The Big Question (and necessary preamble): Recently I was asked if I was a “Feminist”. In the past, I have shied away from answering this question because people have often equated Feminism with a radical view of male patriarchy, or “man hating”. It is important to remember that even “[r]adical feminism opposes patriarchy, not men. To equate radical feminism to man-hating is to assume that patriarchy and men are inseparable, philosophically and politically” (Lewis, 2017). In response to this direct question about my status as a Feminist, I answered very emphatically, “Yes, I am.” I was resolved and proud of my answer, and could tell that my confidence in answering her tempered her next comments, and eventually led to a change in topic. Yes, I believe that there is an egalitarian potential for women in Canada, and around the world. However, my hopes for this to be the case and to the degree that I believe that it should be possible, have been disappointed on too many occasions to ignore.
With this identification as a strong Feminist, I want to understand what this term really means to me. I remind myself and others stumbling across my article and reading my thoughts on this larger-than-life ideology, that I am clearly biting more off than I can chew discussing it. My narrative describing my experiences as an educated, middle-class, white, Canadian born female, may be similar and different than other women around the world. I do not want to spend my time devaluing my observations by trying to measure them as good or bad, big or little, and better or worse than other women (although I am pretty sure that on the big global scale of things, my concerns as a woman may appear to be relatively benign). Instead, there are simply some things in my lived experiences that warrant attention to impress upon people that there is a dialogue that needs to keep happening with and about women of all ages and ethnicities. We must start mentoring strong and capable girls so that they can grow into wonderful and wise women in whatever contexts that they live, work and have relationships.
A Definition: Feminism is a series of political and social movements, and ideologies “that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes” (Hawkesworth, 2006, pp. 25-27)). I am recognizing, as I get older, how enculturated I have been in a world where my very survival has depended on not only fitting in to society, but excelling within it. As a result, I consciously and unconsciously have ignored many examples of gender discrimination (some subtle, and some more overt).
As I became an adult in the 1980’s, I never really thought of myself as oppressed by patriarchy, per se; however, in retrospect, I see now that I was just keeping my head above water in a male oriented world. There were challenges to my achievement and success, and I was not always sure of how to navigate these subtle and sometimes invisible barriers that I kept bumping into. In my youth, I was not really aware of how nor did I really feel capable to challenge the social status quo. Being an eager and accommodating white, young (in my 20’s and 30’s), attractive and educated woman, allowed me considerable academic and professional access and success within my world of male leadership. Let me be clear. I was fortunate to have had and still have many very admirable and honourable male mentors in my life who sought/seek a climate of mutual respect in everything that they did/do. However, there were/are other people in my life (personal and professional) where my best interests as a woman (and a single woman for most of my life) were/are not always evident.
Growing Up Female: I started to wake up to my social realities when I had to grapple with important topics as a liberated, less-attractive, 40-something woman. It was not until I started to push at my own glass ceiling (as an academic; leader in my profession; writer and public speaker), that cracks about equality between me and the men (and some oblivious women) around me, started to show. When I started asking questions and making decisions for myself as an accomplished and confident older woman, I wondered why there were more uncomfortable moments, hesitations, snubs, stonewalling, and, in some cases, outright reprimands from people. What was happening? Was it me? I assume that this is a question women ask when these shifts in their relationships happen because they gain voice and agency in their lives.
Yes, it was me. I was starting to operate with the same rights and confidence as other strong men and women, speaking to people respectfully, but directly and assertively where necessary. My confident behaviour was not always respected nor appreciated by everyone. Interestingly, I found that younger men and women were more open to this type of frank conversation. They held less of a defensive filter of “who are you to tell me this (as a woman)?” and more of a feeling of “you are my boss/teacher/mentor. I respect you. I have a lot to learn.” Although I cannot generalize that all young people operate on a basis of gender equality, I have had some very positive experiences in my work with many. I have tried hundreds of approaches to best communicate as graciously as possible in my personal and professional lives, but the reality is that not all people respect my knowledge, truth or power, no matter how I deliver it.
