As Women’s History month comes to a close and as we anticipate the many pom-pom pumping tsoliades and shiny blue Amalias floating with Hellenic pride on 5th Avenue for the annual Greek Independence Day celebrations, it is our sincere wish that we end with a statement of awareness. Some of our followers would claim we are “Greek men bashers” that the women’s movement, especially among the Hellenic community is non-existent, because it is based on hatred and resentment for men, the very men that have engendered us, supported us, and love us. While we will not underplay the damage the Greek male ego has and continues to brandish in the face of women’s needs and aspirations, what we really need is a revolution from within (to echo the words of the famous Gloria Steinem.) What we must realize as women of Hellenic descent, the mothers, the wives, the daughters, the sisters, the grandmothers, the cousins, the co-workers, and co-creators of one of the most exulted civilizations in human history, is our part in perpetuating the male patriarchal grip over our destinies. As women, we are responsible for forging the behaviors, the ideologies, and the character of the males in our lives. We cannot “bash them” for bashing us. We must take responsibility for our own hand in the inequality of the sexes. We must first of all become aware of the gender stereotypes and internal damage we have undergone, recognize this and choose a different script for ourselves. We have to recognize our implicit and complicit responsibility for the damage we perpetuate on our men and ourselves. The change must begin with us.
A friend and fellow writer who comes from an entirely different cultural milieu, South Korea, explains the “movement” in a recent email:
Can we start a grass roots revolution? At least a movement? To educate women about how WE raise, encourage, and enable the infantile male. How WE teach them learned helplessness. How WE devalue ourselves and, worse, our precious and beautiful daughters. WE WOMEN are equally responsible for gender inequality! Perhaps more so. Agreed, until we realize what imbalance we are creating, we will remain subjugated, subservient, inferior. We will give up our dreams, fail to express ourselves, snuff out our inner voices and opinions, suffer, sacrifice, sell ourselves short. We will teach our daughters to honor their brothers more than their sisters, to not question their dissatisfaction.
It is tragic that generations of women in this country have spent their lives tethered as servants and nannies to immature, psycho-emotionally unformed boy-men. South Korea has the highest level of gender inequality among OECD nations. We rose from the ashes of war to become an economic power, but many attitudes are back in the Chosun Dynasty, the Confucian legacy of which has kept women as servile entities: as daughters, wives, mothers, but barring us from becoming realized individuals. It is no wonder I have not married. So much God-damned baggage.
A women’s worst enemy is another woman, a Greek saying goes. I look at my mother and the example she has provided me with the choices in her life. She stayed married to an emotionally abusive, mentally ill man who tortured her day in and day out. She “learned to be helpless” and take the “martyr” role because in Greek society, well, it’s your fate, your “tihi”, your luck who you marry and how you turn out. (It’s your fat fu**ing luck who you marry and you have to take your “moira”.) My father’s illness, his megalomania, his ego crushed our burgeoning sense of ourselves. He uprooted me just at the verge of my entering an Ivy League school because he had had enough and wanted to move back to Greece, thereby ruining my chances at a scholarship. My mother taught me both overtly and subtly that women were worth far less than men. By the way she catered to the males in the family, (to this day my little brother is the golden boy who can do no wrong) and the way she treated herself, eating two day leftovers, and the expectations she has of us her daughters—you must be the one to cook and take care of the family, you must clean out the yard full of dog shit, you must take care of the bills, even if you are already working a full-time job, a part-time job and managing a house of three children and a dog.
While I was growing up, I always blamed my father for being the abusive, selfish, megalomaniac. But now that I have matured, I can see that my mother was just as guilty for the soul-crushing anguish in childhood. She, too, was responsible for her own sorrow and unhappiness. She never once stood up for herself. She has wound up bitter and perpetually depressed. (My father has since passed away; what she should have inherited from his estate, a considerable amount to keep her comfortable and secure in her old age, his mistress, some Ukrainian or Georgian house maid, ran away with after she managed to get her name on his bank account.) My mother has been left without insurance, destitute, to be taken care of by who else? the daughters of the family.
My mother never taught me to honor myself just as much as I honored the males in the family. She taught me to be “sloppy seconds” to hate myself because I was a girl. The worst she has done is that she has perpetuated that role in me. I too give too much. I too consider myself sloppy seconds. I care too much about others at my own expense and I wind up exhausted and resentful because I believe in a place so deep I cannot see it, that I am only as good as what I do and can offer to others, not that I am worthy as me, myself, just because I am who I am. No strings attached. Yes, then, my mother is my worst enemy. But I have had to do a lot of self-reflection (and a lot, a lot of therapy) to see that I too am perpetuating the unhappiness. But I don’t have to. The change begins with me–recognizing how much of the unfairness I have perpetuated on myself and making a conscious effort to stop it.
Let us, then, unite as women, as men, as Hellenes, and work towards a more equitable, more authentic, more enriching awareness for gender equality.
Let’s start that small movement here and now. Join us at our monthly Symposium and be moved: this Friday, March 28th at Victory Sweet Shop and Garden in Astoria.