I wouldn't call myself a feminist but in some ways, I suppose I am. I find myself to be such a mix of traditional and... I don't know... what word do I want? I love the traditional structure of my family and I wouldn't change a thing but that doesn't necessarily mean that I believe my way is the "right" way or the "only" way. I do feel strongly about monogamy and that children do best growing up in a family with two involved parents but how many kids grow up in "optimal" homes and so many homes that are not what we define as "optimal" end up doing a much better job of parenting than many homes that meet the traditional definition.
There's been so much in the media lately and on social media especially about gender identity. I find it really hard sometimes. It's not my job to judge and I feel as if I want to be so careful that everyone feels that they have a place in the world and that nobody feels isolated and alone. At certain points, though, it gets hard. I read about a school board that wanted its teachers to begin to avoid using "exclusive" terms such as "husband and wife" and "father and mother." While I want to have everyone feel included, even I, who is pretty easy going about that kind of thing, began to get my back up just a little bit. I don't mind calling you whatever you want to be called and I will recognize my obligation to treat you with respect and dignity, regardless of whether your choices are the same as mine or not. That being said, I start to balk a bit when I start to feel as if I am being told that I am not allowed to be called by the labels by which I identify myself.
So, what does that label of "woman" mean to me? It means identifying with the many heroines in my family who came before me. They were ministers wives who made do with very little but managed to create beauty and comfort anyway. They were women who worked HARD with very little complaining and who were the backbones of their families (and in no way do I view that as a subservient position). They met everyone's needs, they brought comfort and they kept their families together through crisis after crisis. They suffered loss (including several losses of children) and cruelty and fear, yet they kept going. There was my great-grandmother who, during the 30's, always had a meal for the homeless men who came through on the trains. When she was criticized for it and told that they probably weren't really needy, her constant response was that "the very one I turn away would be the one who needed it most." She lost two daughters before coming to Canada and had to leave everything familiar behind to come to "the new country" and start over. There was my grandmother who spent her early adult years working on the docks in Montreal, helping new arrivals to Canada to find shelter and food and who, for years as a minister's wife, dealt with everyone's expectations of her and supported my grandfather through some horrible times, including the loss of a child. There is my mom who fought courageously during the civil rights movement in the 1960's and against war during the 1970's and who faced intense criticism and who was often the primary breadwinner as well as caretaker at home, while my dad was sick and unable to work. They were all loving mothers who held their children close and who somehow managed to raise us during all kinds on instability and yet we always felt loved and cherished. They were bright, they were fierce, they were gentle, they were capable and they were faithful. They sacrificed and they gave of themselves. In some subtle ways, they were pioneers and they worked to create a world in which compassion was valued and hard work was important. Everyone did their part and a family was something to be valued beyond gold.
I think to be a woman means to work hard. In many cases, it is outside of the home and then coming home to work hard there, too. It usually means being the primary caretaker of the young children and the person who manages everyone's needs. It means being resilient and capable and at times, fierce. I see the courage of so many women the world over, whether it is the mother in Africa who is struggling to meet the needs of her children despite her own battle with AIDS, the girls in Afghanistan who are courageously trying to go to school or whether it is the girls here in Canada who are trying to find their way in a world inundated with messages that tell they they are fat, they are stupid and that their sole value is as a sexual object. Being a woman means to struggle, to face opposition, to feel tired. Being a woman means that "you can be anything" but you are also expected to be everything, too. It means enjoying the deepest, richest friendships and the cruelest nastiness. It might mean motherhood, it might mean being a wife or it might mean a life on one's own. It often means being a caretaker for one's children and/or one's parents. It's a life of work and a life of rich reward.
I am proud to be a woman and I feel so blessed to have so many examples of such impressive women around me. I see achievement in so many forms (as scholars, as teachers, as workers, as caretakes, as lovers, as parents) and I just feel so very lucky to have the chance to experience so much of this myself and to have so many amazing role models around me. As we celebrate International Women's Day, I just feel so lucky to have so many incredible women in my life and to be part of such an amazing sisterhood.