Someone of the male persuasion recently told me that “time heals all wounds.” I don’t find it at all surprising that a man would suggest that this old adage were true. Typically speaking, men are not in touch with their feelings and they hardly know how to identify the deep feelings that they experience. It’s a foreign concept to a lot of them. Women, on the other hand, know the benefits of being in tune with our feelings, and the relief in expressing them. What this man, a man of privilege, doesn’t seem to understand, is that time makes unhealed wounds fester. I know of what I speak. I AM a woman who has experienced trauma. The only way I know how to deal with the conflicting feelings and anger I’m having a hard time letting go of is to talk about it. I can’t keep burying it, but I feel like my hands are tied. Tied to people that don’t like me, don’t like my candor, and don’t want me involved; people that wish I would just go away. They don’t know me. They don’t appreciate what I have to offer. They can’t grasp the fact that if I could only get something to bite my teeth into, I’d be the biggest advocate and the loudest defender; not to mention the exhaustive efforts I put in to physically meet my obligations. But, I’m stuck with feeling hurt, feeling pain, feeling betrayed, feeling fucked over to put it bluntly. I feel very angry. I feel frustrated. I feel confused sometimes, but mostly I feel angry. It is a comfortable emotion for me. It’s one I try to avoid as much as possible now that I’m older because it isn’t healthy to hold on to it. It is; however, perfectly normal and healthy to feel anger and to express it. Luckily for me, I’ve been able to dump some of my anger on whom it belongs, but maybe not so lucky for those on whom I unleashed. It is what it is, and they quite frankly deserved some of my wrath. Some people prefer to avoid dealing with feelings by burying them. This only serves to prolong the pain; postpones it, if you will. In the meantime, all the pain you’re forcing me and others to swallow, manifests itself in other ways. We become less patient, more defensive, less amiable, more angry, less agreeable, more distrusting, more frustrated, less accountable. This goes on and eventually, despite our best efforts, one day we blow. A pressure cooker can only hold so much before it overflows. We are that pressure cooker. You expect us to just bury everything, with zero explanation and accountability, and wait for time to heal our wounds. Let me tell you buddy boys, that is never going to happen. You are going to feel the explosive power of many of us that feel cheated, betrayed, and lied to by our own people. I will be at the front of this revolution if something isn’t done. It would be a different story if it were other people that did such things to us. We’d expect that. It wasn’t. It was our own people. People we should have been able to depend on to act fairly, to act with integrity, to act impartially, to be helpful, but most importantly to want to see each of us succeed. That did not happen. I have come to realize that you just don’t care…you just don’t care. You only care about yourselves and your own dirty, elite inner circle. I’ve expressed the difficulty I’ve had trying to move on with no explanation, and not talking about it. It’s hurting me, and you don’t care. It makes me wonder why I give so much of my time, effort, money, and energy into an organization that doesn’t care what I think, or how I feel. It doesn’t care about its own “little people.” We don’t matter. I keep taking cheap shots because I feel like I’ve been left to die with my hands tied together. I feel things getting shoved in my face and down my throat. It’s a “get on board or else”, kind of situation. I was even told I had to be excited about it no less. Excited!!! Think about that for a minute. They have expectations on me to be excited about what I consider to be an unfair situation, and very unbecoming of us. I’m going through the motions. I’m doing it. I just didn’t know how I’m going to keep doing it. I either must submit, and bow down to the will of a select few, or keep making waves of displeasure. They know they have no worries though. I could school each of them on what loyalty really looks like. They have no idea. They compromise key values to win at all costs. I don’t want to win if I can’t do it fairly. I like competition. I’m not afraid of it like some people are. They only like a sure thing, a sure win. Eliminate the competition before they even get in the game. Let me be very clear; I WILL NOT BE SO EASY TO GET RID OF, OR THREATEN, OR BRIBE, OR SILENCE. I am loyal because it is in my bones, not because it is forced on me. I am a fighter. I am as tenacious as a dog with a bone when I am determined, and I have never been more determined in my life. At this point, you are either with me, or you’re against me. I feel like the part of my identity that I was so previously proud of has been hijacked by other people. Get off your elitist high horses or I’m going to personally knock you down off them. Get in touch with real people; with the common folk. The people beneath your feet. Try to remember what the values we espouse really mean, what they always stood for, what they should always stand for. This isn’t a long post. It’s a shit or get off the pot post. Get on board with what the rest of us are feeling, and deal with it, give us the support we need and we will support you; or prepare for battle!!! The only other option is getting the hell rid of me already. Do us both the favour. It might buy you a little time, before some other person can finally find the balls to speak out. It might buy you the time you need to push your agenda through. Who knows? Maybe it will be good for both of us. God pity you if I meet you on opposing sides.
