My daughters will be the fifth generation of higher educated women. I know, we are extremely privileged when so many women are going to college for the first time. Since I am very proud of my ancestors, I want to share a bit about their incredible journeys. My great-grandmother graduated in Odontology in 1905 – one of the first females in Brazil! Her name was Guiomar, she was born in 1878, in my hometown of Rio de Janeiro, gave birth to four kids and passed very young, at 40. She set a matriarchy of very high grounds for me.
My grandmother Icléa was only seven years old when her mother died and was sent to a French Catholic boarding school. The nuns were so strict that the girls had to shower in night gowns and could never be naked. Twice a month, she and her younger sister would get their father’s visit. He would bring banana jam, but the nuns would confiscate it for themselves. Later on, when grandma got married to my grandpa, she made sure that every single day of her life she had some kind of fruit jam or sweet for dessert. Her house smelled of cooked plantains, guava purees, pineapple compotes and candied oranges.
Icléa took those extremely hard years in closure to study. She was very good at math and decided to raise the bar and study engineering. While she had only one other female colleague, my grandma managed to graduate in 1939, the year WWI started. She was so ahead of her time, and she never took it for granted. Twice in her life she was both the breadwinner and the caretaker: first when my grandpa (who was an OBGYN) lost one of his eye sights, and then when he got tuberculosis. She also took care of her siblings, all disgraced by some kind of misfortune.
I am so lucky to have had her as my grandma, she was the strongest woman I have ever met, and she dared to carry forward the matriarchy passed from her mother’s. Icléa gave birth to three girls: Marisa, a pianist; Ana Maria, an economist and Leda, a physician. All of them became PhDs or doctors with specializations in their fields.
My mom, Ana Maria, started in economics and became a professor and head of her department. She was the first single working mother of the family, juggling more balls than I can imagine, and adding yet another layer to what a woman can do. Mom has always been a role model, taking her career very seriously, demanding equal rights, but also giving it to men. She didn’t conform to rules, except for being a mother and a professional.
When the grandchildren were born, six girls, my grandmother repeated that we would all go to college. And we all did. An assortment of professions that I believe made her very proud. On holidays, Icléa’s house was always filled with ten women and my grandfather, who unfortunately passed away way too soon. A true matriarchy.
I never doubted that I should get higher education, never contested it – the opposite, I looked so much forward to it that I could not believe there was no proper Film school in Rio de Janeiro when it was my time to go to college (back in 1993). I got a Journalism degree, and later on specialized in screenwriting and creative writing – and both Iclea and my mom were there to see me holding my diploma in my cap and gown.
Now, my older daughter is in college, majoring in Filmmaking and minoring in Psychology. My younger will be starting next year. And yes, they will be the fifth generation of college kids! All I can think about is their great-great-grandmother smiling back at us for setting up such a solid path. Five generations of small yet powerful contributions to having equal rights in this society.
I believe education should be available to everyone, regardless of their culture, background, religion and specially gender. Some people prefer life-school, and that is completely fine if they have the option to also have academic training.
Today I want to pay tribute to all the women who fought for education before me. Not only in my family, but everywhere. They secured our place in higher instruction, brick by brick. As Malala Yousafzai put, “one child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.