Feminism in Limbo: Cathy Jo

My maternal grandmother isn’t the sweet, cookie-baking, hugs-and-kisses kind of grandma. She is the opposite of subtle and expects only the best from her children and grandchildren. She’s also intimidating – not only is she confrontational but at nearly 5’11” she’s quite physically imposing. She’s taller than many men, especially those in my family.

She became a mother right around the time she graduated high school, yet continued her education. She eventually earned her PhD; in the 1970s for a female that’s its own kind of impressive. Hearing her talk about her education and her career path and how she did it all while raising kids and making a marriage work is astounding. Shortly after she gained her PhD, she had an incredible job with (at the time, very new) AT&T, and she was a huge part of AT&T’s growth in the 80s and 90s.

As a female, she’s an incredible role model. As her granddaughter, she drives me insane.

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Not only is she a force to be reckoned with all her own, but she has an entirely different view of sexism. If anything, she thinks men are incompetent and shouldn’t be employed in certain jobs. While boys are her favorite – her son, her grandson – I think it’s more that she thinks the male ego is fragile and needs to be tended to, while women and girls need to be pushed to reach their full potential.

She’s a teacher now, and I think she honestly believes male teachers just aren’t as good as female teachers. They have no patience, she says, or they just don’t communicate well.

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Like I said, she isn’t the typical grandma. Compliments from her are rare, and if I get one from her it means it was well-deserved; no fluff or ego-boost from this grandma. The last compliment I remember getting from her wasn’t exactly eloquent, but it summed up everything I had been feeling in the months after I graduated:

You’re lucky you know. I mean, you aren’t lucky. You are who you are and that’s allowed you to have a job when other kids don’t. But that’s not luck, you worked for that and you worked hard. Luck really has nothing to do with it. But still, it all paid off and well… you are who you are.

This may not seem like much, but she was the first person who told me I’m not lucky with this job. She realizes it was working three jobs in college, and taking internships for less money than I would waiting tables because waiting tables wouldn’t get my foot in the door of the places I wanted to be when I graduated. She realized none of it was lucky. And while I don’t get offended when people tell me “Oh wow you’re so lucky to have a job, good for you!” it’s still nice to know there are people who realize it isn’t entirely about luck. There is some degree of right-place-right-time, I get that. But when you walk into an interview, they don’t just tell you to flip a coin and see what happens. You have to earn it.


A few years before I was born, my grandma was on the other side of the country when she discovered she would have to figure out how to raise 3 children on her own after becoming a widow far too young.

I think there used to be this version of her, before she became a widow. A version of her I’ve never met. Everyone who knew her said she just shut down after my grandfather died. Yet, no one can tell me what she was like before he died. I can’t picture her as anything but calculating and career-focused. I don’t know if she was the adventurous “try everything once” type of person or the more reserved, “better safe than sorry” kind of person when she was younger.

The only thing I do know is that, like a few other people I’ve met, she’s the type of person who tends to prove her love financially. I believe there’s nothing wrong with this – some people just aren’t emotional, and everyone needs some financial love every now and then, right? Because of her incredible career and her way of showing financial affection, she’s been able to give my brothers and I things that maybe my parents couldn’t.

I just wonder if there was a version of her that loved, once.

If there was, then it means maybe there is just one person out there for all of us. For her, that person was my grandfather and when he died part of her died too.

When I started, I thought this post was going to be about how she was a great career role model for me. But instead, maybe this semi-cold, pushy, insane woman taught me more about love than any fucked up romantic comedy.

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