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Social Influence: the doom of empowerment

February 29, 2008

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Social Influence: the doom of empowerment

As I look back over major decisions I have made in my life, I see a pattern that clearly displays how I have allowed others to influence those decisions. It is one thing to seek guidance or advice, and an entirely different scenario to allow undue social influence to determine a final decision that affects the rest of one’s life.

My first major, life-altering decision came at the tender age of sixteen. I was raised in a lower-middle class family, of which I was the black sheep in that I was an over-achiever. I was never content to idly sit by and accept my lot in life. I taught myself to quit stuttering the summer between fifth and sixth grade after being humiliated by the class bully. I competed for and won a spot on the cheerleading squad in Middle School despite being told “poor kids” were not good enough to belong to such an elite group. And I successfully stood up against the orders of the high school principal who informed me I would have to either give up the honor of being elected Homecoming Attendant for my class or my “hood” of a boyfriend, and proudly had him escort me to the homecoming dance while wearing my Junior Homecoming Attendant sash. You would think a girl who had the strength and moxie to overcome so many obstacles early in life would not have crumbled so quickly to undue social influences. But in 1968, when a “good girl” became pregnant, social proprieties had to be met and an immediate wedding had to be planned.

My first husband never asked me to marry him, and I never said yes. In fact, only the week before I discovered I was pregnant, while at the prom with my “hood” of a boyfriend and soon to be husband, my best friend and I discussed how we were going to breakup with our boyfriends after their senior graduation parties were over. We would have ended our relationships sooner but there was the prom, and everyone already had dates, and then of course there were all the graduation parties. We both may have been dumb enough to get pregnant by age sixteen, but we certainly were not going to miss the main social events of high school. However, once the “preggy” bomb was dropped, neither John nor I considered we had a choice in whether we were going to enter into matrimonial bliss. Our mothers got together, planned the church wedding, and made sure we both showed up.

Uncharacteristic for him, my father did lovingly come to me the night before my wedding day to assure me I did not “have to get married.” And for a split second I considered not getting married. Even as naïve as I was, I knew neither John nor I truly loved each other. And I knew I really did not want to marry him. I wanted to graduate the next year and go to college and become a lawyer. But, I was pregnant and what I wanted was no longer important. I still had the marks from the beating I suffered at the hands of my mother wielding a leather belt the night she found out I had “shamed the family.” My father was wrong, I had to get married. The social reality of 1968 loomed over my head and buried the empowerment he was offering.  

I have often thought about the “what would have been’s” had I had the courage to stand up against social influence. Shortly after I was married, the women’s movement gained strength and ever since much ado has been made about empowerment. The physical beating I encountered at 16, with the many emotional and psychological beatings I endured through twenty-two years of marriage, never allowed me to personally accept this empowerment until many years later.

I was 42 years old and complaining to my 20 year-old son about missing the opportunity to go to college. He listened for a few moments and then questioned why I didn’t go now. Feeling even more sorry for myself, I responded with, “ because I’ll be 50 before I get a degree.” He thought for a few more moments and very wisely responded, “But mom, in eight years you are going to be 50 anyways. It is your choice whether you will be 50 with a degree or 50 without a degree.” Choice?, I had a choice?

I had been thinking about going to college for several years. However, I allowed the social prejudices of the day that implied college was for the young, who had futures, to convince me I was too old. In one simple sentence, my son unknowingly set me free from years of accepting I was not worthy. I regained the strength it took to overcome stuttering and reclaimed the moxie it took to stand up against the snobs and bullies of higher social classes. I registered for college and five years later graduated summa cum laude. A little bit of empowerment goes a long, long way.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2008 2:21 am

    ..that’s indeed empowerment..congrats that you took the wise words of your son to heart…

    ~ Thanks for the visit and come back again.

  2. March 1, 2008 9:57 am

    Your son definitely grabbed empowerment along the way! What good advice! It’s never too late…

    ~ If I have learned one thing in this lifetime it is that it is never too late!

  3. March 1, 2008 10:43 am

    I agree. It is never to late to do anything. Your posts are always so refreshing to me.

    Thanks!

    ~ Thank you for the visit. I can not tell you how much it pleases to learn someone benefits from my scribblings!

  4. Paris Parfait permalink
    March 1, 2008 3:45 pm

    What a beautiful story of empowerment! Bravo!

    ~ Thank your for the visit and for the praise!

  5. March 1, 2008 5:50 pm

    Hmmm … seems like you raised a very wise son! How wonderful that you’re able to use his comment to free you from limited thinking and consider possible futures.
    Hugs and blessings,

    ~ Yes I have been very blesses by my son. No mother could have a better son. Thanks for stopping in for the visit.

  6. March 1, 2008 6:38 pm

    Ahhhhh, a time I remember so well old friend. It is amazing how the lack of empowerment created such a prison for women of that era. Some of us still carry a few bricks from the walls that have been torn down by the progressive thinkers like your son. Thanks for sharing your encouraging story.

    ~ Thank you visiting again today dear friend. Yes, those were the years. I am surprised people put up with me and my steadfast dedication to my school work. Jamie told me a while back that everyone soon learned I was serious about my grades and that nothing was going to get in my way. I think that was a compliment?! lol

  7. March 1, 2008 7:11 pm

    Congratulations! What an honor for your strength. An inspiring and empowering post, for sure! Love it!

    ~ Thank you for stopping in and for your kind words!

  8. March 1, 2008 8:53 pm

    Isn’t it wonderful when our children turn out smarter than us!?

    ~ Yes, I agree. It makes me think I did something right in raising my kids. LOL

  9. March 2, 2008 5:37 am

    “But mom, in eight years you are going to be 50 anyways ….

    You’ve got one clever son there. You should be proud – of him, and yourself!

    ~ Yes, wasn’t that the most simple but yet so insightful comment to make. And thank you for the visit and the praise.

  10. March 2, 2008 2:59 pm

    Out of the mouth of babes…our children teach us so much.
    What a powerful story! And a beautiful one to pass for generations of your bravery and inner strength.

    ~ thank you so much for the visit. I am so pleased you enjoyed a slice of my life.

  11. March 3, 2008 3:11 pm

    Oh, your story made me cry. That’s a wonderful success story! Indeed, it’s never too late. Your story is inspiring. I like the part when your son became your guiding voice and inspiration. That part is so touching. He is instrumental, but it’s still you who made the decision – who decided to win and made it happen.

    Congratulations!

    I wish you well.

    ~ Jeques

    ~ Thank you so much for stopping in for a visit. Yes, I have a very special son. He is a wonderful father and husband also. I can not imagine my life without him.

  12. March 3, 2008 5:52 pm

    Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! …you are empowering — well done! 😉

    ~ Thank you so much for the visit and the praise!

  13. March 4, 2008 9:56 am

    Thank you for sharing this. What a painful slice of your life, and yet you are overcoming! And I loved what your son said. I think I should hang that somewhere where I can see it to remind myself that I CAN do what I want, no matter what my age.

  14. greyscaleterritory permalink
    March 9, 2008 5:31 pm

    Love your son’s comment to you! It is so profound and earth shattering and annoyingly obvious!

    But seriously, life travels can be weighty, but from weight inner strength grows.

    A great post!

    Gemma

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