All the Strong Women: Some incredibly strong and efficacious women before me fought for the human rights that set a softer social stage that I walk across now. Manifestations of this idea of Feminism through history that have been mobilized by many female (and male) writers, philanthropists, philosophers, suffragettes, abolitionists, pioneers, first-wave feminists, second-wave feminists, third-wave feminists, individual feminists, social feminists, international leaguers, councillors, activists, doctors, politicians, campaigners, business-women, editors, organizers, eco-feminists, anarcha-feminists, journalists, anti-pornography feminists, international volunteers, orators, women voters, lawyers and so many more. From Helen of Anjou, a Serbian Queen who was an establisher of women’s schools in the 1200’s through to Malala Yousafzai who is currently a 20-something Pakistani activist for female education, we have an extensive international community of strong women who have helped the cause of girls and women in history. They have helped our societies move from having limited female opportunities to being recognized for having more human rights around the world than before.
Basic human rights for women have taken awhile to achieve, but are still not always attainable nor sustainable. Why women are still treated like second-class citizens around the world, continues to puzzle me. Being able to… own property; keep custody of children; have children (reproductive rights); keeping female genitalia in tact; earn a living without permission; be free of domestic violence and marital rape entitlement; borrow money; work in various fields; attend certain schools and universities; attain certain credentials; publish writing; divorce and re-marry; be in certain buildings; attend certain meetings; drink in public establishments; drive a car, and the list goes on, have been hard earned rights forged by the women (and men) who believed and continue to believe that women were/are entitled to them (country specific). Why were these rights ever in question?
A Canadian Context: In my naïveté, the political and social struggles of Canadian women (my only context at the time) were essentially over in the 1980’s and 90’s, until I became a bit more educated and had greater life experience, and paid closer attention. It is always interesting that we do not understand the plight of the marginalized and disenfranchised until we walk a mile in these moccasins. A pivotal life conversation that I had with one of my professors, Dr. Ian Winchester at the University of Calgary (2008) prompted me to reconsider my gender malaise that I was safe and well in Canada as a woman. He reminded me that the rights of women in Afghanistan were gained and then lost, just as the significant rights of Canadian women have been earned only in the last 100 years. Imagine, he pointed out as well, how it was for women in minority classes and cultures, let alone the “privileged” (he referred to race and class). “Always pay attention. Never be complacent,” he reminded me. I came away from our meeting feeling that he was just a bit paranoid, but as this past decade has unfolded since that meeting, I am paying particular attention to his sage advice.
Confusing Questions: I started having more question than answers in my 30’s and 40’s. Why was my marital status or lack of it important in my bank and insurance applications? Why did the mechanic want to talk to my boyfriend and not me? Why can my male colleague say things a certain way (assertively) at a meeting, but if I do, there is backlash? Why are decisions made without my input by the male leaders (colleagues and supervisor) in the group? Why was a man promoted without much due process (how did that happen)? Why am I not eligible for this job because I am a single mother (as explained to me at the time)? Why can I not travel alone as easily as a man? Why must I cover my legs and arms in this country? Why am I asked about my hormones when I am in an argument with a man? Why must I give up tenure if I want to extend my maternity leave? Why would I change my last name in marriage when my diplomas and certification proudly declare my birth name? Why am I doing all of the clean-up alone after the dinner party? Why am I planning all of the family gatherings for all of the families? Why do I carry much of the “emotional labour” (Hartley, 2017) in my significant relationships? Why am I warned not to use the hard-earned title of doctor in my professional interactions when my male colleagues and superiors (who have similar credentials), do so without question. The why’s about my life and some double standards within it were starting to show up in small and big uncomfortable ways.
