Keeping On

I was reading the words of wise women today in honour of International Women’s Day, March 8 as I sit with pen and paper to record my thoughts. The internationally recognized day has mostly been a day of celebration, though the day has been marked with protests demanding positive change and for the focus on equality to be strengthened. March 8 has been the designated day since 1914. The United Nations didn’t climb on the bandwagon until 1975.
I think how far we’ve come in terms of women’s rights and some days it feels inspiring and on other days it feels like less distance has been covered, as we march and live and strive for equal rights around the planet. Seeing Harvey Weinstein marched off to prison for 23 years, a shrivelled and pathetic man, felt significant to me. Mr. Weinstein thought he was invincible for 30 years; thought he could use people in any manner he chose. It took a woman holding up her hand to say enough, with 80 women lining up behind her, before a warning was sent to those in powerful positions to use that power thoughtfully and wisely. That isn’t an argument for a war between genders, but rather a reminder of the need for decency and integrity, that gets lost far too often. I struggle with the thought of those individuals who knew what was going on, who enabled Mr. Weinstein in many circumstances. A man doesn’t get away with such behaviour for that length of time without people close to him knowing and without them playing an active role in it. We let ourselves off the hook far too often, when we look away from an act which we know is wrong, uttering to ourselves it’s not my problem, as if that is some sort of acceptable defense.
“I am Generation Equality,” was this year’s voice on International Women’s Day. I was blessed to grow up in a home where gender was invisible, where my mother was a strong leader in her profession and my father believed I could do anything I set my mind to. There was no talk of can’t at the supper table, no gossip, no maligning the lives of others. Lead by example was the order of the day. “Run faster,” my father said. “Jump higher. Use this hammer. Change this tire. Drive this tractor,” because my sister and I were his children first, his daughters second. He didn’t make any distinction between the two of us and our brother. “You can do it,” was all he said.
My focus today is on those who inspire, those who lead, those who blaze trail for us and often that blazing happens in a quiet, gentle way, right next door. We are inspired on a grand scale by those we hold in high regard, celebrities who use their wealth and voice to change the world. But the voices we hear and the actions we see next to us, on our street, in our neighbourhoods have greater impact on me. I think of Annie still splitting and hauling wood almost up to her last day, who could raise a .22 to her shoulder to protect her just-about-ripe corn from masked marauders; Annie who never stood in judgment of a single person. I think of Angie who spoke up against any wrongdoing while we were growing up, no matter the size, her voice immediate and certain, not fearing criticism; a natural leader, my father called her. I think of Lor and Susie and Janey, the Sisu Team, my strong supportive loving network who make me laugh and feel loved every day. I think of my daughters who live by a code of kindness, who are fierce but gentle leaders.
Though we mark a single day to be reminded of where we have come from, it is really more of a map, a reminder to keep on keeping on.
wendistewart@live.ca

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