A woman’s worth: lessons my grandmother taught me

By: Jamie Leigh Broten

Photo by Lyrics Otto.
Photo by Lyrics Otto.

“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.” -Diane Mariechild


Strong. Empowered. Kind. Generous. These are just four of the words that come to mind when I think of my grandmother, Nannette.

From a young age, she was a woman I always looked up to and wanted to be like. She taught me what it means to be a self-sufficient and strong woman.

The world we live in does not give free handouts to anyone, regardless of their gender. Feminism to me is about taking control of your own life and being ready for anything. If women want to be seen as equal, hard work is necessary; we need to show our strengths, not be ashamed of them or hinder them in any way.

My grandmother had four children by 1970, and by 1972 she was one of the first of many women to put away her apron and become empowered enough to get a divorce.

She has never said so, but I think she has always wanted more for me than to be a housewife. After her divorce, she went on to get a bank loan as a single woman on her own and bought a home through hard work as a bartender and waitress; in high heels, which I think is worth mentioning.

She became a black belt in karate to learn how to defend herself. She started her own business and eventually she did remarry when the time was right for her.

“Never let a man hold you back,” is something I heard frequently growing up; not always in the same words, not always with words at all. Sometimes, only with a tone of voice or an expression on her face.

I think the worry that I won’t attain my full potential plagues my grandmother, like the genetic disposition to all mothers and their offspring. If for whatever reason I don’t, I think she would rather see it done by my own hand than giving up everything for a man.

After my boyfriend, Jerry, moved away she asked me frequently how the relationship was going. Were we still together? Was I was going to move back home?

“Of course not,” I would say. “I love him, but I won’t change my dreams for him.”

She has taught me an array of life lessons. Hearing the words “it hurts to be beautiful” is one of my earliest memories with a hairbrush running through my hair, untangling deep knots attained through children’s play.

“You never know if you are going to run into the man of your dreams, or your worst enemy,” my grandmother said. “Always look your best.”

I never grasped the importance of these words until adolescence came upon me. I quickly learned the importance of matching outfits and what it feels like not to be the top competitor for the opportunities I wanted.

This isn’t to say that my grandmother feels that we should all be “pretty” but that we should never make less of ourselves. No sweatpants in grocery stores, and never leaving the house without our hair brushed. Always be the best candidate for any job, always keep opportunity in sight, and be ready for anything that may come our way. We can’t win everyone over, but we can look good doing it and be our best. After all, why be anything less than our full potential?

Horses were also a large part of my adolescence with my grandmother. I learned life lessons and developed a sturdy work ethic by learning how to clean stalls, brush horses, and of course ride with ease. If you ride a horse, you brush them first. Clean their stalls, and earn the experience through hard work. Once on the horse, you communicate and praise the animal. Only through communication can you gain control, and ride with ease and grace. If you fall off, you get right back up again. Sometimes, we may fall. Success can be elusive, but there is nothing worse than not trying all.

You could label my grandmother and I feminists, and I don’t think either of us would ever be ashamed of that word. She is strong and capable and insisted I always be my best self and that I never give up. If I ever have children of my own, I will do the same with pride.

The lessons I have learned and her continuous support make me a better person every day. I will wear the accomplishments of my grandmother on my sleeve and keep learning from them; she is, in its truest form, exactly what it means to me to be a woman with grace.


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