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Girls On Fire

March 15, 2013

I received so many comments to my first International Women’s Day post last year that months ago I was already thinking about what I wanted to say this year (Who Runs the World) . A lot has happened since last March 8th I planned to write about the experiences of the refugee women I worked with this past year, the fact that we now have a host of premiers in Canada who are women, and my own unexpected experiences since becoming a “Mrs.” I even picked out a name for the post: Girls on Fire, in honour of Alicia Key’s song that continues to motivate me every time I hear it.

But as the date drew nearer things seemed to be unravelling for women everywhere. If I was going to title my post Girls on Fire it had to be positive but how was I going to do that with the current state of things? My enthusiasm started to unravel right around the time of the news of Reeva Steenkamp’s killing in South Africa (BBC News) and the subsequent articles on the gravity of the issue of Femicide in South Africa. As my husband and I sat reading the paper one morning he turned to me and said, I can’t believe this; it says ¼ of South African women have been raped Globe and Mail Article on Femicide. I told him, the saddest part about that fact is that it is actually better than the global average (1/3 of the world’s women)UN Stat .

Reeva Steenkamp memorial phpto, courtesy of Google images.

Reeva Steenkamp memorial photo, courtesy of Google images.

About a week later I was up early one morning and started thinking about my post again. I turned on CBC to listen while I got dressed. The host was talking about how excited he was for the NASCAR race that weekend because it was the first time a woman (Danica Patrick) had won the pole position to lead the pack. This was a good start…but then he added and because she isn’t hard to look at and then started laughing. Come on CBC! I have always held up CBC as a bastion of equality. If we still have these kind of comments on CBC, we are really in trouble.

Later that morning, I am waiting in line for the ski lift, and the guy working there says to me: Don’t worry darling, you look fine. I was actually thinking about how I could improve my turns, not what I looked like. But thanks for that. Jackass. I’m pretty sure that but for the ponytail sticking out of my helmet, he wouldn’t be making any comments on a snowboarder’s looks…or calling them darling.

Excuse me, could you just check my hair for me before I drop over this cliff?

Excuse me, could you just check my hair for me before I drop over this cliff?

I brush it off and head home for the night I have long been waiting for…the Oscars! You can guess what comes next…an entire evening of Seth Mcfarlane’s very special brand of culturally acceptable sexism, including everything from his original song “We saw your boobs” to jokes about Chris Brown’s history of domestic violence. It’s been a long day.

Monday morning I sit down to draft my post but Sunday’s events are still on my mind. I hear your thoughts, Lighten Up! They’re harmless jokes!

All these things can be referred to as EveryDay Sexism
A.K.A. parts of life that we’re all told to just get over. And for some women, it really may not bother them, but for others, it does. And the problem is not only is this “everyday sexism” harmful to many, it is also an indicator of just how far we still have to go towards true equal treatment in society.

It is not lost on me that I am posting my 2nd annual Women’s Day post a week after Women’s Day. I wasn’t being lazy and I didn’t forget. I sat down many times over the past couple weeks to draft it but just couldn’t find the inspiration. I tried everything, I tried discussing it with friends, I went to talks about it Half the Sky Lecture and read countless books and articles, all in an attempt to get re-energized about the status of women, it was a weeklong workshop in Women’s Rights at our house.

Part of the workshop’s required reading was Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook) new book Lean In . So much of what she said rang so true for me. Enough that I highlighted sections to read out loud to my husband in the evenings, this part of the curriculum was entitled Kevin’s feminist business indoctrination, and included rule-setting for our careers going forward. However, one of her anecdotes really made me see just how slow progress has been with women in the workplace: She tells a story of her mother graduating with an undergrad in 1965 and thinking she had two choices for a career: nurse or teacher. Some of you may have heard my mother tell a similar story about me, that when I was just old enough to talk (let’s say 1984) she asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I thought about it for a minute and answered: A teacher like my one grammie or a nurse like my other grammie. So she said: No, Allison, if you could be ANYTHING in the ENTIRE world when you grow up, what would it be? I hemmed and hawed and after a long pause said: I guess if I could be ANYTHING, I would be a Smurfette. She finishes the story by saying that I did end up as Smurfette, meaning that like Smurfette, I always ran where most, if not all the others, were boys (like being the only girl on a backcountry snowboard trip, or playing soccer during high school in South Africa when all the girls were expected to swim). It’s not that I wanted to be with the boys, it was just that often the girls were missing.

Nurse Smurfette, photo courtesy of Google images.

Nurse Smurfette, photo courtesy of Google images.

The point is that 2 decades and more than 2 generations apart – our initial reaction was the same, we had 2 career choices. Great ones, but it didn’t occur to us to consider any others, at least not at first. That is some slow progress.

Fuelled with inspiration after finishing Lean In last night I woke up this morning raring to go. Enough is enough, I am writing this post. I’ll just check the news first though. I had just gotten off the phone with my brother who is currently working on his Spanish skills, including immersing himself in Latino radio stations from Florida. Having admitted he didn’t understand the lyrics, he sent me a song from his newest favourite Latin artist (Y Yo Sigo Aqui by Paulina Rubio) (I admit the song is beyond catchy). I figured it couldn’t hurt to listen to it in the background while I perused the news. I clicked on the link …it was a beautiful Latina clad in a tiny bikini in bed with one man, and four other women, all lusting after him, singing, in a rough translation; I am still here, waiting for you, I will still be here waiting. Awesome. To give it a fair chance though I left it on in the background while I read the news headlines; Ex runner charged with Killing his Ex-Wife one headline read, I skip that one and go to the next, coverage of an Ohio trial of two teenage football players on trial for rape, including unbelievable details of a night of partying gone terribly wrong. I quickly clicked back to YouTube hoping for a miracle, but now all the ladies were rubbing up against the one guy in the ocean, they were still wildly waiting for him there too (ok another guy or two popped up in the water from time to time by this point). Between their excitement at waiting around for a man and the awful details of the news I felt my head begin to spin like I was in a whirlpool. What is happening? Is it still this bad? Am I going crazy? What can I do? In law, when nothing seems to make sense anymore you go back to the founding principles, the basics. How could I apply this rule here? I know! As I steadied my ever-dizzier self against the wall with one hand I used the other to type G-L-O-R-I-A-S-T-E-I-N-E-M into Google – if anyone knows about the status of women’s progress, it is Gloria Steinem , one of the founders of the modern women’s movement.

The approach worked, I quickly found a recent interview she did with HardTalk It addressed the very question of the current status of equality between the sexes; when asked whether she felt the same urgency as she did for the women’s movement in the 1970s, her answer was more. So there we have it. The good news is I’m not going crazy. The bad news is the struggle is more needed than ever.

So although the progress is slow, at least it’s there and let this year be a reminder to us that we need to keep going. Thank you to the Alicias, the Sheryls, and the Glorias of the world for inspiring us to be Girls (and Boys) on Fire.

Smurfette girls can do anything

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