I published this post last year, but in honor of Sarah Bessey’s Synchroblog on Patron Saints & Spiritual Midwives I want to repost My Favorite Feminist who is also my favorite Spiritual Midwife.
A 50 year-old picture from an album shows a woman complete with white gloves and pearl earnings holding a baby in her arms. She is standing on the deck of a ship with a slight smile on her face. Her name is Pauline Brown and she is my favorite feminist.
Raised in a small town where few went on for higher education, she knew early in life that she wanted to go to college. Her father, a Polish/Lithuanian immigrant who had arrived at Ellis island as a child, dismissed the idea of education for girls. The emphatic words “What do girls need with college” from the dad she deeply loved, instead of discouraging, gave her more purpose. At her college graduation he was the proudest man in the room.
The ship shown in the picture documented one of several journeys she took with her family to her adopted home in Pakistan. Picture a young woman from Massachusetts, who had independently driven throughout Catholic New England as a traveling Bible teacher just a couple of years before, adjusting to a newly formed Muslim state, the country of Pakistan. Veiled women became dear friends and curry and chapatis a staple. Redirecting her independence to fit cultural norms but never losing a bit of spirit were all part of the life of my favorite feminist, as she settled into life in the Sindh region of Pakistan.
Pauline (Polly to friends) was not content to know how to read herself, she taught other women to read through adult literacy methods at her kitchen table, often in the midst of skinning a chicken, boiling milk, going over bills with the cook, and yelling at the chawkidar (guard).
She was, and is, a model of a strong woman. She is smart, strong, and articulate. She gave birth to 5 children reading to them before they had finished breast-feeding. She helped produce two PhD’s, two masters degrees, and another feminist who never, despite being raised in a primarily male-dominated society, doubted that women were amazing and could do anything. She wrote one book and co-authored a second, an introductory course on learning to speak Sindhi, a first of its kind.
The great thing is that Pauline never drank the Koolaid that would brainwash her into a mold of what women should or should not be.
As the matriarch in a clan of many, she believes in fulfilling her God-given role as a strong woman, living out the words of Deborah, my hero from the book of Judges, “March on my soul, Be strong” (Judges 5:21)
Pauline advocates for women, and I have occasionally been a spectator to passionate arguments with her beloved husband Ralph about women: their role in the holy scriptures and the church, their ability to do jobs as well or better than men, and their right and need to be heard in all spheres of society.
My favorite feminist may never have a book written about her but she has a lasting influence on two generations of women that include daughter, daughter-in-laws, nieces, nieces-in-law, and a boat-load of feisty smart granddaughters. She will probably live long enough to influence a third generation. I will call it third wave feminism. So – here’s to you Mom! You are indeed my favorite.