I am so excited to see what Matt will continue to do for our Fredericton riding over the next few years. Proud to be a small part of it! His youthful exuberance can’t be replicated, or faked! It’s refreshing to have someone respresent all of us, no matter what. Most importantly, Matt cares about women’s rights and our youth. Help re-elect him!!
Jen Smith the WordSmith
Bitches Get Things Done
It’s been a little while since I felt like I was in the right head space to be able to blog. Technically, it wasn’t as much about the head space I was in, as much as it was NOT being able to write freely about what it is that has been troubling my mind as of late. Actually, I still can’t. My hands are tied, at least for the time being. It’s not like anyone tied them. I bound them myself with my unwavering loyalty and a sense of duty that I cannot shake. The words come to me so easily yet I find myself having to keep hitting that backspace bar routinely, because as I have often had to remind myself every time I tried to put pen to paper lately, “you can’t write that.” Let’s not forget what is important right now. There are dirty little secrets people don’t want spilled. Secrets that would cast them in a very negative light, not to mention the bad publicity that would soon follow. Tsk Tsk. No worries! Your secrets are safe with me. I like having aces up my sleeve! Being part of a team means being conscious of those around me and what their needs are. I respect my team. It’s for them that I am holding onto these shameful goings-on. The day and time will come when you will have to answer for these actions; if not from someone else, then definitely from me, when the time is right. I’m like an elephant; I NEVER forget.
It’s been a revealing time; a learning experience. I hardly remember feeling such harsh disappointment like I have felt in recent months, not only in some people who I previously held in the highest esteem, but mostly in the ideals and values that I thought we stood for. At the same time, I have felt such elation after having jumped every single hurdle or smashed apart each obstacle placed in my path. Things that were meant to wear me down instead gave me power. I may have, at times, had to slow down and catch my breath, but only temporarily, and never for long. Throughout the mental exhaustion, I never gave up. It’s just not in me to do that. I will fight for what I believe in until i take my last breath. There have been both good and bad experiences. I have learned that some people I thought were my friends, are not, but I have also made new friendships that have been built on blood, sweat, and tears while trying to achieve a common goal. These friendships are the best kind. I am grateful for all of them. I have seen people in positions of power, use their authority in the most sneaky, dirty, underhanded ways. These people use their power to crush those beneath them. What these people will find out, if they haven’t already, is, I am NOT so easy to crush. I am not intimidated. I never back down. I willingly accept the challenge. I will not go quietly or gently into the night, I will take some along with me for that ride. I mean, literally, I am a survivor! #metoo
I just want all of you to know that I deeply appreciate every word of encouragement, every message of support, and every kind gesture that so many of you sent my way. I even want to thank those that have taught me valuable lessons. I absorbed it all. There are no bad lessons. Just lessons well learned. I took one on the chin a few months ago, for something I believed in. I still believe in it or I wouldn’t be here. I just pulled my head out of the sand and chose to see the reality around me instead of the yarn that was being spun. It was like I was lost in the desert staring at a mirage. The image i was clinging to inevitably ebbed away. I’m staring back at a place that holds no sustenance, and if I don’t start moving I will slowly die waiting for it to come to me.
You may hurt me but you will never define who I am or what I stand for. Every struggle I have faced has made me stronger, smarter, and more resilient as a woman. I did not break. I will never break. I have the strength of too many women behind me to not carry on and move forward. I have many male friends and allies that I can count on to support me when I need it. I thank every one of you.
I know I may have taken some people by surprise, that’s why I’m a wild card. I can honestly say that it shouldn’t have come as a shock. I felt like I got backed into a corner. This requires a defensive play. I was not disillusioned. I knew what I was up against; patriarchy. Again, I was defeated by power, money, and an unfair system. That’s alright though. I learn something new every…single…time, and throw in my own spin just for fun. I accept all challenges head-on, and i am eagerly looking forward to the next one that comes my way.
