Next week is International Women's Week. I wrote the following for inclusion in our campus union newsletter, in response to a call for articles on inspiring women:
Many years ago, when I was a student here at Vanier, I wrote an item for the school newspaper, The Phoenix, about REAL Women. For those who may not recognize the group, REAL Women (Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life) is an “alternative” women’s group that primarily champions women’s right to be stay-at-home mothers – a noble cause, certainly, but at the time I was writing, the group’s language was a lot more controversial, and their message included condemnation of women who chose to work, pursue higher education and challenging careers, or engage in oral sex, among other grievous sins.
My response then, as it is now, is that women like my mother – who, at the tender age of 23 found herself a single parent, in a country an ocean away from her family – are the real women that inspire me. My mother worked full-time to support me, and even after she met and married my step-father, she continued to work, because she loved her job (she retired more than a little reluctantly a few years ago). She was a driving force in my education, and encourages my sister and me to pursue our careers with all our passion. Of course she loves our husbands and her grandchildren, but she has never suggested – because it would never occur to her – that we’re doing any disservice to our families by exploring life outside the domestic sphere.
I have learned in recent years that my mother’s extraordinarily progressive philosophy is genetic. My grandmother, born shortly after the First World War, left school at 14 to earn a living and help support her family, which she did for eleven years before she married my grandfather. After her six children were all in school, she went back, finished high school, and got her teacher’s license, and taught elementary school until she retired at 63, the mandatory age at the time. She’s still going strong at 87, living on her own, playing competitive bridge and taking the occasional cruise around the Mediterranean.
Shortly after they were married, my grandfather said to my grandmother “Mary, our family has always voted Labour, and now that you’re in the family, you will too.” My grandmother’s reply? “Edward, women like Emmeline Pankhurst didn’t starve themselves and chain themselves to railings so you could have two votes.” She never did vote Labour, either.
There are so many inspirational women around the world, making changes and leading extraordinary lives – but I am most inspired by, and most thankful for, my Mum and my Gran.
Happy International Women's Week.