Updated: Feb 28
If you are reading this compilation of my thoughts and facts about the women whose shoulders I stand, you can testify that there is or was at least one woman in your life. Every human on the planet answers, “I am here because of a woman”. Yet women and societies across the globe struggle to accept the Divine power and authority that women possess.
As we witness America’s first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris, we are still debating a woman’s rights to her own body. A body that produces the DNA approved nutritional milk for her newborn, but Mom is still being made to feel uncomfortable, feeding her baby the substance that her body produced for the ‘little stinker’.
How did we evolve into a culture that devalues the gender of the human race, genetically responsible for creating life? The woman. Why has there been such extreme efforts to suppress the gender that all humans, at some point in their existence, had to have one? A Mom. Why is there still a pervasive ideology questioning her strengths and her abilities, yet she carries the cellular authority to birth humanity? Does this distorted narrative exist because women continue to co-sign, and through complicit behavior, adopt these insidious views of their “place” in the hierarchy of humankind?
I write to ask these questions on behalf of a woman that I admire. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911). A poet, author and lecturer, Harper was the first African American woman to publish a short story and is credited with being the “God-mother” of protest poetry, advocating for abolition, suffrage and gender equality. During the 19th Century, she urged the church to practice a form of religion that reflected a “stronger sense of justice and more Christ-like humanity on behalf of those homeless, ignorant and poor.”
I write to ask these questions on behalf of my “giver of life,” Hattie Lee Croom-Marshall (1927-2002). My mother never published, yet an avid reader, an ardent student of the King’s language, she urged her 13 children to obtain college degrees so we would surpass the limitations of her eighth-grade education. Embodying the spirit of women of color that came before her, my mother knew the plight of her journey was flawed humanistically in every space that she occupied. She knew in her soul it was wrong, but complicity was the norm of her day.
In the innocence of my child’s view, I recall countless days watching as Mrs. Nell, Mrs. Watson or Mrs. Wagster would drive up to our modest shanty, to pick up my mother, so she could clean and cook for their families. These were the white ladies who would hire my mother for sometimes as little as 50 cents a day. By the time she stopped working for these white ladies, she was being paid 15 dollars a day. I don’t know how my mother felt, but it just didn’t feel right that my mother had to sit in the back seat of their cars as they transported her to their homes to work for meager wages. I don’t know how my mother felt as these fellow women spoke down to her, calling her by her first name, as if my Mom was a child. Unbeknownst to these women, they were complicit by co-signing a societal norm, even though they knew that my mother was one of them. A “giver of life”. However, they acquiesced to a societal norm which merely secured their third class status behind black men in getting their rights to vote.
The little girl in me watching my mother being driven away helped to imprint in my subconscious mind that those ladies were better than my sweet mother and since I was born from her womb, they must be better than me too. These women were teaching me to be complicit in a thought pattern that my soul knew was wrong, yet it was a societal norm.
Why are we as women continuing to support “wrong thinking” about ourselves and other women? Are we willing to face our Creator knowing that we were complicit just because we underestimated our worth based on the narrative of voices born in our wombs? The voices of male children, who grew into men, arguing that a woman’s place was in the home and not the rough political world. The voice that surmised that women were ignorant of politics, hence would not use their vote correctly. Yes we have been...complicit to that voice.
There is a Senegalese proverb that speaks to this moment in time and our power to permanently change the fabricated narratives and help educate and embrace women in our sphere of influence:
“The opportunity that God sends does not wake up those who are asleep!”
As we strive to physically implode walls of hatred for ourselves as women, and silence the voices of intimidation by men born from our wombs, we can live the words of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Hattie Lee Croom Marshall as they speak in spiritual unity…”Y'all know better, now do better.”
Pamela D. Marshall-Koons
Executive Director, At The WELLness Network
Author, The Art of Forgiveness
Podcast/Talk Show Host, Sisters of WELLness and The Timbuktu Report