Who made you the woman you are?

Happy International Women’s Day, sister.

In my world, every single day is International Women’s Day.
Slogging, sashaying and twerking up the feminist highway in celebration of women, it’s how I have chosen to spend my life.

So, I often just ignore the day and slog and twerk along, in my usual fashion.
But this year, I got stopped, mid-sashay.
I went to see ‘Gloria: A Life’ at the Daryl Roth Theatre in NYC. The show was wonderful (must see if you’re in New York! Runs through the end of this month!)
And one of the most glorious aspects of this show was to witness the actors embody the women who made us all possible. The show celebrated Gloria, but also celebrated the women in her circle who inspired her. Bella Abzug, Wilma Mankiller, Dorothy Pittman Hughes, Flo Kennedy and more. Seeing the show made me think about the women who have inspired me, the women who have made me who I am, the women who have carved me into the unstoppable force on behalf of women that I have become.
And there is one woman, in particular, who informs every thought I have, every decision I have made, the unspoken unspeakable forces that drive me, and the urgency of my mission.

A woman who so deeply deserves celebrating.
A woman who guided my destiny, shaped me as a woman, and determined the course of my life, in some ways, even more powerfully than my own mother.
Her name is Wilma Harris and she raised me.

Wilma arrived in my life when I was one.

She named me Girly.
She was my protector, my initiator to nonrational truths, my fashion inspo, and the non-verbal cultivator of my eventual freedom.
She was the woman who inspired both my greatest risks and my greatest shortcomings.
Wilma gave me the language and the pathway of magic, real magic, through her triumphs and her failures.
She was imperfect and real. As we all are.
As she gave me permission to be.
Wilma showed me unconditional love in a way that made no sense, because I wasn’t hers, but I was all hers.

Wilma is an essential, loving, painful part of the foundation of my story.

As a grown woman, I look back and understand better the circumstances of Wilma’s entrance into my life. She was a woman of color who was hired by my overwhelmed and struggling family to help rear an unruly trio of white children, probably not for the pay the job warranted. And to raise me meant sacrificing time with her own family. As a girl, I took everything she had to offer — and she gave it lovingly and begrudgingly with exhaustion and unquestioning constancy — and as a woman, I know there were costs for Wilma in loving me.

As a girl, I took Wilma for granted.

The patriarchal world culture teaches us to take women for granted. So many of us can find ourselves celebrating women generally but still under-appreciating or judging the ones we know best. The ones we expect most of. We can overlook their wholeness. My beloved nanny. My imperfect mother.

For good or bad, we are all products of the women who came before us. The women who put in the blood, the sweat, the tears, and the sacrifice to make us who we are today. Blood sweat tears and sacrifice. The best they knew to give.

Every day is a day of reckoning.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I invite you to reckon with the spaces, places, and people who got you to here, and whose praises you haven’t voiced.

Wilma taught me how to love and be selfless.
She taught me how to be angry.
She taught me how to love beautiful things and dress well, especially well (with a matching hat) for church, to please the holy and please myself.
She taught me how to endure the unendurable.
How to find home in the smells of her, the cooking on her stove. The joy she took in frosting a cake and reciting all the ingredients to me like a love poem.
She modeled for me how to store important things in my bra.
To be impeccably clean at all times.
She showed me millions of reasons to laugh. At heartache. In anger. On reflection. As protection.
From her I learned how to make a dollar stretch in infinite ways.
And to tell stories over and over and over.
The importance of planting a garden. And can veggies in jars for the winter. Cook for the people. And wash feet at the church.

My story with Wilma is not about the linear patriarchy of a family tree, but the divine feminine fabric that will hold us all.

We have to insert all the matriarchs that are missing from our storylines. And honor them. We have to expand our ideas of family. We have to recognize all of our sisters, all of our aunties, all of our mothers. Blood is only blood. Mothering and sistering makes relations.

Today is for you, Wilma Harris. My mother, my sister, my protector.
Your legacy of pain, of laughter, of sacrifice and connection lives inside me every day, informing the way I mother, I sister, I woman.
My deepest prayer, the prayer I work for and wake for with every breath is that I make you proud. And bring you joy.

Sisters, who is today for in your life? Whose (imperfect) energy, sacrifice, and love make it possible for you to be the woman you are on this day of women? Tell me about an unsung woman who shaped you. Tell me about your Wilmas.

Love,

Regena Thomashauer, aka “Mama Gena”
The School of Womanly Arts

Regena is a feminist icon, a teacher, a speaker, a mother, a best-selling author, and creatrix and CEO of The School of Womanly Arts.

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