Ladies, just remember we are as powerful, intelligent, and as calculating as any man on the planet. We are a force to be reckoned with, especially when we stick together. Remember that.
Four years ago I felt compelled to get involved in national politics in my local riding in New Brunswick. I always paid attention to the goings-on in the world, but from a safe place sitting on the sidelines. My passion for women’s equality, coupled with a drive to do something to make a difference in my community, my province, and my country, spurred me to randomly hit a volunteer button on a Facebook page one day while I was scrolling through my news feed. It was a political candidate page for Fredericton MP Matt DeCourcey. I knew nothing about Matt prior to stumbling upon his advertisement to recruit volunteers. After reading up on who he was and the objectives he set out to accomplish, I listened to my gut instinct and delved in further. Something made me press that button that day. I had never done anything of the like before. I honestly thought that my name would be one along side many, and that I would likely never be contacted. Instead, twenty minutes later I received a call from his volunteer coordinator asking me to get on board. I reluctantly said “yes.” Much to my surprise, she asked me if I could meet them that evening and join Matt going door-to-door to talk to residents in the riding. That day was a significant turning point in my life. It ignited the spark that was lying in wait. Matt was someone I could easily get behind, and the ideologies of the party lined up almost perfectly with my own sense of what is right and what is wrong. The spark that was ignited that day has turned into a raging fire. It’s an inferno I am not able to extinguish. I have been actively involved in volunteering for Matt’s team every time I am asked, no matter what the request is, unless I am working, injured, or travelling. This is a party for which I feel immense affiliation and loyalty. There have been some mistakes made along the way, we are not perfect, but overall I am happy with our party, and our vision of what Canada is, and should be. You see, I was raised by an educated, community-involved, socially concious family. There are many snippets of wisdom I can recall my father imparting on me when I was a youth as I was on my way out the door to hang out with friends. “Keep your head on straight” was something I frequently heard. Another, oft-repeated lesson he impressed upon me was, “there is a right thing to do, and a wrong thing to do.” At the time it seemed fluffy and philosophical; it didn’t impact my way of thinking immediately. I was a teenager, I had bigger things to worry about. As I aged and made mistakes, especially colossal ones, those expressions my father recounted to me when I was young would spin around in my mind like a neon sign, reminding me of my roots, reminding me of the values they instilled in me; values that grabbed a firm hold inside and grew exponentially through every difficult situation and moral equivocation I have ever had to consider. It is what made me sit for months every day with my developmentally challenged aunt while she was dying of brain cancer, despite the initial instinct to want to protect my own mental health with physical distance. It is what demanded me to take on a corporate giant all alone for ignoring discriminating practices in the work place against women… and win. It is what made me sit for over an hour on the side of a dark, deserted highway with a young girl that slid in the ditch, waiting for her parents to arrive, because I couldn’t leave her alone and vulnerable. There is ALWAYS a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do.
When I recently heard about leadership candidates rumoured to be running in New Brunswick for my party, I decided to look into things a little further. I had been hearing conjecture up until that point without any evidence, so I started scrolling through Facebook to glean some information. Like that day four years ago, I felt something I couldn’t explain. I felt nervous, if not somewhat unsubstantiated apprehension about one possible candidate. The other candidate gave me a good feeling, but I still didn’t know enough. I messaged several candidates and asked pointed questions. Just to be clear about something, I am not a person that gets a “gut feeling” very often. I believe in science-based evidence and reasonable conclusions based on logical hypotheses. Almost every gut feeling I have ever had has been related to a man. Perhaps my past childhood trauma, inflicted by a man who had power over me, forced me to consider subtleties very closely. I know I am not the only woman who experiences this. After a few weeks of talking to random people about the candidates, comments about one candidate, such as, “a black man will never win” started to make my stomach clinch. I knew that we were openly racist years ago. I thought we were over that kind of thinking, other than the pockets of knuckle-draggers that embrace overt racist ideology. I really thought the general population of New Brunswick had grown over the years and embraced diversity. We talk about it all the time. We espouse it in our advertisements, in our language, and in our schools. We all say the right things at the appropriate times; but when it comes right down to it, we all still hold onto our prejudice. If we confirm these biases with the language we use, are we not embracing racist ideology? By saying, and agreeing with, “a black man will never get elected in NB”, we are giving weight to and