Anne Klaeysen's Blog
Leader’s Message – May 2018
Mother by Choice Day
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed the second Sunday of May “a public expression of our love and reverence for all mothers.” After seven years of campaigning for Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia, beloved daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, had finally succeeded. Tragically, rapid commercialization despoiled what she had hoped would be an intimate holiday “to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known – your mother – as a son or a daughter.” Jarvis dedicated the rest of her life and her considerable inheritance to organizing boycotts, threatening lawsuits, and even attacking First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities. She died penniless in 1948 at the age of 84 in Philadelphia’s Marshall Square Sanitarium. Jarvis, who never bore children herself, took great pains to acquire and defend her role as “Mother of Mother’s Day.”
Last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual Mother’s Day spending survey, Americans spent over $23 billion paying attention to their mothers. Seventy-seven percent of them sent a greeting card, making Mother’s Day the third most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas and Valentine’s Day. About 69% gave their mothers flowers, and 36% jewelry. The National Restaurant Association reports that Mother’s Day is the most popular holiday of the entire year to dine out, with nearly half of all Americans dining out. Does this mean that commercialization has won out over intimacy?
In recent years, Americans have also recognized the origin of Mother’s Day as International Peace Day. That history began in the 1850s when Jarvis’s mother, West Virginia women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis, convened Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and lower infant mortality. These clubs also tended wounded soldiers from both sides of the Civil War. In the postwar years, to unite former foes, they organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics, where, in 1870, Julia Ward Howe’s “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace, was widely read.
On Mother’s Day at the New York Society, we often quote this proclamation, which begins with these words:
“Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. . .
‘Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’”
This year I call upon women who choose to be mothers to be tender toward women who choose not to be. It is high time that we respected all reproductive choices.
I chose to give birth to two children. My brother also has two children. Our two siblings have none: cats, but no human children. It’s no big deal. But apparently for many people it is.
“Parenthood as a Moral Imperative? Moral Outrage and the Stigmatization of Voluntarily Childfree Women and Men” is the title of a scholarly article written by Leslie Ashburn-Nardo. Her study, which appeared in the publication Sex Roles, cited 30 years of research that has consistently found that “non-breeders” (as opposed to the infertile) are disliked. For her, then, the question wasn’t whether society hates people who don’t want children, but why it hates them so much. “Having children is obviously a more typical decision, so perhaps people are rightfully surprised when they meet a married adult who, with their partner, has chosen to not have children,” she explained. “That they are also outraged by child-free people is what’s novel about this work.”
My friends who choose not to have children face backlash of an extraordinarily personal nature. People who are outraged that women who seek abortions are subjected to such behavior, often don’t think twice of extolling the joys of parenthood to couples who choose to enjoy their own companionship without adding to the world’s population. I propose renaming this complicated holiday “Mother by Choice Day.” Let us choose to care for one another with all our hearts.
My mother was born a year after women won suffrage and never missed voting in an election. It was as religious to her as going to confession on Saturday and receiving communion on Sunday. She worked full-time as a secretary from the day she graduated high school until she retired and was in charge of our family’s finances. Yet she was not a feminist. She didn’t encourage my sister and me to leave home for college and was embarrassed when we kept our names after marrying. We never experienced her support for our professional lives.
Dad was the feminist in our family. He grew up in western New York State with parents and siblings who shared equally the running of their share-cropping farms: never owning a place of their own, often packing up and moving from one place to another. A family farm economy is demanding and requires that all hands work. A drive with Dad in the country would reveal one field after another in different towns where he had driven a team of horses or mules. Name that crop was a game we played and, of course, Dad always won because I was never a farmer. Dad made sure that my sister and I went to college and traveled to other countries. It was important to him that we make our own ways in the world.
In our Ethics for Families program, children are learning about Malala Yousafzai, whose father Ziauddian also encouraged her education. In an area of Pakistan dominated by the misogynist Taliban, he ran a school for both boys and girls. Most of us adults know how Malala became known around the world. On October 9, 2012, at the age of 15, when she was riding a bus with friends on their way home from school, a masked gunman boarded the bus, demanded to know which girl was Malala, and fired at her; the bullet hit the left side of her head and then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack.
Following the attack, Malala said, “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.” On her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai gave a speech at the United Nations emphasizing education and urging world leaders to change their repressive policies toward women and girls. In 2013 she also published her first book, I Am Malala, and the following year became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Like my father, hers is a feminist: someone who believes in, supports, and advocates for women’s rights and equality to men.
