Celebrating the unsung heroine
2018 is the centenary of the British suffrage movement, and walking through the streets of London, I feel I’m constantly reminded of this significant historical era.
From suffragette-themed tours at the Museum of London to posters in the windows of Waterstone’s bookshops, the legendary stories are sung with joy of how Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison and their peers used radical tactics of protest, civil disobedience and hunger strikes to win an equal voice for women. Hearing many of these stories for the first time, I felt moved and amazed.
Naturally, I also started to think about the heroines in Chinese culture who paved the way for a young girl like me to live with confidence and independence today.
After some deep reflection, I must admit that the two ladies who have inspired me the most are my grandma and mom.
My grandma was born in 1932, as the fourth child in a poor rural family of 13. She lived at a time when basic food and medicine were scarce, and education was a luxury for most rural girls. Harsh living conditions encouraged her to develop emotional maturity and learn critical life skills at an early age.
For instance, at the age of 8, she endured the grief of watching her 2-year-old sister die in her arms from illness. Hiding away her broken heart and sad tears, she knew that her priority in that moment was to comfort her mother and take care of her younger siblings.
In 1941, after much pleading, her parents finally allowed her to attend classes at a primary school. She said those years were the best memories of her life, despite the physical demands.
After class every day, grandma would rush home to help with the cooking, cleaning and laundry, and to play with her younger siblings. It was only after putting her siblings to bed every evening that she could finally spare some moments to review her classroom notes and complete her homework.
Although grandma received no formal education beyond primary school, she never allowed that to limit her career. She later became an accountant in a factory and gradually learned the skills of the trade from long evenings of selfstudy and from watching older workers.
By the time my mom was born, in 1964, China’s standard of living and educational resources for girls had much improved.
Still, university was only available to a fraction of the population, so, after high school, at age 17, my mother started her first job, also as an accountant.
She treated every task with Cecily Liu incredible dedication and hard work. She was often the first to arrive and the last to leave, but never asked for any extra pay for her overtime. In fact, she was working in the office just as normal hours before she gave birth to me. Two months after giving birth, her boss asked her to cut short her maternity leave because work needed her, and she happily complied.
Away from the office, mom looked after my father and me with devotion and love. She attentively nursed my father for years during an illness. During the years when my parents lived in an eightsquare-meter apartment with a single bed, she insisted that her husband sleep on the bed, even when she was pregnant with me.
Growing up, I watched how my grandma and mom pursued their dreams with perseverance and wisdom.
They have never called themselves suffragettes or feminists; in fact, I don’t think they even know what those words mean. Instead, they embraced life’s opportunities with enthusiasm and willingly made sacrifices for the people they love.
Living in the multicultural city of London, I feel that perhaps every woman around me has heroines in their own hearts, who they admire and draw inspiration from. Siva Sankar