I vividly remember lessons taught by my mother when I was small... "Look both ways"... "Don't be a nuisance"... "Don't bump into people... "Don't eat yellow snow"... "Orange juice before you brush your teeth"... "She deserved it"...
Learning these early lessons, I was a very careful child.
I made sure I took up as little space as possible. I always moved out of the way when someone entered my space so as not to bump into or hinder them in any way.
I never ate yellow snow. (Though, lemon ices/slushies still confuse me!)
Other lessons that my mother taught me, not through vocalisation, but through actions, were that women are competition; women are moody; women are unacceptable, you can't be friends with a woman; women should be avoided, be friends with men - or women who act like men - it's so much easier.
Throughout adolescence and early adulthood, I believed this. This was my truth as demonstrated by the friendships I spurned, the women I insulted, spread rumours about, took delight in talking about behind their backs... Women I didn't even know. Gossip-fuelled bitch-fests being like a mainstay in my life.
I was headed down the same path of my mother, virtually friend-less because I doubted anyone could ever be friends with a woman. How horrid the thought; they're crazy!
I still remember my father and his wife sitting me down when I was about 13 (ish?) and asking me about the notes in my junior high school yearbook. I had defiled it. There were angry notes and scribbles all over the inside of it, denoting some fellow students as "bitch"es, "slut"s and worse. A friend and I had sat and determined the personality of every single female student one day and she suggested we spend the day graffitiing my yearbook. We wrote nasty words, blacked out faces in indelible ink and did so with utter conviction that not only were our actions justified but that they were necessary! (I never even questioned why we used my yearbook but that's a post for a self-esteem/self-awareness session, I guess.) My father found my yearbook and was horrified that I had done such a thing, that I had such thoughts.
I remember distinctly dismissing his concern as nothing. What could possibly be wrong with my behaviour, these women were bitches and sluts! Obviously! Look at how they had treated me!
They never had treated me. I now cannot recall a single moment when any of those women had anything negative to say to me, hurt me in any way emotionally or physically - I can't even remember a single dirty look.
Now that I am older, I wish - oh, how I wish - someone had sat me down and told me that it didn't have to be that way - that women aren't inherently bitches - or sluts - or anything of the sort... They're not competition...
I understand the insecurities that lead my mother to feel the way she does, to believe the vitriol that she's been fed for decades by the misogynists in her life.
I understand it.
I do not accept it.
I refuse to follow in the footsteps of my misogynist mother. My mother who is bitter and alone and who firmly believes that she's friendless at this stage in her life simply because of the attitudes of others - unable to even contemplate that she, herself, has pushed them all away over the years, made them feel unwanted, insulted them and gossiped about them behind their backs and, sometimes, even insulted them directly to their faces.
My daughter is learning the value of female friendship and I am trying my hardest to lead by example.
It's not going to cure the world overnight of sexism but if I can help women learn to love and support one another, it has to help, right?
I will break the cycle.