instilling that very concept. A concept that states, it’s okay to be a person of colour and live here; live here and contribute to our economy, pay taxes and help us build, but for God sakes do not for one minute think about leading our white province. No Way. If you have deceived yourself into thinking, “it’s not me that thinks that way, it’s everybody else. It’s just the way it is”, then I have some questions for you. How do you think others came to this conclusion? Did you take a poll? Did you talk to every New Brunswicker? Was there a news story I missed that addressed these issues then came up with this conclusion? People have reached this conclusion because they have discussed it. They have discussed it, and are okay with it. They have accepted this way of thinking as being okay. It’s not. It’s far from okay. It’s downright embarrassing and disappointing. I do not want to leave our children with a province that is known to be racist. We are better than that. We are New Brunswickers. We are Maritimers. We are supposed to be the most friendly and welcoming people in all of Canada. We can’t just give the best opportunities to white people. We can not afford to stick our head in the sand about this isuue any longer. I thought I had a good handle on our provincial “temperature.” I thought we were inclusive and accepting; until I started to “unofficially” help a black political candidate. My reality was shaken to it’s core; it was a direct assault to my senses. Every politician of every political stripe knows how badly we need immigration to help build our population, our economy, and our province. Why would others want to come here if they are going to be treated differently? How can we invite other people to live here, and then treat them like the enemy when we do? Maybe more people would settle here if they felt welcome, and included, and accepted, not judged.
I agonized for weeks over whether to assist a candidate with a campaign. Initially I had no reservations, but after hearing so many negative comments because of the colour of his skin(even one from my own family), I felt inner turmoil. I was told not to waste my time. I was told a black man won’t win. I was told to wait and get on board with the “winning” team. I was told that New Brunswick was just racist and not to stress myself out by giving too much thought to it. I felt the barrier like it was a tangible thing; like it was a WALL. I was comfortable with my decision initially because I was woefully ignorant about how we really think in New Brunswick. I had my head in the sand. When I first saw this candidate I didn’t even give a thought to what colour his skin was or where he was born. I looked at his education, experience, qualifications, and his level of compassion and dedication towards those that are disadvantaged and less fortunate. I saw a person that demonstratively cares about the little person and felt good about that; then others started filling my head with doubt and comments that caused me anxiety. It was only a few days ago that I realized the source of my anxiety. My granddaughter is a visible minority with brown skin.
I suddenly made the connection. She was going to face the same kinds of awful things other non-white people do who live here in New Brunswick. This realization hit me like a brick in the face, and triggered a primal, maternal instinct in me that is an incredibly inexplicable, powerful force. This is now personal. The internal struggle that was fiercely battling inside me ended the moment I realized I was fighting for the future of my grandaughter and others like her. The values my family instilled in me demand I live up to the those expectations left with me. Everything changed for me a few years ago, the moment I realized I would be leaving this legacy to my own children. I have to show them and my granddaughter that doing the right thing is hard sometimes. It can be isolating, and can leave you feeling vulnerable. I’ll be perfectly honest, up until I realized what was at stake for my granddaughter’s future, there was a part of me that wanted to give in to the external pressures I had been facing; to make life easier for myself. Herein lies my dilemma; do the easy thing, or do the right thing. I know I’m facing an uphill battle but it’s one I will gladly climb for the sake of my children, my granddaughter, and for the future of New Brunswick. I’d rather take the loss than live with the regret; otherwise I’m rejecting the very same values that I, and those I hold most dearly, treasure the most. Win, lose, or draw I am on #teamwinner. I choose the side of right over might.
This is by far one of the trickiest posts I have attempted to write; mostly because I feel like I have to tread lightly here, and I don’t like that feeling. It’s like walking on egg shells. I refuse to be intimidated or non-overtly bullied. I’ve never allowed it since I was a kid; I’m not about to start now. I make a consious effort to be open-minded, and to consider all perspectives. I often land somewhere in the grey area between the black and white. There are; however, lines drawn in the sand for one or two specific issues. These are lines that I don’t cross. Some people are trying to put their foot down on that line. I’m not afraid to tell you it really hurts my heart. There are some things that need to be said, about who we are, about what we represent, about the ideals we embrace, and about how we think and act towards others. Especially towards others that look different, or have different cultures or customs than we do in our homonogeously white province.