The Burning Bra Stigma: Although the bra-burning controversies in the 1960’s drew attention to Feminism as “Women’s Liberation”, it seemed to have cast a negative spell over this idea of taking back our rights as women. “The infamous demonstration that gave birth to this rumor was the 1968 protest of the Miss America contest. Bras, girdles, nylons and other articles of constricting clothing were tossed in a trash can” (Lewis, 2017). I hate wearing bras and all of the other uncomfortable clothing and paraphernalia that make women attractive by pop culture standards (high heel shoes, nylons, bustiers, fake fingernails, fake eye-lashes, thong underwear and so on). However, I am still not prepared to go without a bra unless I am in the privacy of my own home, even at 52 years of age. I have braved nude beaches and have had some playful exhibitionist moments, but the bra is still my armour everywhere I go. It keeps my breasts solidly in place with my nipples hidden. As well, the matter of “cleavage” has always come up for me. I have it. Should I hide it, or proudly show it? I have leaned towards modesty most of my life as unwanted attention of my body can be uncomfortable. This is a shame, in retrospect, because I have great breasts.
If I have ever professed to be too supportive of anything deemed “Feminist”, I have been put in my place by some of my family, friends, colleagues and peers: “Are you going to burn your bra over this one? Do you hate men?” It has been the ultimate shut down, reminding me to mind my own business and steer clear of that topic. It seems to me that there is considerable anxiety and pushback from some men about this idea of taking back female rights as if men might lose all of theirs in a sort of reverse-discrimitation in the process of re-balancing and reconfiguring our society. We are still, by my estimation, a long way away from women taking over the world, and so are we too a long way from “may the best person get the job” in all scenarios. Having been part of many interviewing panels, I still see some of my interview colleagues giving women of child-bearing years a second thought when they ask, “How old is she? Is she married?” knowing that maternity leaves can be costly for many companies.
I remember when this statistic came out: “According to the 2006 Census, women accounted for 60% of university graduates between the ages of 25 and 29” (Statistics Canada, 2008). As a result, many more women were becoming educated and eligible to work in many lines of work. In an effort to explain it, research was conducted and it showed that “academic achievement assessments carried out by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for a large international sample of 15-year-olds, girls performed significantly better than boys on the reading test in all countries and in all ten Canadian provinces” (Statistics Canada, 2008). People started to become very concerned in my educational circles asking, “What about the boys?”
Professional Observations: As a female administrator in schools, when dealing with people (still predominantly men in educational leadership) I am very thoughtful when I introduce ideas for change. Whenever I have wanted to initiate or support change, I have been very careful to research what I am discussing and to recruit intelligent people to help introduce these new ideas before I implement any formal action plan with any group of professionals. There were points in my life where I would preface my new ideas with ingratiating introductions in the circles of men. “I know you have likely already thought of this, but what about this idea?” I do not do this anymore.
It has also been frustrating on occasion when people have taken credit for my ideas and initiatives. Initiatives that I had hoped to run with were hijacked by people who were more senior to me or “in the loop”, more powerful, more connected–more male. I still hear the echoes of male laughter through the halls of many educational leadership conferences when I was doing educational presentations. Where were all of the women?
Things are shifting a bit, but not entirely. I see a bit of this when watching the parliamentary debates on television as the male politicians holler insults back and forth with very little attention to the decorum of formal debate. I rarely hear women speak, likely because there are currently only 88 out of 335 seats (Lower House of Parliament of Canada, 2017 or 43 of 100 seats in the senate (2017). Elizabeth May, the first female Member of Parliament for the Green Party has been known to stop talking when she has been interrupted by rude banter. She has calmly sat down until the Speaker of the House has called it to attention. We have accepted this status quo of fewer women in leadership throughout history, and although the trends are changing, I am still watching men behave poorly on the leadership stage around the world. To some degree, I can understand why women stay clear of the complexity of it.
A Girls’ Leadership Group: In one of the middle schools where I worked as an administrator, we began a girls’ leadership group with the support of several strong and capable women (teachers, mothers and older students). The goal was to provide the girls with an opportunity to meet together and to discuss female leadership. What did it mean to be a female leader in the world at large? The National Research Council speaks at length about the value of women meeting together to strengthen their opportunities and create meaningful female relationships (GirlsInc, 2016). We offered them opportunities to ask pertinent career-oriented questions and meet with professionals from the Minerva Organization to showcase the different vocations and professions that girls might consider in their futures, especially in fields that had typically been reserved for men (science and technology). We worked with the girls on matters of leadership qualities that might help them to excel in their futures so that they could be confident and capable in their life choices.
