Yesterday we had a little advance celebration for my 50th birthday which comes later this month. When I was a kid, 50 year olds were, in my mind, ladies in polyester house dresses with weekly wash and sets – steel coloured hair sitting in uniform rolls around puffy, long-suffering faces. I don’t remember ever picturing myself as that matronly 50 year old, but then when you’re nine, 50 is a million years away.
I still refuse to refer to myself as “old” or “getting up there” because it’s true that once you start calling yourself old, you get old. And I can say, with gratitude, that I continue to like myself better as each birthday comes and goes, despite the effects that damned gravity has on my outer aspect. And boy do I love what 50 has become – we’re active, vibrant, sexual, vocal, important, participating members of our communities.
Roll on sisters. Whether you’ve already seen 50 come and go, or will be someday soon, you’re beautiful. In fact – us gals in the 50-Club – beautiful thing number 29.
Or: In which we are inspired by Selma opening up a can of whup-ass
Some things just demand to be written. They sort of grab hold of your collar out of the blue and get their nose right in your face and say “Hellloooo! Get on it sister!” The signs were coming at me from all corners this morning: "This is what the story is about today."
Sometime in the mid-morning I read this fabulous post by my friend Selma, which prompted a too-long and impassioned response. But as I read over the thing before burdening her blog with it, it started screaming "I BELONG ON YOUR OWN BLOG." Then I caught some catty jesting coming over Twitter. Then there was an unnecessarily barbed comment in a meeting. And here I am.
Selma’s piece was about several things, but mostly about her rising up and taking a stand against some uncalled for catty behaviour by some acquaintences. Opening up the proverbial can of whup-ass and the subsequent "Whoo! I rule!." But the issues she raises have resonated with me for many years.
So, a few hours prior to reading that I’m on the streetcar headed to Union Station, and there are two attractive young women in the seats in front of me having a conversation. It is just chatting about mutual friends and what-are-you-doing-this-weekend kind of conversation, nothing real interesting to your average eavesdropping blogger.
Then another attractive young woman gets on and sits near the front. She’s turned sideways in her seat and is surveying the people in the car behind her. Again, nothing so remarkable, until she fixes on the two women in front of me and starts giving them the old “up and down” look. Not just an “up and down checking out the outfit” kind of look, but a repeated “'I scorn thee' up and down;” increasingly scornful with each journey of the eyeballs. She “ups and downs” them for so long I wonder if she is trying to get them to notice her doing so.
So I get thinking, what is it about them that irks you so? All three of you are attractive, well dressed and seemingly going off to decent jobs – certainly luckier than the majority of the women on this planet.
I get to the station and onto the subway and forget about them; until later in the morning when I read Selma’s story about self confidence, soldiering on, nightgowns, cows catty sorts, words and brown eggs.
This is not a new issue – us women have talked about us being catty to each other for decades. Most of us have probably behaved this way on one level or another. At the very least we've seen it – starting in elementary school. There are numerous explanations for it put out there by various factions – from the “you women are petty and shallow creatures anyway” to (what I consider to be the most logical one) the notion that we have a good deal of fucked-upness based on centuries of cultural oppression and objectification.
I can just see my mother cringe. She and I differ greatly on the merits of the women’s movement and women’s issues. I expect that’s related to her devotion to Christianity, one of the biggest culprits in the objectification of us gals as far as I’m concerned, but that’s another post.
And let me say, this is not a man-bashing post. I love men, I adore them. I’ve often said I’d rather hang around with the men at a party than the women. Maybe that’s got something to do with womens' inherent prickliness toward one another. But I can say with confidence, I have many amazing men in my life and I do not hold them responsible for my, or anyone else’s, fucked-upness. Our fucked-upness wasn’t their idea.
I guess you could say it’s more of a women-bashing post. Because let me put this out there sisters: as long as we are divided, we’ll always be conquered. As long as we are judgemental of each other and our bodies, our looks, our beliefs, our actions, our intentions – as long as we make catty, underhanded remarks designed to make ourselves feel somehow superior to each other – we will not rise above anything that held us down in the past.
