In Praise of Grandmothers: Golda, Hillary, and Aly

When I first read that Aly Raisman was being called “Grandma” by her newly anointed U.S. Olympic 2016 Gymnastics team, it gave me pause. She’s just 21. Certainly, she could qualify for that title in The World According to Trump, but I had to wonder…doesn’t it irk just a bit?

Before I continue, full disclosure, I was a gymnast mom. So, when Aly won the Gold in 2012 performing her routine to the tune of Hava Nagila, there were excited screams and triple aerials happening in my household.

In looking at this more closely, in interview after interview, Aly expresses incredible pride in the insight, strength of mind, and overall confidence her experience gives her. It seems, for her, winning is really a mental endeavor. The practice, conditioning, preparation are all just by-products of her psychological ambition and determination.

Like Letty Cottin Pogrebin, when contemplating leadership, I can’t help but be drawn to examine Golda Meir. Golda was a force to be reckoned with. She nearly singlehandedly and against all odds raised the funds to birth the State of Israel.

By the time Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel, she had acquired a tremendous depth of professional experience, having already quite successfully held high-ranking positions in government. But in a fascinating turn of events, when she became PM, she was adopted by the country as their adored grandmother-leader.

Now, for the the first time in history, America could likely elect a grandmother to be president. Similar to Golda, Hillary brings unparalleled  qualifications and expertise.

And, probably even more than Golda, Hillary is quite serious about her personal role as grandmother to Charlotte, and decidedly more invested in public policies that benefit women and children more respectfully and equitably. Moreover, she makes a strong case as to why these are essential for a growth economy.

To understand just how much a priority this is to Hillary Clinton, one need only look at her first major campaign speech from a year ago when she unveiled her economic platform. Hillary’s focus was summed up in three topics: Strong Growth, Fair Growth, and Long-term Growth. Toward the end of her powerful and serious speech Hillary referenced a poetic proverb:

“I confess, maybe it’s the grandmother in me, but I believe that part of public service is planting trees under whose shade you’ll never sit…”

American Jews can’t help but relate to that image. When I was growing up, the Jewish National Fund charity box was ubiquitous. Everyone loved giving and receiving the gift of a tree planted in Israel. This has long been part of the essential bond between American Jews and Israel.

Over a year of mind boggling tweets and comments from Donald Trump has since passed. Hillary just dropped a brand new ad where we watch children listening to Donald Trump’s campaign promises of bullying, violence, and hatred.

In the ad she insists, “Our children and grandchildren will look back at this time, at the choices we are about to make, the goals we will strive for, the principles we will live by. And we need to make sure that they can be proud of us.”

In the same news cycle, Donald Trump posed for a picture with his grandson, but…that’s it. We know he’s not feeding or changing him. He’s not personally seeing to his development. It’s the equivalent to an air kiss.

In my exploration of the nature of grandmothers, I became entranced with ‘The Grandmother Hypothesis’ put forth by Kristen Hawkes, a Distinguished Professor in Anthropology at the University of Utah.  Basically, her studies in life history evolution demonstrate that grandmothers are responsible for evolutionary patterns such as greater life longevity, larger brains in grandchildren and future generations, and greater social capabilities including capacity for cooperation.

These studies involved living with Hunter-gatherers in East Africa about thirty years ago, and later expanded to a simulated evolution of pre-historic apes. Hawkes and her colleagues made international news with their findings.

Post-menopausal females were extraordinarily valuable. They gathered food necessary for their grandchildren, allowing their daughters to wean and reproduce more children. Their grandmothering and care allowed the children to remain children longer, which resulted in improved neurological development, ie. increased brains.

By contrast, despite long held assumptions about Hunter-gatherers, men’s hunting was aimed more at status competition than at providing sustenance for mates and offspring. In my brief exchanges today with Professor Hawkes, who has a marvelous sense of humor, she made clear she was not going to weigh in on any possible parallels to the current elections or political process.

I’m neither scientist nor anthropologist, but I couldn’t help but see an exquisite connection between Aly’s willingness to mentor, Golda’s zealous dedication to building the State of Israel, and Hillary’s lifelong passionate intent to create a more just and prosperous society, with a view toward future generations…and the grandmothers throughout time who ‘planted trees’ for all of us and those who are to come. I hope that this summer and fall, we’ll all be celebrating the generous triumph of grandmothers.

For a decent understanding of The Grandmother Hypothesis, there are many articles. I liked this one in The Smithsonian Magazine.

About the Author
Dana is a Jewish feminist, writer and poet. She is passionate about her daughter, love, kindness, spirituality, the artist's voice, and speaking out for the vulnerable. She lives in Music City, Nashville, TN.
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