In three years, the group grew from 40 girls to 116 (at its peak), and female staff members and mothers generated regular lunches and seminars to contribute to this engaging enterprise of women mentoring girls about life-changing topics. The remarkable thing about this leadership group was that as time went on, girls felt safe and confident enough to raise important personal questions and topics, disclosing their insecurities as young women: “How do I apply for that job? How do I handle being heckled by a boy in class? How do I tell a boy that I am not interested? What do I do when a boy sexts me? What do I do about some of the mean boys and girls around me (bullying)? I don’t really know much about tampons because my family does not talk about them”. The list of vulnerable and sensitive questions were varied and extensive and the girls were thoughtful and respectful in their consideration of them.
As a group, we were transparent about our agenda, and we even invited boys to some of the activities that were celebratory and educational. However, as this group became popular, questions about “What about the boys?” started to surface. The concern seemed to be about the optics of equality even though it was an uneven gender demographic with two-thirds of the student population being boys. Where this was originally understood to be a small group of girls coming together to giggle over tea and cookies, it proved to be anything but this type of initiative. An odd tension started to occur in the administration and staff every time we hosted a meeting. Were we excluding the boys? As the organizers of the group, we met and thought about it extensively, and concluded that it was important to continue this type of female dialogue and mentorship. Our intent was never to be exclusive, per se, but to allow girls to talk about being girls in a setting of girls; especially because the matters of bullying (with girls bullying girls and boys bullying girls) had been on the uprise with the girls in the school. As well, we noted that there were many thriving intramural programs, clubs, outdoor pursuits and activities available to the boys at the school that were not as accessible to girls and with them admitting to us that they were a bit uncomfortable participating in them because of being in the minority.
When we encouraged the men on staff to take up a similar boys’ leadership initiative, the idea fell short (for complex reasons, and not all due to lack of interest). The women running this girls’ leadership group were left wondering what to do. Were we responsible for stopping this successful girls’ initiative simply because there was not a similar one for boys? Were we responsible for creating a boys’ leadership group that would be just like our girls’ leadership group, although boys tend to respond to more hands-on leadership initiatives and topics; where girls like to discuss them at length (Macdonald, 2005)? Would we need to make it a mixed gender group, in which case, some of the topics about female rights, bullying and other (supported by some research to be best broached in a segregated gender setting) would need to be reconsidered (Girls Scouts, 2017)?
It appeared that when we asked, “What about the girls?” for all of the reasons that I mention above, the question brought us back to this sense that boys must be involved in all areas of the school, no matter what, even if they themselves were not initiating these types of projects, nor appeared all that interested in what we were discussing. When I asked my adolescent son his opinion about it at the time, he shrugged his shoulders. “Who cares? Why is anyone threatened by a bunch of girls getting together? What are they going to do, take over the school?” His apathy and smugness were a bit off-putting. But, what were they really worried about? Girls had not always been included in, nor the focus of all of the initiatives in the school. The school had, in fact, led a boys’ initiative the year before that had been set up for parents of the boys in the school based on the work of Barry MacDonald’s research in his book entitled Boy Smarts: Mentoring Boys for Success at School (2005). There had not been a similar session for the parents of girls at that time. We felt that our girls’ leadership group would fill this purpose. In the end, after I left this school, this group disbanded and there were many people (teachers, mothers and students) who tracked me down to express disappointment about this outcome.