Selma says she thinks people should have to obtain a license before they speak. How about we just think for a minute about the power of words? I am still working on rising above someone telling me I wasn’t talented enough more than 30 years ago. And once, in my early 20s, I was dancing with a guy who told me I was a bad dancer. At 49, I’m only learning to dance with joy now.
I take 100% responsibility for my own life. I’m not shifting blame for my issues to other people – but I am trying illustrate the power that words have. I would suggest that my best qualities – my strength, self assurance, compassion and competency are no doubt also the result of the many positive messages passed on to me.
What I’m trying to say is that maybe us gals should think more about these issues that seem to pit us against one another, wherein we see each other as the enemy. Because there’s room for all of us. We’ve shown we’re strong, capable, innovative, and, by nature, we work great in team situations. Imagine what it would be like if we focused positive energy on one another; imagine if we directed our attention away from our privileged selves and directed our energies to our less fortunate sisters, and said “yeah – rock on girl.” The world, in turn, might be rocked right off its axis.
One of the last signs that I should write this post: After I drafted out part of this piece, I saw that a friend had posted this on her facebook page:
Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace. ~ Buddha
Today I catch the streetcar and I’m standing in the back of the car looking over the seated peoples’ heads out the window. As we go underground into the dark tunnel toward Union Station I see my reflection in the window. Then I see the arms of the woman next to me. Then her neck. And her anorexic shoulders. As always I’m shocked when I see an emaciated body like hers. And my heart aches for her and other women who are somehow compelled to do this to themselves. She looks like she belongs in a hospital bed under a doctor's care, not standing in a crowded streetcar. Looking at our reflections in the mirror, I think about my everlasting extra 10 pounds. And I think about my friends and family for whom those ten pounds mean nothing. They would love me if I carried a placard on my forehead that read: Extra Pounds and She Forgets to Call and She Should Vacuum More.
I’m filled with gratitude as I look at my cleavage and my curves in my reflection. And I'm grateful for the kinds of men whose heads I still manage to turn now and then, and the ones I know who appreciate me and desire me, lumps and all. I think about my relationship with food in that it sustains me, it provides nourishment to my body and well being, and it accompanies pretty much every joyful gathering in my life. The woman walks away from me and up into the station and I wondered how those limbs can support her, I can practically hear her bones clattering. As she wobbles off I wish her luck. I wish all of us luck. Someday I hope us gals will cut ourselves a break.
A fella trips onto the subway with a bike and a bag stuffed with what looks like garbage. He messes around with the bike and keeps trying to lay it down, which is awkward in the midst of all the commuters. One lady finds herself on the wrong end of the back tire so she steps away from the man and his bike, and he loses hold of it and drops it to the floor. “DON’T MOVE STUPID ASS!” he hollers at her as she moves away. Over the next two stops they steal glances at one another, she wondering if she heard what she did and he wondering what stupid ass wouldn’t stand there and let his bike tire rest against her clean work clothes. He manages to get his bike and torn bag of garbage off at St. Clair station and most of us breathe easier. The lady gets off at the same stop, still stealing glances at the person who called her a stupid ass. I hoped the incident didn’t spoil her morning, but I’m thinking it probably did.
Someone, relatively new to Canada, showed me his arm that had a welt from some sort of insect bite he got when he took his kids to the park. I ventured that it might be a spider bite, and suggested antihistamine would relieve the itching and inflammation. His eyes got a little wider and he spoke of the deadly black widow spider he heard of once, and how they can kill with their venom. I thought, “hoo boy, girl you should have kept your mouth shut.” I wondered how long the poor guy imagined he would keel over and die from a deadly Canadian Black Widow spider bite.
Song encounter #1: Out of the blue I hear one of my favourite songs, “Up on Cripple Creek.” Instantly, the morning of the food starved body, the insulting words hurled at a stranger and the irrational freakout about black widow spiders evaporate.
