I am not proud of this story, but I share it in hopes that fewer among us will make this mistake. For Women’s History Month, I want to talk about the importance of acknowledgement. Women go without it too often. We must change that because human beings need others to value them. Even when there isn’t an immediate answer to the struggle people are going through, an acknowledgement can be the first step towards healing. Let’s make an effort to really see women this month and make it an ongoing practice.
As a sixteen year old, I was beginning to feel the weight of patriarchy but was not yet awake to the concept. I could already tell that the world assigned value to women based on looks though, and I resented it. I wanted people to understand me in all my complexity. I tried to disassociate from womanhood to escape the trap. I shaved my head and adopted a black sweatshirt as my self-imposed uniform. But in my quest to feel seen, I made a big blunder.
My “solution” was only meant to help me (spoiler alert: it didn’t). I wish I had seen that I was not the only girl or woman feeling misunderstood. In fact, I was guilty of writing off women who I should have appreciated in all their complexity.
One day, my father asked me if I had noticed that my mother had not spoken to me in a month. I hadn’t. He shared that she was hurting from one of my past transgressions and was waiting for me to reflect on my actions. She waited for a month and I had been none the wiser. I look back at this moment and feel shame. This was the woman that woke me up every morning, made sure I ate right, drove me everywhere, and stayed up if I was out. She was the licensed psychologist that put her career aside to care for me and my sisters. But I was so concerned with my own struggle that her work had become invisible to me!
In the same way I became blind to my mother’s role in my life, our communities routinely fail to recognize women’s work, especially work inside the home. The patriarchal system interacts with a white supremacist framework. It is no coincidence that Black and Latinx women are the most likely groups to be employed in low-wage jobs associated with the home sphere, like cooking, cleaning, and caregiving. This is the result from a long history of white America shutting them out of other types of work.
More broadly, out of the 25 lowest paying occupations in the country, 18 are primarily held by women. Women make up 83% of middle-skill workers earning $30,000 or less, while only 36% making more than $35,000 are women. Nearly a third of Black women work in service jobs compared with just one-fifth of white women. And these jobs are crucial to our survival. Agriculture workers, home health aides, childcare workers, housekeeping services, and hairdressers are essential. Yet, their compensation does not reflect the value they provide. We need to talk about that! We need to change that!
My mother raised four strong Latinx women. It took work, effort, and love. She was not compensated for it and her contribution is not included in GDP. But it is as important for her daughters to tell her that we see her, as it is for Cambridge to acknowledge all the women that tie our community together. Whether you are a childcare worker, a cleaner, a home health aide, or a waitress, YWCA Cambridge thanks you. We will be acknowledging many of you throughout this month.
By: Tania Del Rio, Executive Director