*In honor of Mother’s Day, Parentology is sharing stories from people who have women that hold a special place in their lives. Someone other than their mother. Someone they cherish and hold dear. Other Mothers.
In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the hunt and the protector of girls and women. In some stories, Artemis is referred to as the goddess of light and protector of the vulnerable, and she’s believed to have taught young girls self-sufficiency and strength before returning them to society.
My high school, The Archer School for Girls, derived its name from Artemis, who hunted with a bow and arrow in the mythological forests of ancient Greece.
In one corner of the school’s grassy front yard, a rusted metal statue of Artemis stood guard, bow arched forever upward in stoic determination. The school’s campus had other statues and sculptures, and this one was easy to forget about, tucked into a corner and shaded by a cluster of small trees and bushes. When I did remember the statue, I felt a certain identification with the goddess, affection for a symbol I otherwise rarely thought about.
Artemis was one of the first powerful women of ancient myth. She was not, however, the first powerful woman I identified with, learned from, or saw as a role model. Of course, I’m lucky enough to have grown up in Los Angeles, where feminism is printed across t-shirts and considered a requirement of human decency. Some girls aren’t as fortunate, and learning from their surroundings doesn’t include feminist indoctrination. Instead, they learn from the women around them.
I’ve done that as well. Throughout my upbringing, the circle of women who protected and taught me as I grew up continued to expand. My mom, her friends, my sisters, my teachers, all the girls I went to school with, all the female protagonists I read about as I devoured every book in sight. These women and so many more have taught me to laugh and love and learn and live without apology; they have equipped me with a bow and arrow so that I, too, can be self-sufficient, can protect myself and those who need protection.
It’s easy to forget that we learn so much simply from looking around. I never realized, for example, how much that statue of Artemis meant to me until I graduated from Archer and no longer saw it every morning. Similarly, I only vaguely acknowledged the women in my life for how they impacted my identity.
My little sister, for example, has taught me more than I could ever thank her for. She can make me laugh until I can’t breathe, and she’s confident in a carefree way I aspire to be.
My friends have qualities I lack. Getting to know them has made me more honest, adventurous and thoughtful through a process of absorption.
In the final two years of high school, my art teacher encouraged me to draw in my sketchbook everyday; until she directed me to do so, I didn’t realize my art could be more than a casual hobby.
My mom, of course, is the reason I’ve been able to garner so much inspiration and information from the women around me. I can’t remember a time before I believed in my own strength as a woman. I know this is because my mom is strong and taught my sister and I to be the same.
My mother invited her friends to dinner parties, took us to concerts and encouraged us to read books and watch TV shows with female protagonists. She wouldn’t let us watch Hannah Montana, and though I understand why now, I didn’t at the time.
Instead, I read books like Ella Enchanted when I was about 12, thinking how strong Ella was to face her evil stepmother and -sisters. But I was confused, because my stepfamily was really just my family.
As I read, I absorbed the qualities I admired in Ella’s character, and paid more attention to those I was learning from the women who’d joined my family. Ella was spunky, determined, and exceedingly generous to the very end. My stepmom made me laugh, took care of me and loved me even though I wasn’t her actual daughter. My stepsisters wore bold colors and coaxed me out of my shell, inspiring my sense of fashion and humor.
I don’t know what I would do without the women in my life. They say it takes a village, and while Los Angeles may not be a village, its culture and inhabitants certainly influenced the way I was raised.
The women in my life (and the men who sacrificed their upper hand to them) are the reason I rely so strongly on the people I consider my family.
Gender aside, the people I love are my family. They gave me a bow and arrow, taught me how and where to aim. Even more important is the knowledge that, if I drop my bow, or lose an arrow, someone will be nearby to protect me with their own.