“I want to thank everyone who broke their silence this year and spoke out about abuse and harassment. You are so brave. So people out there who are feeling silenced by harassment, discrimination, abuse, Time’s Up! We see you, we hear you and we will tell your stories.” – Reese Witherspoon, 2018 Golden Globe Awards
“Today I will wear black in solidarity and gratitude with all women in all industries, acknowledging our mutual power and vulnerability. #TimesUp on silence, on imbalance of power, on inaction.” -Susan Sarandon
“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I am especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.” -Oprah Winfrey, 2018 Golden Globe Awards
We live in a Man’s world. Designed by Men, for Men. I know that for some of you, that elicits a defensive response. I’m sorry it’s hard to hear, but it doesn’t make it less true. Some find it hard to relate, or understand when hashtags like #MeToo and #TimesUp are made popular by Hollywood, a demographic of society which many of us can’t relate to. It’s important to understand that the struggles, inequalities and horrors that Hollywood is only now blasting a spotlight on, on TV’s, phones and computer screens all around the globe, happens everywhere, to every girl and woman, for all of our written history. Those with power and position in Hollywood who choose to use their platforms to bring the truth to light and make change, should be commended. Their experiences aren’t different than ours, they just have the world’s attention.
I am just a regular woman, living a regular life, but I too have a story. Too many stories to share them all here, but none of them are new or exceptional or special in any way, that is what makes them significant. The fact that they are common-place enough that even I have been programmed to accept that this just how it is to be a woman in this world. I had become complacent about my own numerous experiences with inequality and sexism, simply because they were just a normal daily part of being a woman. Well, as the world has said loud and clear, TIME’S UP!
I have been groped, sexually assaulted, and cat-called by Men on many, many occasions. Too many to remember all of them, but enough for it to have damaged my self-worth. I’ve been pulled away at parties, cornered and aggressively held against my will at least 3 times by 3 different Men during my teen years. When I was a pre-teen, I slept over at a friends house when her parents were having a party. Her very drunk Uncle cornered me in her bedroom, had me backed up against the wall and started trying to touch me. My friend ran from the room and went to get her teenage brother, who got his Uncle out of the room and slept in a sleeping back on the floor against the door all night to keep us safe. I fear for what may have happened to me on any one of those occasions, had good friends not come for me. Far too many are not so lucky. I learned from those experiences that I was not safe in this world. I had to always be vigilant and guarded and keep an eagle eye of protection on my female friends when we went out into the world. If I am alone at night, I fear for my safety. This is the world we live in.
As I got older and pursued a career, I experienced an entirely new form of sexual discrimination. Working as an Environmental Consultant at an Engineering Firm, I was sexually objectified out in the open, publicly on job-sites by both co-workers and clients alike. One time I was asked on the sly by a co-worker for the details about what was going on between me and another male co-worker. I learned that a rumour was going around my office that I was having an affair or at the very least, fooling around with one of the only friends I had at work. Keep in mind that there were only about 5 women in my entire office at that time. Yes, he was a Man and was happily married, I might add. I was also happily living common-law with a Man, who later became my Husband. Of course nothing happened between us. It didn’t have to. Just being friends with a Man was enough to arouse suspicion and start a vicious rumour that damaged my reputation at my workplace. On another occasion, I was asked to provide a character reference for an old school-mate who was applying for a job at my company. I told them that yes, he’s a great guy and a hard worker, and they should definitely hire him. I later found out that although I had been there for years already, had more experience and authority than him, and the same level of education, he was making more money than me. When I addressed it with the Office Manager in confidence, he told me that the new co-worker and his wife had a baby on the way, so he needed the money more that I did. I think that this was the first time I truly understood the nature of sexual inequality, and that it was indeed still alive and well.
Despite these experiences, I went on to work at a much bigger and more significant company, in a more responsible role. All went well, until I got pregnant with my first child. My intentions were to go back to work after my 1 year Maternity Leave, so through my pregnancy, I worked harder than ever to make sure all my ducks were in a row to ensure things would run smoothly in my absence. A few weeks before I was to leave, I brought some concerns to the table in a meeting with my department as well as several consultants I was responsible for managing. My Boss, said that since I was to be leaving soon, I “shouldn’t worry my pretty little head about it.” My concerns and suggestions were dismissed without further discussion. I was devastated, and humiliated in front of my peers and subordinates.
