Remarkable Women / by Sarah Schwartz

So long as women do not go cheap

for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy

a woman satisfied to bear a child?

Will this disturb the sleep

of a woman near to giving birth?

-Wendell Berry

I come from a long line of remarkable women.

Sometimes I wonder where my fire for women’s voices, rights ,and stories came from—how did this small town kid, born and bred in conservative Christian education, come to be passionate about women’s justice issues? The odds were against me, to be sure.

But then again, maybe they weren’t.

My mother is a hardworking, no nonsense woman, with little time for frills or anything resembling self pity. And while feminism is not a word I can remember being used in my house growing up, there was never a question that she was my father’s equal in every way. They are friends before they are husband and wife, with a deep respect for each others work and talents—a respect that has navigated and shaped our family.

My mother raced mountain bikes, earned a black belt in karate, and spent most of her waking hours with sweat on her brow and dirt under her nails from taking care of our farm. Her life wordlessly taught me that my mind and body are good and strong and exist for me, long before they exist for anyone else.

My mother’s mother wouldn’t marry my grandfather until she finished high school, despite his repeated requests—making her an old bride for her era at the age of 19. My father’s mother was a single mom who put food on the table and a roof over her kid’s heads before single mothers were a thing society supported or celebrated. My great-grandmother raised three babies and worked the family farm by herself after her husband moved out, keeping them afloat during the Great Depression, and putting them all through Catholic school.

The familial list goes on—aunts and sisters and cousins—women of tenacity and grit and grace.

Then there are the women who have been my professors, pastors, mentors and friends—the ones who fought to make the path a little less difficult for me, before I even existed, writing policies and exegesis, staging protests and giving lectures. The ones who took me aside and looked me in the eye and reminded me that I was a person, and not to listen to anyone who told me otherwise.

It’s easy to forget sometimes, in the midst of being told we aren’t fully human, deep as we are in the trenches, of the truly great crowd of witnesses who surround us. Sometimes I get so busy fighting to be given the time of day, to be taken as seriously as the man next to me, that I forget just how glorious and strong and incredible women really are, and already have been, regardless of structures and ideologies or people who try to tell us something different.

Poet Mindy Netiffee says, “you’re going to have to full torso fight for every rung” and my knuckles are cracked and bleeding, but it helps every now and then to remember that I’m not fighting to be a beautiful and powerful and respectable human person; I already am. We already are.

We run companies and carpool, teach classes and pursue PhDs, clothe the homeless and drive tractors, write poetry and rock n’ roll, feed families and refugees.

We are smart and funny and wise, winsome and creative and bold. We are mothers and daughters and sisters, yes, but firstly, we are human. Fully and truly and completely people.

And so I’ll do my best to be a link in the chain that got me here, to call out what is not as though it were, and speak prophetically into the lives of the young women that surround me.

I come from a long line of remarkable women.