My Single Mother Realizations: There were some invisible matters of female discrimination in my life when I was raising my son on my own (roles, responsibilities and behaviour) that likely influenced how my son saw me, and in turn, influenced how he understand and relates to women to this day. He observed some of my life obstacles, in particular, how I handled the divorce with his father; and applied for and was turned down for many leadership opportunities. He also saw some of my successes which involved achieving my educational targets, landing some good jobs, and spending much of my spare time travelling the world. He witnessed how I was treated (both positively and negatively) by the world around me in different contexts, and my responses to it. After all of it, he is living successfully on his own, and he keeps in touch with me from time to time, phoning to check in and occasionally asking for advice.
As he grew up, I performed much of the “emotional labour” of our home which consisted of some traditional “female roles” (cooking and cleaning), although I recruited his “help” much of the time with his resistance (although he always did help in the end). I also attempted to mentor him to manage “male roles” and to be handy and capable while supporting him to seek male pursuits and programs. I was always quick to correct him about any rude behaviour towards women. In hindsight, a cooking class, and some other crafty and domestic skills would have benefitted him far more than me simply enrolling him in sports year after year in order for him to be a man amongst men. I recognize that my influence alone does not raise a boy into a man. In fact, his social influences (real and virtual) were extremely impactful. He had incredible male and female role models from his family through to his counsellor, coaches, band teachers and employers. These wonderful men and women influenced him to set goals, work hard, and to be successful.
He has a very strong and wonderful girlfriend. I have observed that he grapples with how to share the “emotional labour” (Hartley, 2017) in their relationship. His girlfriend does more cooking and carries the household management responsibilities of their relationship, although they are evolving the longer that they are together. I have always wondered what he might have been like had I raised him alongside a progressive man who modelled sharing and initiating the day-to-day responsibilities in the home, and in life, a bit more equitably.
Eyes Wide Open Travelling: My son and I travelled together once every year. In doing so, these first-hand experiences with men and women from different cultures, raised his awareness of the gender roles in other places. “Where are the women?” he asked me once. The men were out in the evenings at cafes, pubs, restaurants, and in the squares, enjoying watching their sports, or playing their intense games of backgammon and chess; drinking their tea, coffee or beer; or smoking their cigarettes or sheesha pipes; and the women and children were nowhere to be seen. In his teens, when he worked on a Youth with a Mission World Wide (YYAM) initiative in Mexico, he saw how strong the women in the villages had to be in order to turn around the cycle of poverty perpetuated by the men who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. “I don’t really like the men there,” he confided to me when he got home.
On one of our trips, I remember stopping in a airport and pointing out all of the magazines on the rack in one of the kiosks. “What magazines portray women for their intellect?” The scantily clad women photoshopped onto most of them did not afford him an answer. “How are men portrayed?” He recognized the macho pictures of men holding guns, and fish, and riding fancy cars. We talked about it quite a bit together when we stumbled across the objectification of women, and their disenfranchisement in many places that we visited.
Relationships 101: I have really had to consider what it means to be feminine as a Feminist. What are these “qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to a woman” (The Free Dictionary, 2017)? As a child, I found that fitting in with the boys as a tomboy playing soccer and hide-and-seek until dark, far more suited me than dancing around mushrooms in an uncomfortable brown uniform (Brownies). I lasted about three months in this group.
Into my teens and adulthood, I started to explore my sexual identity as a woman. Although I still found that a good date usually involved a tennis match, I was certain to wear my mascara. Dressing up and participating in the social dance of courtship was a revelation to me and I found a softer and more sexual version of myself entering womanhood. I let myself be wooed and courted, given flowers and taken out for dinner (and, yes, sometimes I took men out too). As an aside, I have never been too caught up in a sort of “dating capital” debate about who does what for whom. This somehow becomes a stumbling block for women if they are deemed a Feminist. “Well, if you want everything to be equal, how can you let him pay for dinner?” This question of “equal” and “fair” does not always play out like a good math equation where we keep score and manage each other in this way. Instead, I think that there is something very special about being taken out on a wonderful date with a man. This lovely gift of an experience sometimes includes the cost of it. Women are worth being taken out for dinner.
