On an August afternoon 36 years ago, my world flipped upside down. I was 27, mother to a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old. My college career was on hold while my husband considered a graduate degree. But that wasn’t going to happen because on this one August day a deadly accident terminated our dreams. This accident killed my husband, and I stood in the desert wind unsure how I would move forward and care for my children.
My part-time secretarial job would not support a mortgage or any expense native to raising a family. A counselor suggested that I apply for food stamps to help me make ends meet. I looked at this well-meaning person and replied, “On my friggin’ deathbed.”
I don’t take charity. Adversity is just another noun. You see, I lean to the warrior woman side of feminine behavior.
Is my reaction genetic, learned, or natural? My guess is it’s a combination of all three, plus a few unnoted adjectives.
While my warrior woman ways barely match those of Queen Boudicca or Joan of Arc—iconic warrior women—it is my resilient survivor’s shield that maneuvers me through the battlefield.
But what if, just what if, on that day in 1977, I pitched my warrior’s shield because the battlefront was bigger than me? What if I never developed a sense of self? What if a high school diploma eluded me? What if I was pregnant before I was ready to raise a child? What if society shoved me aside? What if I wasn’t white? What if I collapsed into a victim’s hell? And what if there was no obvious escape from this nightmare?
Even worse, what if I lived in a nation without compassion and empathy? What if the samurais of caring for others fell upon their own swords? What if a crusade against the weak was the new conquerors’ medal of honor?
I wonder if my sad August day in 1977 was this August in this new century when the words “poor,” “unfortunate,” and “in-need” were my words and I would spiral into defeat by indifference and false piety?
MSN Money reports: “For the nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty—the most in more than half a century—getting a meal on the table isn’t easy. One in seven now receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, better known as food stamps, but that barely covers the necessities. By the end of the month, foods such as peanut butter and pasta become a main course for many on assistance, half of whom are children.”
How does this happen? How did America’s need to feed its citizens grow to nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty that now includes recent veterans, college graduates, and once-middle-class families in suburbia? Plus, there is a partisan divide to fund the feeding of our own citizens. This is breathtaking in every possible aspect. The warrior woman inside of me says this is wrong because a true warrior stands tall in her heels for those harnessed by misfortune—especially those of her gender.
And it is the gender gap in the sad statistic of American poverty: “… women were about twice as likely as men (23 percent vs. 12 percent) to have received food stamps at some point in their lives. … Minority women in particular are far more likely than their male counterparts to have used food stamps … white women are about twice as likely as white men to receive food stamp assistance (19 percent vs. 11 percent),” states a recent Pew Research Center report.
Essentially, USDA stats say that more than “47 million people in the United States now rely on food stamps. That’s about 15 percent of the population, or one in seven Americans. Of those, 47 percent are children under 18, and 8 percent are seniors,” explains a Washington Post report.
Concurrent to hunger, urban food deserts, and the taking of the sword to food stamp allotments, food prices blast higher daily (consider climate change, reduced farm land, population growth, and rising energy and fertilizer costs). What does it say that it’s cheaper for a struggling mother of two children to buy five instant ramen cup noodles for $1 at a dollar store than a fresh cucumber at a supermarket? For one, it means her children will eat more refined carbohydrates, fat, sodium, and polysyllabic chemical additives and less fresh salads.
“With the exception of a few items like beans and potatoes, many of the cheapest grocery offerings are highly processed foods packed with health advocates’ maligned trinity of salt, sugar, and fat,” writes The Atlantic.
To my way of thinking, this pattern reduces any warrior woman’s capacity to stand her ground. But maybe this yell to cut food stamp funds is a strategic move, like sexualized violence in wartime. Too strong of an analogy? I wonder.
Fortunately, women with warrior tendencies are back. I find them leading spiritual movements—as reporters, activists, artists, poets, conference organizers, think tank leaders, gardeners, nuns, teachers, corporate heads, scientists, rescuers, volunteers and even politicians. These warriors don’t carry guns. They pack ideals aligned with every great thinker ever quoted: the passion of caring for others.
I barely compare to so many warriors of my gender. Still, in my way, I’ll confront all injustices until I’m on my friggin’ deathbed.
Charmaine Coimbra lives in Cambria. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.