In a patriarchal society where “women are not known in public and their names are only known to family members,” Ziauddin named his daughter after a legendary 19th Century Pashtun warrior heroine, Malalai of Maiwund. “Malalai had had a voice and I wanted my Malala to have the same,” he said. “That she would have freedom and be brave and be known by her name. . . Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that’s all.”
At this year’s World Economic Forum at Davos, Malala said, “Feminism is just another word for equality and no one should object to equality. It just means that women should have equal rights to men. It’s not as complicated as some people have made it.”
It’s not complicated at all and yet another generation of women has taken to the streets demanding rights still denied them. Today more men join women: their mothers, sisters, and daughters, aunts and nieces, friends and lovers. They carry their children on their shoulders, wanting them to see the thousands of people gathered, showing them how the world can be when we march for equality for everyone.
Dad never marched alongside me, but he was, and is, always with me. One expects to hear kind words about the deceased during calling hours at a funeral home, a memorial service, and a burial site. What people told me after my father’s death were the many ways in which they felt loved and supported by him. He didn’t refer to himself as a feminist, but he acted as one, treating everyone with dignity and respect, no exceptions.
Malala and I are lucky.
Remember the 1965 song, “What the World Needs Now Is Love”? Hal David wrote the lyrics, and Burt Bacharach composed the music. Bacharach, who was on quite a roll back then, initially didn’t believe in the song and was reluctant to play it for Jackie DeShannon, who loved it, recorded it and made it popular. It has since been recorded or performed live by over 100 artists and used on many movie soundtracks.
I wonder why Bacharach was reluctant. Did the sentiment seem too trite or banal? The song has a simple melody that’s easy to learn. The lyrics tell us (or a creator) that the world has plenty of meadows, cornfields and wheat fields to grow; plenty of sunbeams and moonbeams to shine, too; what it really needs is love. Even today, half a century later, the world still needs love. Such a message is timeless.
What was happening in 1965? On January 2, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began a drive to register Black voters. Two days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave his “Great Society” State of the Union address. Almost a month later, on February 1, Dr. King and 700 demonstrators were arrested in Selma, Alabama. Later that month, on February 21, Malcolm X was assassinated by Nation of Islam followers at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. And on “Bloody Sunday” (March 7), Alabama troopers and civil rights demonstrators clashed, galvanizing the nation’s leaders to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King returned to Alabama on March 21 to lead a march from Selma to Montgomery, arriving in the state capitol on March 25. Riots broke out in the Watts area of southeast Los Angeles on August 11. On the following day, the west side of Chicago also broke out in riots.
Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam escalated, and protesters organized. The U.S. occupied the Dominican Republic in April during its civil war, and stayed over a year. The space and nuclear arms races were also well underway.
It was a precarious year, to say the least. I was fourteen years old and a veteran of school “duck-and-cover” and bomb shelter drills. I was unaware of Malcolm X at that age, but I had loved John F. Kennedy (as did all Irish Catholic girls) and mourned his death. I remember singing “What the World Needs Now is Love” at the top of my voice. It was both a plea and a prayer.
The song was remixed in 1971 by disc jockey Tom Clay, who worked at radio station KGBS in Los Angeles, into a social commentary. He added “Abraham, Martin and John” to the title. It began with a man asking a young boy to define the words bigotry, segregation and hatred, followed by a soundbite of a drill sergeant leading a platoon into training and gunfire sound effects. Then we hear the song, interspersed with excerpts of speeches by Kennedy and King and soundbites of news coverage of each one’s assassination.
What would we hear in a remix of this song today, I wonder. With a racist occupying the White House and the Voting Rights Act in shreds, with prolonged military presence overseas and an administration’s denial of climate change, we are arguably worse off than we were back in 1965.
Still, I refuse to lose hope, and neither should you. Our history is replete with stories of greed and generosity, prejudice and acceptance, hate and love. We must learn from that history. As individuals and as a nation, we must choose love.
That’s the message I heard at this year’s Mayor’s Interfaith Breakfast on January 11 at the New York Public Library. Imagine a great hall filled with clergy representing all the religions of our city. At my table alone were a Mormon (with whom I chatted about my hometown, Palmyra, birthplace of Mormonism), a Muslim woman (sans hijab), a resplendent Baptist African-American couple, two evangelical Christians preparing for a journey to the Holy Land, and two Hindus from Queens. The morning was a veritable lovefest: celebrating our diversity of faiths and a commitment to unity of social justice action.
Rev. Michael A. Walrond, Jr. from First Corinthian Baptist Church gave the introductory invocation. He said, “Take love seriously. Take seriously who you are called to be. Take our humanity seriously,” to which I heartily responded, “Amen!”
What the world needs now, has always needed, and will always need is love, sweet love, because that’s “the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Choose to love not just some, but everyone.