4.13.2013

What a Straight White Man Knows About Strong Women

“Feminism (n): the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”. – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
 
“It means strong women. What would you, as a straight white man, know about that?” – Feminist on Twitter
 
 
My Grandmother.  Born in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.  One of eleven in her family, she grew up in a time that no current kid could possibly imagine.  Raised in the Salvation Army church, her father was stern, the kind of man who ‘expected his pipe and slippers at the appropriate time’.
 
Times were tough, especially for a family living in farm country.  The experiences of the time built in her great strength.  From endless chores to the strong religious morals to being a sixteen-year-old discovering her mother’s dead body, all contributed to forming a kind of strength that is rarely seen.
 
She worked alongside many siblings at a garment factory in Edmonton making GWG jeans.  Economic struggle was the way of life then, and the family would pool their pay to make ends meet.  My Grandma eventually married the man she knew all of her life and they had four children of their own.  She raised her children with a firm yet loving hand.
 
When my Granddad passed away in 1991, my Grandmother found herself ‘alone’ for the first time in fifty-four years.  We worried about how she would manage.  We underestimated her.  She lived the last thirteen years of her life strong and independent, surrounded by her friends and family – but never asked for help.  Strength.
 
My Mother.  The eldest of four children, she grew up in 1950’s Edmonton which, for many, was not easy street.  At a time when family events meant everyone including aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered, being the oldest came with certain responsibilities.  The course of her life took a turn when she met my Father.  Marriage meant being away from the close-knit family.  In the early years it also meant struggle.  My parent’s first Christmas dinner was a feast which featured eggs and bacon, enjoyed in a Calgary basement suite owned by a drunken old landlady.
 
Having a husband in a blue collar industry usually means moving, and move they did.  For a young woman raised in a city surrounded by a large family, finding herself in such places as Burstall, Saskatchewan was nothing less than culture shock.  But she endured and adapted, and they had three children of their own.
 
It was only a few years after I (the youngest) was born that we settled in Calgary.  For the first few years my Father travelled extensively on business, leaving my Mom to raise us on her own.  For a while, Dad would only be home every second weekend, then be gone again.  It was left to my Mom to handle everything: bills, schools, cleaning the house, the car, etc., plus deal with two teenagers.  Thank God her youngest was such a well-mannered, trouble-free kid.
 
When I hit my teens my Mom went back into the workforce.  In short order, she became manager of a maternity clothing store, where she spent the next several years.
 
In recent years, my Mother has had to deal with the loss of both parents.  She also has had to deal with a stroke which left a lasting effect on her vision.  Still, to this day, she maintains the house and takes care of her second generation of ‘kids’ – their two dogs.  Strength.
 
My Sister.  The middle child in our clan, there is no doubt that the Good Lord gave her an extra dose of Irish when He created her.  Strong-willed from birth, she has been the subject of some of the best family tales.  Notorious as a kid for having a messy bedroom and stubbornly refusing to clean it, my Dad decided to make an example of her when some extended family was due to arrive for a visit – he took off her bedroom door and put it in the basement.  Imagine my Mother’s surprise when she discovered the door was back on its hinges.  Working continually since the age of 16, my sister has always made her own way.
 
It wasn’t until she suffered a stroke – within one week of our Mother’s own stroke – that she was forced to stay home.  That, plus the painful and lingering physical effects from years at her job, resulted in a few years away.  Frustrated, she fought through the many doctor visits and diagnoses and has finally resumed her career, albeit in a different capacity.  She didn’t stop fighting.  Strength.
 
My Wife.  A German immigrant who moved to Canada when she was only a couple years old, she faced many obstacles.  New culture, strange place, and enduring public school without knowledge of English were just some of her battles.  Raised in a family that believe women should focus more on raising their own family than having a career, she went against the grain and put herself through post-secondary education.  From non-profits to the Alberta Government, she has built a career to be admired.
 
Her first marriage produced two amazing daughters.  The husband, however, was not so amazing.  After he repeatedly resorted to various addictions when times were tough, she gave him the ultimatum: shape up or ship out.  And like something from a Woman’s network drama, she came home one day from work to find a note taped to the television.  He left her and their very young kids (the youngest not even a year old), deep in debt.  Devastating.
 
But after a brief time to deal with the reality, she took charge.  She worked the phones and worked her job, and sooner than expected had things straightened around.
 
For the next few years she raised those kids as a single parent, all the while advancing her career.  Then I came along and learned quickly how protective she was of the kids.  She hadn’t been interested in a relationship, and certainly was selective about introducing a guy to her children.
 
In the years that have followed since our wedding, my wife has worked and worked hard to climb the career ladder.  A chronic bout of fibromyalgia last year has hampered that climb, as she is now on long-term disability.  Devastating to some but not to her.  The body may not be willing, but her mind is pushing her to recovery.  Even on days when every little movement, every single physical action sets off searing pain, she makes sure things are taken care of.  Strength.
 
 
So what would I, a straight white man, know about ‘strong women’?
 
Everything.  I have been witness to amazing examples of them my whole life.
 

1 comment:

Don Sharpe said...

Pretty impressive bunch of women in your life. You are blessed.

His Name Was Steven