Wondering Where the Lions are…

Condoleezza Rice, former United States Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, former United States Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice once said: ” My father was a feminist from the day I was born. There was nothing his little girl couldn’t do.”

I think perhaps we had the same father. Well, not really, but my Dad certainly felt the same about me. I remember once saying to him ‘I can’t’. It wasn’t over anything stellar or life altering…in fact, I don’t remember what my proclamation ‘I can’t ‘  was about. I just remember his response. “Yes. You can. You just don’t want to. There’s a difference.”

I don’t think it ever dawned on my father that perhaps I really couldn’t, or wouldn’t be able, to do something. He just assumed….and believed….I could do anything. Whether it was optimism, his naivety, or  just a simple belief in his daughter, I’ll never know, but  thankfully, I took it to heart.

There was a time in my twenties where I had the ridiculous, and limiting, thought that I didn’t want to be anyone’s ‘token’ anything. I was asked to be the first woman to sit on a certain provincial board, and I knew it was because there was pressure for the government at the time to be more inclusive of women. My pride almost got the most of me, until I realized that the only way I could have any influence  was from the inside out. After giving my head the proverbial shake, I accepted the position and the challenge.

There have been many, many challenges since. Listing to inappropriate jokes at many a boardroom table (told, in some cases, I am sure to see me squirm), being called dear; sweetheart; toots; and babe as if I hadn’t clearly introduced myself, or enunciated my name.

Having cuss words, that would have embarrassed my Dad, thrown at me during contract negotiations with multi-national companies; hugs where handshakes would have been far more professional and appropriate; and propositions that would make a ‘working gal’ blush. Hell, I remember when I ran for City Council, hearing a now sitting Senator discussing the candidates attributes, and when my name came up he said, “Now there’s an attractive woman”. WHAT????

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I wanted to burst into tears and run from the room. More often than not though, I wanted to grab some hulking misogynistic idiot and spit in his eye. Instead of doing either, I developed a few quick,  sharp ‘put ’em in their place’ quips that usually garnered a better reaction that either of the first two would have. This resulted in a definitive shift. All of a sudden I was no longer ‘babe’, but rather, that cold, calculating bitch. That butch feminist nazi…oh yes, I heard it all…mostly second hand, as none of them had the courage to say it to my face.

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Let me set the record straight. I ‘get’ that men, especially in some workplaces, are terrified to say a simple thing like ‘You look nice today’ for fear of having a sexual harassment charge slapped against them.  Women have to get over ourselves and determine when a man is just being pleasant and when he’s being an ass. And men need to learn that when a woman says thank you and smiles at a pleasantry, it doesn’t mean she’s ready to be groped.

Things, for me ,did improve over the years and eventually I think I gained a lot of respect from a lot of people. I never backed down and I never quit. The plight of women my age was nothing compared with a generation before us, but we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, we women can be our own worst enemies sometimes. Belittling and judging one another for the most asinine reasons.

It’s easy to dismiss issues facing women in Canada as ‘whining’ and ‘bitching’ when it isn’t you facing the challenges. Yes, we have laws that demand pay equality, but they don’t cover the private sector. Yes, we are far better off than many countries in our treatment of women, generally speaking. However, there are still sectors in Canada where women are marginalized.

Being a feminist isn’t about hating men. It isn’t about thinking that women who chose to stay home and raise children are ‘less than’. It isn’t about looking up to the female doctor while looking down at the female store clerk.

Being a feminist is about equality in all facets of our lives. It is about challenging the status quo. It’s about speaking up for those that can’t….or won’t. It’s about eradicating fear. It’s about establishing, and then protecting , the economic, social and political rights of women from all walks of life. It means defending the right of one woman to be a stay at home mother without judgement as surely as defending the right of the young Aboriginal woman to become a lawyer, also without judgement.

We don’t have to agree with someone else’s choice. We just need to guarantee their right to make that choice and be respectful of it.

So go ahead, call me what you will….but I’d be most flattered if you called me a feminist. In my life, that’s a compliment. And my Dad would be approve too.

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