Mary Sutherland’s book, Claim Your Self, is reissued


RIP, Mary Sutherland, a longtime Glen Arbor resident, teacher, feminist and champion for gender equality, who was perhaps best known as the matriarch of a large entrepreneurial, athletic, and public-spirited clan that has had an outsized impact on Leelanau County and the Grand Traverse region. Here is F Josephine Arrowood’s story we published just over a decade ago on the occasion of Mary reissuing her self-help book “Claim Your Self,” which was originally published in 1983. Mary passed away on Saturday, Jan. 28, at age 92, her son Bob, president of Cherry Republic, confirmed.


By F. Josephine Arrowood
Sun contributor

At age 82, Mary Waddell Sutherland has every right to rest on her considerable laurels. The longtime Glen Arbor resident taught high school in Detroit and later at Glen Lake Community Schools, returned to the classroom at Michigan State University to earn a master’s degree in women’s studies and communication arts, then went on to teach at Northwestern Michigan College. She gave assertiveness training and effective communication workshops, and spoke all over the state on these topics, as well as on gender-equality issues. She helped to develop the political careers of former Michigan lieutenant governor Connie Binsfeld and Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver, both of Glen Arbor. She cofounded the regional chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Women’s Resource Center in Traverse City, the Women Business Owners of Leelanau County, and the Women’s Political Caucus.

At the same time, she and her husband Dale were also raising their lively brood of five sons and a daughter. After his untimely death from cancer in 1980, she carried on as a single parent while still engaged in her many civic and professional causes. Today, largely retired, she is perhaps best known as the matriarch of a large entrepreneurial, athletic, and public-spirited clan that regularly moves and shakes the Grand Traverse region. But she still has a trick or two up her sleeve, as she showed this spring with the reissue of her 1983 self-help book Claim Your Self.

Sutherland’s treatise was an outcome of her intensive multi-career focus. It rode the crest of the Second Wave of feminism that had been building since Betty Friedan’s seminal 1963 work, The Feminine Mystique, as well as the self-help/human potential movements. The term self-esteem was frequently heard during that era, and perhaps should return to prominence in today’s “Age of Anxiety.” In fact, Sutherland cites it as “the key characteristic of successful communicators,” a solid foundation from which a person can speak truth about who you are, how you feel, what you think, and where you stand.

As the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? testifies, it’s the little things, like water-drop torture, that can cause the most damage over time. Little things, like not expressing feelings, needs, emotions, even opinions. The book’s vivid examples of real-life situations get the reader’s attention, and come to what the author believes are the logical conclusions to long-term patterns of ineffective communication rooted in self-esteem issues.

Assertiveness, Sutherland says, is neither contrary to politeness, nor a euphemism for aggression in human interaction. Rather than a stance against another, it is a stand for oneself, and, the author believes, able to be learned at any age, by anyone, man, woman, and child.

Earlier this year, her daughter-in-law Victoria, who (with husband Matt) publishes the Traverse City-based, nationally recognized book trades magazine ForeWord, as well as Health and Spirituality magazine, urged her to reissue the book, and eventually produced it through their The Box Books imprint. The country seems to be returning to socioeconomic issues that feminists had thought and hoped were moving toward resolution decades ago — like birth control, childbirth options, sexual assault in the military, gender-neutral wage equity (women currently earn an average of 77 cents to men’s one dollar, shockingly down from the 1970s, when NOW proponents famously wore buttons that read “79 cents”). As well, we as a culture are struggling to cope with the implications of new trends and issues, such as data connectivity, social media networking, and hyper-individualized consumerism – all of which, ironically, can provide many more chances for gaps and misunderstandings in real, meaningful communication between people.

Sutherland’s book doesn’t address these larger issues in depth, but offers no-nonsense tools to help the one person each of us is able to change and master: the self. For such a slender book, Claim Your Self speaks volumes about the core concept of self-esteem. It identifies the ways in which we may fail to notice or take the responsibility to develop this quality in our selves if it hasn’t been instilled in childhood. It suggests ways to deal with aggressive people, manipulators, and other kinds of bullies, and supports the notion that each step taken to reclaim the self will help to reinforce the new, more effective communication and connectedness we need. Most of all, it offers hope that learning to say what we need, learning to act in a different way can lead to more enjoyment in life, manifesting in unexpected and diverse places as relationships of all kinds, work opportunities, new avenues of study and overall growth.

Like the stalwart woman who wrote the book nearly 30 years ago, Claim Your Self has come a long way. Yet it remains true to Sutherland’s core belief that every one has value, everyone needs to be heard and understood.