to him, and when he asked “Aren’t you having some?” as he heaped three pieces on his own plate, they said “We don’t eat chicken on Sunday.” And when they passed the peas without taking any for themselves, they said “We don’t eat peas on Sunday.” And there was enough for him to have three refills of sweet tea because – you guessed it – they professed to not drinking tea on Sunday.
These were my great aunts, and my heart cries a little bit every time I think about this true story, and whether it’s slaving over a hot stove then heaping the food onto the plates of men waiting at the table with napkins tied around their necks or insisting that men ride in the front seat of the car they bought and paid for, or any number of other things that my tired brain can’t think of right now, I realize how many women have taught me well when it comes to handing over my power.
Why beat a dead horse, you might ask. This is old news. Can’t we move on?
Where’s the line between good manners and handing over your power, anyway? How can you tell the difference between the two?
Then comes my personal favorite, always asked with eyes closed to the point of slits: Are you trying to make all these women be like you instead of allowing them to be themselves?
Good questions that I ask myself (frequently) along with a side of these:
Where did this come from, this handing over of our female power? Was it after World War II when the women stepped aside from the jobs they did so well to let the resume working? Was when the men returned after the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States when woman after woman not only increased the income from the farms but found new crops and markets for those new crops?
More than anything (except for world peace, of course) I want to move past this, but obviously it’s something that remains stuck in my craw. For the record, no, I absolutely am not trying to change women who defer to men. That’s their choice to do or stop doing as they see fit. I recognize the deep and constant conditioning and imprinting on me, and I know that I’m an adult woman, perfectly capable of making my own decisions, cognitively aware of what’s going on. But regardless of years gone under my bridge, regardless of what my brain knows, I still feel the imprinting, and I feel it strongly . . . usually in the form of guilt for refusing to give my food to any man who is rude enough and pompous enough to expect me to; shame that I can’t be as nice and as generous as the women who preceded me in this family; and concern that I embarrass them with my repeated outbursts about handing over our power in ways large and small.
Two days ago, Angela Kelsey wrote about provenance – such a lovely word referring to the chain of ownership of a work of art. She notes her own provenance (because let’s face it: life is art) and closes with her hope that the final entry of her provenance will be herself. Her own name. Her post is the spark that got me pondering this . . . again . . . but this time by stitching the two plates of peas, I stayed with this agitation long enough to realize that at the heart of my continued agitation is the aforementioned guilt and shame and embarrassment. I, too, want to add my name to my life’s provenance, and I want to do it resolutely without a trace of doubt or sticky residue. Now I know what to work on, that I’m certain that I’m really not continuing to flog a dead horse, I’ll set about plucking out the guilt, embarrassment, and shame – and I will do it, too, then I’ll complete my provenance by adding my own name: Wholly Jeanne.
And frame it. The whole damn thing.