Tonight, out for a walk, I witness some of the barricade building in the downtown core in preparation for the G-20 Summit. I’m annoyed with the summit being held here, right in the core of the downtown. I’m annoyed with the media, which tends to ignore the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters in favour of the more juicy window breakers. And I’m annoyed with the feds who encouraged Toronto to “show off” our city, then dropped the ball in terms of support for the losers in this event, like the business owners who have to close up shop and the homeowners who are S.O.L. if something happens to their property. And I get really annoyed by the “us and them” thinking that got us to this standoff in the first place. I remember the creepy policing during a similar event in Windsor some years ago, and I think, either I’m going to take me and my camera down into the brouhaha, or avoid it altogether. Which will be hard because guess where I live now?
Song encounter #2: I hear Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and I’m brought back to a moment a few days ago, when I’m on the shuttle bus going to work. That song comes on in the vehicle carrying the heavy, tired, morning resignation of the riders, and then someone starts to hum. Then another person does. Then I do. When I hear that song today everything about it is changed. Now, because of that moment, I love that song. I can’t hear it enough.
I catch a few minutes of this race on TV. I’d not normally stay tuned to such a race because stunt flying creeps me out. But before long I realise – hey – I know that river! Seeing the shots of this river, the riverside park I once walked every night, and those two cities fills me with pleasure and makes me a little homesick. In a good way.
Last evening my mother and I were treated to a gorgeous dinner of pasta with shrimp by my daughters at their place. That my girls have created such a warm and comfortable home gives me a lot of pleasure. We love to celebrate over meals in our family; it's fortunate that we all love good food, and take its nourishment both physically and spiritually. As such, events around shared meals are always happy times for us, and they always include lingering conversations around the table.
It’s magical to celebrate the thread of generations running through us. My sisters and I have always regretted not having ever known our maternal grandmother, for she is no doubt a source of a substantial part of our sensibilities - the way we see and experience things. But we feel it; somehow we know this element of us, and that’s the magic part.
And yesterday I was celebrating my mother. Steadfast in her love and support, she’s always had my back, from the time I was little to me now at 49. She is wise, sensible, spiritual, gentle and faithful. She’s a friend, role model and confidante. She passed on to me a love of simple pleasures, home cooking, natural fibres, nature and a comfortable home. And nice feet.
Yesterday was the day we celebrated it, but every day I’m thankful for my beautiful mother, and the line of strong and wise women behind her, who through that golden thread of ancestry have shaped who my daughters and I have become.
Beautiful thing sighting today: Two elderly ladies sitting on a bench at the mall waiting for a taxi. One has a walker. The other one reaches over and pats her forearm, not in a mild way, but with a robustness that comes with years and familiarity. Giving the arm a squeeze she leans in and nudges her friend with her shoulder and says something in Italian.
I don’t know what she said but the gesture said, “I love hanging out with you pal.”
(that'll be number 21)
On this fourteenth day of posting things beautiful, I’m thinking about women. I was born into a family that is heavy in the girl population. As such we’re all independent, strong and never had to think about any sort of limitations placed on us due to our “role” in things. Being a single mom was certainly not the ideal situation, but I never harboured one doubt about my ability to raise my girls alone, and do it well.
Having girls has always been something to celebrate – indeed, both sides of my family are filled with remarkable women throughout its history and we’re continuing to crank them out. We’re intelligent, creative, brave, funny, capable, loving, resourceful, interested, informed and we love being girls.
Lots of women around the world aren’t as lucky as we are. Many of the world’s women are born into cultures that discriminate against them and withhold many of their rights, such as education. Twenty percent of the world’s adult population lacks basic literacy skills, and two-thirds of those are women. Without basic literacy, these women lack the resources to overcome poverty.
Women all over the world lack access to resources. In my own country day care and early learning are chronically underfunded; in terms of access to affordable and available child care spaces, Canada is ranked last among the developed nations, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. What does that mean? Mothers can’t afford to go to work, or to school, and remain under the poverty line.
Many women don’t have the choice or access to resources to limit the amount of pregnancies they have or to prevent the transmission of disease. Many countries don’t protect women from violence and abuse.
Today is International Women’s Day and there’s lots to celebrate. We’ve achieved much. But many of us aren’t so lucky, and on this day we should remember them, and resolve to do what we can to support them. Because this worldwide tapestry of sisterhood is beautiful – and when any part of it is damaged it weakens the whole.