Being a feminist mother means doing the hard shit. Lynn Beisner shares the harrowing incident that made her willing to do whatever it takes.
Trigger warning: Article includes descriptive scenes of an injured animal. If you’re an animal lover like us, just be prepared.
I became a feminist because God did not keep his end of a rather simple bargain I had made with him. I was willing to suffer the indignities and abuse of being less than a person, of being a will-free person, but God had to understand that I could not watch a child of mine go through the same thing. So we struck a deal. I would stay “complementarian” (the religious term for making women less than fully human), a sweetly submissive wife. But in return, all of my children would have to be sons.
So on the night that my first child, a daughter, was born, I gave up on godly womanhood. But becoming a feminist proved harder. I knew little about it, and what little I did know seemed to conflict with my role as mother. I struggled with the conflict for years until it was resolved by something horrible that happened to my daughter when she was in her early teens.
My daughter, Kassie, had spent the night at my mother and step-father’s home. They lived in the same rural county as we did, so she could catch the bus to her middle school just by standing at the end of the long lane that was my parent’s driveway. My daughter had no sooner gotten to the end of the long driveway that morning when she discovered that there right beside her bus stop was a deer who had been hit by a car. It was gravely injured and bellowing in pain. My daughter ran back to the house and begged her grandfather to come down and put the deer down to save it from an further suffering. But my step-father decided he couldn’t afford the cost of a shot-gun shell; he was saving all that he had in case a snake crossed his property, or a homosexual came sauntering by. My parents are not that poor, but my step-father simply could not be bothered. My daughter cried and pleaded with him to please put the deer out of its misery. Instead, he ordered my daughter to go back out and stand at that bus stop, next to that deer dying in excruciating pain, and wait until the bus came. Twice she went back to plead for help, and each time she was turned away more harshly.
The bus was late that day, so my daughter endured more than 20 minutes of some of the worst psychological torture I could imagine for an empathic animal lover. The deer’s gut had taken most of the blow, so it was suffering the excruciating death of an abdominal injury. Its legs thrashed with pain, and its bowels and bladder would let loose as it lapsed into unconscious. Each time she would think it was dead, but it would quickly regain consciousness and the waves of agony would cause it to scream and claw at the ground mindlessly again. To this day, she cannot forget the eyes of that deer as he suffered a cruel and torturous death and they haunt her dreams. When the bus finally pulled up, the gruesome scene and my daughter’s hysterical grief traumatized an entire busload of children.
My step-father may have been the soulless bastard who refused to put a suffering animal out of its misery or spare his granddaughter and her schoolmates that trauma, but my mother is the person who stood by and let him do it. She would not defy him because she is not a feminist. And because she is not a feminist she has been unable to perform the most basic role of mothering: protecting children.
When my daughter told me what had happened to her that day, I was incredibly grieved and concerned for her. But in the days and weeks that followed, as I mulled it over, something inside of me shifted causing the tension between motherhood and feminism to vanish.
Why? Here is what a feminist mother would have done: She would have ignored her husband’s orders, made sure my daughter was somewhere safe and comforting, taken the shotgun and killed the deer herself. Had she been unable to get his firearm away from her husband, she would have collected the sledge hammer from the garden shed, hauled it down that very long driveway, and knelt beside that deer. She would have cried, looked him in the eye and told him how sorry she was for his suffering and that she was there to make his pain end. Then she would have raised that sledge hammer and used every ounce of strength in her body to bring it down on his skull. After making sure the animal was finally at peace, she would have made sure that her granddaughter had the kind of comfort and support she needed and covered the body with a tarp so that the kids on the bus would not have been traumatized.
We have told women that they can “have it all”—fulfillment in their work and home lives. I am here to say something different. I am here to tell you that being a feminist mother means doing the really hard shit. It means marching your ass down the driveway and delivering the mercy blow to an injured deer when that is what is needed. It also means that we march our asses into the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies and into the legislative and executive offices of government and we put this poor miserable patriarchy out of its misery. We do it not because we are power-hungry or money-hungry or man-haters. We do the really hard shit of bringing meaningful equality to our boardrooms and elected offices because we know that this is the way to make the world better for our children, and that is the “all” that feminists really want.
Note: Kassie, not her real name, gave her permission for me to tell her story. Readers should also know that in our rural, southern county, there is no one to call to care for injured wildlife. You either end the animal’s suffering yourself, or it dies horribly over a matter of hours.