About 6 months after leaving for Maternity Leave, I spent hours on the phone to Human Resources about the daycare that was supposed to be going into my building for employees kids, that now wasn’t going to happen because the company had decided they could make more money renting the space for events. This left me in a very difficult child-care situation, where 1 year waiting lists for daycares was the norm. I also tried to negotiate more flexible hours, or the possibility of job-sharing, but alas, they told me my position held too much responsibility, required too much travel and wouldn’t allow for that flexibility. In addition I asked HR where the designated room is for returning Mothers to breast pump. I fully expected that for a huge company in a brand new, multi-million dollar state of the art building, full of women of childbearing age, that they had taken that need into account and provided a room for those returning from Maternity Leave who are weaning their babies from nursing. To my dismay, they had no such room, or fridge to store the breast milk until the end of each day, and a mini fridge at individual desks was not permitted. It’s important to note that at the time, Maternity Leave was 1 year long, and the Health Canada recommended duration for breast-feeding was also 1 year. For anyone who has never breast fed a baby, it isn’t like a water tap that you can just turn on and off. A woman’s body produces enough milk to meet the demand of the baby, so weaning your milk production down until you no longer produce milk can take weeks, sometimes months depending on your baby’s needs. So, if you plan to breast feed for a year as recommended, you will likely still need to pump once you’ve already returned to work at the 1 year mark. That’s not to say anything of the choice to breastfeed for longer if you wanted to, which I did. Currently the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends, “…exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. At about 6 months, your baby will be ready for other foods, but you can continue breastfeeding until your child is 2 years of age and beyond.” My employer expected me to sit in a bathroom stall on the toilet to pump my breast milk, so my baby could eat and my breasts wouldn’t end up engorged, painful, or worse, with a mastitis infection. So, needless to say, with so many frustrating obstacles to face, in addition to the stress and emotional nature of returning to work after a Maternity Leave, I quit. It was just one more example of how the world I was living in was not designed for women. I payed back my Maternity Leave top-up money and I never looked back.
So yes, we live in a Man’s world, that has not been designed for women and all the changing roles they may have within their lifetime. A world where in the past women have had to use their physical beauty and manipulation to get what they needed or wanted because asking directly was not an option. We evolved into a time where women had to be quicker, smarter, have a thicker skin and more aggressive ambition than the men around them just to play on the same field, let alone be successful at the game. We have had to prove ourselves, being tested again and again to gain permission to play, and once we make it into the game, we have needed the resilience of a warrior to carry on through the sexism, objectification and the endless justifications required for our ideas to be heard, and our needs to be accommodated. Not to mention the sexual harassment, belittling and disempowering. Even in this environment, women have stayed their coarse. We have gained legal acknowledgement as “persons” instead of property. We have won the right to vote and own property. Despite the horrors of watching our sisters burn for their knowledge of the cosmic cycles, plant medicines and the natural processes of birth and death, we have gained the freedom to practice our crafts and arts, love and marry who we wish, and the right to keep our own name if we so choose. We have come so far because we have rallied together and not given up. We have learned to hold each other up, cheer one another on, and be companions and comforters through dark and difficult times. We have shared our knowledge, experience and gifts with one another through the generations that Her Story did not make it into History. We have been each other’s strength. A secret sisterhood. Keepers of the divine feminine, nurturing, protecting and blowing gently on the embers to keep the warmth and light going until the time comes to build a fire the likes of which the modern world has never seen. A fire that will cleanse all the pain and oppression and fear that has kept our world imbalanced for so long. A fire that will draw the women and men back together like moths to a flame and restore the balance.
Until then, women of the world, we must continue to rally together. We must gather and share our personal stories. We must honour one another and celebrate one another’s efforts and successes. We must support and sing one another’s praises. We must shed light on all the characteristics we have always had that have not been recognized in the past. We must cheer women on for their intelligence, creativity, innovation, and ingenuity. We must celebrate our intuition, emotions, sexuality and motherhood as divine. We must reclaim our sovereignty. We must love each other and hold one another up so fiercely that our love and encouragement resonates so deeply between us that it shatters the glass ceiling. We must fill future HERstory books with the power of love and compassion that make the history of war, fear and power struggles look like primitive child’s-play. Above all, we must love ourselves and stop looking for external approval and validation. There was a time not that long ago, that our sister ancestors were owned as property. The time has come to look that ugly past in the eye, allow it’s pain to rattle our bones and then step past it into our empowerment. Stop looking for a permission that will never come. Own yourself and take your position. The future is ours. The future is feminine.