The truth is, I have always liked men. The problem has always been that I have not always liked how men behave. I usually ended relationships when I saw that they had run their course, or these lovely men ended them with me for the same reasons. At the time, I had no inkling of the greater influence of the social dynamics at play, and how we are all domesticated to participate in society and gender roles (Ruiz, 1997). I just knew that I was often bucking the female role that I seemed to inherit from society. I wanted to be free of it and feel equal in my relationships with men.
In the 80’s, Melody Beattie introduced an idea that she refers to as “co-dependence” in her book Codependent No More (1986). I started to see it show up a bit in my and other relationships around me, and it was not something that I wanted to have as the trademark of my relationships. I enjoyed strong female and male friendships, but it was my experience that intimate relationships brought out a whole other side to men and women. Finding a good life match felt like finding a needle in a haystack. The “must-have’s” in my search for a life partner were something like the following (they evolved over time):
- Coping vs. Defending: I need a partner who accepts responsibility for his own behaviour and does not use defence mechanisms more than positive coping strategies in his approach to solving problems (Macleod, 2009).
- Relationship Focus: It is valuable to share a life with someone who makes our relationship a priority, recognizing that many other things in life are important too.
- Insightful: The person with whom I spend my life needs to be reflective and insightful and is always looking and taking the iniative to improve himself so that he can be the best partner that he can be (body, mind, heart, and spirit) while I do the same.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Having a non-addictive personality is critical to a good partnership, avoiding negative habits of mind, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography and other. Instead, health and wellness need to be at the core of everything that we share together.
- Problem Solver: A man needs to be accepting of me as an equal which means embracing healthy conflict in our lives and not avoiding it. Being a good problem solver is the key to having a healthy relationship.
I always wondered why this small list of criteria was so difficult for me to find in one person after 49 years of searching, and, as well, achieving it in my own personality as a “good catch”. In retrospect, I can see that these qualities are indicative of a capable and reflective thinker who is in charge of what he/she thinks and feels, what he/she says, and how he/she behaves. I had always wanted something significant and extraordinary with a partner where we held each other accountable to the same thoughtful and thought-provoking standards of being equals in love, work and play.
I remember people asking me at 49 years of age, “Why don’t you just settle down with someone?” They sensed that there might be something wrong with me. Maybe I was too difficult, too picky, too unavailable. They seemed worried about my very solo life of parenting, work and travel. I remember saying, “I need to be healthy and happy, and I don’t really have the energy to settle.” One of the quotes that stood out for me from a post-divorce Rebuilding course (1997) was my mantra: “For the most part, a good relationship should give you more energy than it takes from you.” With this being said, I felt unusually confident that someday I would meet my soul mate. I had a sort of picture of him in my mind, and just before I turned 50, I met him. We married, and together we have forged a strong friendship and partnership which is always a work in progress. Neither of us is perfect, but the Feminist in me, has found a champion in my husband.
Female Role Models and Mentors: I have always looked to role models and mentors to teach me something about the world. Not everyone has the same level of expertise, but I glean wisdom from whomever I can, wherever I can. I have had strong female role models and mentors, like my mother, my music teachers, my colleagues and my education professors. I remember watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970 to 1977) played by the actress with the same name, and wondering if the idea of this vibrant character could be possible in real life. She was single, stylish and professionally capable. She spoke her mind, and stood up for herself while being loved by the company of her friends and colleagues (both men and women). It was a program that always gave me hope as a single woman embarking into the world.
Oprah Winfrey was another incredible woman who is still a very strong international voice and advocate for women’s rights. She has modelled to me that women are powerful and that we do have voice. It is not always what she said that stood out for me, but how she said it. I love her deep, sonorous voice when she says, “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher”.
I have had few relationship models where I have said to myself, “You know, I would like to have a relationship just like them.” The truth be told, I have liked various qualities about the people in relationships around me; however, I did not see any one relationship dynamic that I aspired to emulate. There are many books about good relationships, but I wanted to see if it was really possible to have one. And so I embarked on holding out for the right partner and then creating this type of equal relationship with him.
