Written By Tahmina Rafaella - Tahmina Rafaella is an Azerbaijani writer based in Los Angeles. “Inner City”, a feature film written by her, is set to premiere in Azerbaijan in the spring of 2016. Her other credits include short films that premiered in various film festivals. She holds a degree in Film Studies and Creative Writing from Pepperdine University.
Thank You, Mama
a love letter to my mother.
“Be hard-working and receive an education so you can create your own living without having to depend on a man”.
These are the words that my mother kept repeating to me throughout my childhood. The words that I thought every woman repeated to her daughter. But I was wrong.
My mom and my father are best friends. They fell in love and got married in college, which was uncommon in the society they were born into, which is Baku, Azerbaijan. At a time when most marriages where arranged by the parents (not arranged in a way where they met on the day of the wedding, but subtly arranged nonetheless), or at least where equal social standing stood as a major factor in choosing a partner, my parents went against the current.
I want to tell you about my mother, a woman who still giggles like a school girl when she talks to my father on the phone and who also works her ass off every day as a successful businesswoman and educator. My father in return, shows her nothing but respect and love.
My mother always emphasized the importance of marrying someone who would be my best friend. I realized that not all parents slept in the same bedroom, and not all women were given the choice of marrying whoever they loved. But see, that’s what I grew up believing. And for that reason, I never sold myself short. I didn’t dream of my wedding dress, but I dreamt of a dress I would wear to some awards ceremony. I didn’t dream of being the envy of many women because of the man I’d marry, but I dreamt of being an inspiration for many women for following my dreams against the social norms of my society. I didn’t dream of Chanel purses being bought for me by some man, but I dreamt of holding that first big check I earned with hard work in my hands, which I would use to repay my parents for their support throughout the years. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to get married and start a family. I did, and I still do, but not as a way of establishing myself as an individual or as a valuable “asset” to my society. I will do it when I feel I’m ready and not because “It’s time”, or because that’s what I’m expected to do, but because I want to.
All these things, I grew up dreaming and believing because of my mother. Now, don’t me wrong. My father is the most loving, understanding and fantastic man there is. But it’s my mother that taught me the importance of loving myself and valuing myself as a woman. The society I grew up is different. It doesn’t perceive women as equal to men. It’s not that they disrespect them, it’s that they believe that a woman has to have certain values that need to stand above everything else in her life, only because she is a woman.
My mother did not teach me that women were above men. In fact she probably won’t identify herself as a feminist, but her actions speak louder than words. She simply taught me that women were just as capable of achieving their dreams and being independent as were men, we just had to work harder at it because that’s not what our society expected us to be. She never stood in the way of my dreams, even when they went against everything that my society stood for. I witnessed a friends mother blame her for being dumped by her boyfriend. She told her daughter, “Who’s going to marry you now? Everyone knows you two had a relationship”. In fact, “damaged goods” is a common term used in our society. The scariest part is that women use that term too. When a particular guy hurt me, my mother stood by me. I knew she was angry at him, even though it wasn’t all his fault that we weren’t right for each other. She was in fact, happy that we were no longer together. She knew my free spirit and heart wouldn’t be happy with a man that constantly expressed his jealousy for my friendships with guys or for my love for a profession that was public. She put my dreams above any man, and reminded me of this every day. She reminded me that the right man would stand by my side, no matter what. She reminded me to stay focused and not get off track. Me getting married was never a worry for her. When women approached my mother asking to set their sons up with me she would nicely let them know that I was not interested in marriage any time soon.
There are many examples that I could give to show how my feminist mother raised me to become a feminist myself. I didn’t receive any formal classes on this subject, nor did I witness this sense of equality with most of my acquaintances. But if we, as women, raise our daughters by leading as examples, we can make our girls understand that we all have a choice and we do not have to conform to the standards of our society. Now, of course, if you do want to be that, then by all means go ahead and be a housewife that obeys her husband and is home by six pm every night. In fact, I know many women who get a kick out of it, and they are perfectly happy with never experiencing the joy of receiving a paycheck earned by their hard work.
But make it a conscious choice and not a requirement in order to fit in, and for the love of God, teach your daughters and sons the same thing, and allow them to make their own choices in life just like my mother taught me, for which I am eternally grateful.
Thank you, mama. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
- by Tahmina Rafaella