Advice for Young Women: When I ask myself, “What about the girls?” I think about all of the young women that I have been that have been caught in some snapshots over time as I have evolved and changed (with more challenge than I felt necessary to mention in this article as the outcomes were positive). I also think of all of the wonderful young girls and women that I have taught or with whom I have worked over the years. If I were to go back in time and talk to myself about how to be a successful woman, or to give advice to the young women around me, I would likely share the following truths that have worked for me even when there were consequences or backlash in operating this way.
- Be frank. Don’t mess around. Say your mind. Don’t qualify it or buffer it so much that it no longer sounds like what you think. Speak your truth. However, before you do speak up, remember to do your research so that you are speaking knowledgeably and can stand behind whatever you say. Until then, be quiet…and when you are confident and ready, say it. Even when it feels like you are going to get into trouble for disagreeing with your partner, or boss or whomever is trying to organize your mutual funds, tell your truth. Don’t tell a half-truth or make things seem better than they appear, and worst yet, don’t stay silent. Not speaking up when you know better is the worst type of betrayal to yourself and to others who aspire to be in an honest relationship with you.
- Get an education and find a good job. There is nothing that you can do more for your self-respect than learning new ideas in the company of smart people, and then finding a good job. Stick with this job for awhile until you prove that you can handle it (to yourself and your employer), and then with your legs solidly beneath you, take some next steps. There is nothing that will serve you more than having credibility and independence in a world where being a woman can be challenging. Being a smart and qualified woman with a good resume is the new “sexy”.
- Work hard. Work hard at everything that you do from doing your homework to cleaning your house. Don’t wait for anyone to do it for you or to give you anything, from your parents through to your friends, boyfriends or employers. Life is an apple tree to be picked. The apples that fall on the ground and are easy to grab are usually picked up quickly, or are rotten. Get out the ladder, and get up into that tree and start picking the really good apples.
- Create your own road map. Learn from the group, but occasionally set your itinerary. Enjoy your own company. Be free to do your own thing, in your own time and in your own way. Make a healthy plan, follow the plan, revise the plan, but whatever you do, make your own plan. Find like-minded and good people to join along with you from time to time, but for the most part, get started on your own journey and enjoy it.
- Think twice before getting intimately involved with anyone (men or women). You need to find someone who treats you extraordinarily well, understands and appreciates who you are (strengths and weaknesses) and agrees to behave in ways that afford you dignity and respect. If this is not possible, move on. On the flip side, find someone who will also call you on your “stuff” when you need it. Finding a significant relationship is big life work, and may take awhile to find, so enjoy people as friends in the meantime. Don’t force relationships where they don’t really exist.
- Be a critical and creative thinker. Think carefully about everything that you do. Research it. Ask people’s opinions. Reserve judgment, and then make educated decisions using strong inductive and/or deductive reasoning. Think about your thinking (“metacognition”) while you are doing this type of research and reflection (Robinson, 2008). While being thoughtful of your choices in life, be creative. Good things happen to people who live to colour outside of the lines.
The two qualities necessary for all of this above advice is to be disciplined and courageous. As my Finnish grandmother used to say to me, “Find your ‘sisu” (Finnish)” which translates to mean “be tenacious”. Be brave and stick with it.
Of course, a little luck goes a long way. How lucky am I to be born in a free country like Canada where anything can be possible for women if they are strong and determined. The day that I came into this world, and into this beautiful country, the world was and continues to be my oyster. It is up to me to make it happen despite any obstacles that I have discussed. If I fail, I will pick myself back up again, dust myself off, talk about it, write about it, and move forward. A song keeps coming up for me as I finish this article. “Struck by lightning, sounds pretty frightening…The odds are that we will probably be alright…” (Barenaked Ladies, 2013). I think that odds are women will be alright if we just stay the course on women’s rights. Opportunities are coming up for women everyday. We need to advocate for ourselves and for each other as we learn and grow into wonderful and wise women. We need to take charge and be leaders in our own lives and then enjoy sharing various leadership roles with other women and men in the world at large.