I heard racial comments about a candidate running in a leadership race when I was out and about recently. The candidate is a man of colour. I’m positive my mouth dropped opened and I know my eyes were surely as wide as saucers. I wear my heart on my face not on my sleeve. It’s called resting-bitch-face for a reason. I did not say anything. I let it slide. I made excuses. I kept the peace. Days later I noticed this candidate’s face on my profile when I was scrolling through Facebook. I took some time to do a little research about what this candidate could offer. I was impressed with some aspects about this candidate but there was an area of concern. I always exercise due diligence and seek as much information as possible, from as many different sources as can. I analyse everything from every conceivable avenue so that I can make a fact-based decision. Part of my research was talking to random people I knew from different backgrounds and socio-economic classes. The first time someone actually said to me, “NB will never elect a black man“, there is no way possible I could impress upon you the superhuman effort it took for me not to bite this person’s head off, figuratively speaking. I thought maybe it was an anomaly. I was sadly proven wrong the days following the first incident. Pretty soon, no matter who I asked, the response was, “We are not ready to elect a black man yet. It’s not me that thinks that. We are just not ready.” I lost count of how many people told me various versions of the same thing. So, I have some questions:
When will we be ready?
You see, I have been squashing my feelings about this every single time someone has said words to me about this candidate, this man of colour. I have a precious, beautiful, smarter-than-your-average-bear granddaughter. She is almost 3 years old. She is aboriginal. She is a person of colour. The message I’m receiving is this: it sucks that parts of, or lots of people in NB are so racist, but… it is what it is. Translated: my granddaughter, a person of colour, has no hope in hell of every considering running for political office in NB. Two strikes against her right off the bat; her skin colour and her gender. I will say this much. Like I did for my children, I will do everything in my power to ensure this astounding little girl, and others like her, will have every opportunity available. I do not accept willful ignorance about racism. I do not accept that this is the way it will always be. We can do better and we have to do better. We can’t keep teaching the younger generations that this is the way things should be. Racism isn’t born, it is taught.
“I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.” – Marie Currie in Pierre Currie (1936), 167
Like everyone else, I take on issues that are near and dear to my heart. I’m a women who has experienced unfair practices at work because of my gender. I don’t think there’s a woman alive that hasn’t felt the sting of discrimination. We’ve been made to feel less than, or out of place and uncomfortable in certain situations. If there is a woman that has been unscathed by aspects of discrimination, I’d like to talk to her and find out what her secret is. We all feel it. We either let it bounce off or take it to heart and let it spur a call to action within ourselves. I have done both. It’s important to pick our battles. I can’t fight every cause out there, although I feel very strongly about many of them. I can only speak about my own experiences and of those whom I’ve witnessed enduring frustrating accepted practices while trying to break down barriers. Some of us are killing it, some of us are coasting, and some of us are barely making it. The fact that women still face discrimination in the work force is common knowledge. Women facing discrimination in STEM fields is not as commonly discussed. These are areas that have been, and still are, dominated my men. These are very competitive fields that require a significant commitment to years of education, time, and research. My daughter is a women of science, educated in medicinal chemistry; a second year PhD candidate in the very competitive field of pharmacology. She’s more than half way up that mountain. This is her Everest. She’s planned each moment down to every last detail.
For clarification purposes, pharmacology is not the same as pharmacy. Pharmacy briefly defined is: a profession in which a licensed Pharmacist dispenses, monitors, administers, and counsels about prescription drugs and overall well-being.
Pharmacology briefly defined is: the science of drugs; including their origin, composition, pharmacokinetics, therapeutic use, and toxicology.
My daughter first experienced discrimination when she was in high school. As a top honours student, she took education very seriously. She knew the goals she had in mind and focused like a lion bearing down on it’s prey. Suddenly she was struggling. She was having a hard time in a relatively easy class. It was a male teacher. She felt creeped out by him. This teacher was very flirty and had leering eyes. My daughter’s friend had no issue being that “teacher’s pet.” My daughter had a huge issue. This teacher had the perfect set up for having complete power and control over whomever he wanted. There were no tests. There were no exams. There were no definitive ways to demonstrate knowledge learned. My daughter had to rely on a man she felt uncomfortable around, in a course that she needed, with a marking scheme over which she had no control. When she finally told me, I approached the school like a mother bear protecting her cub. The administration did a great job at two things; keeping it quiet and doing as little as possible to help my daughter. Long story short, the teacher was very calculating and raised her marks just enough to give her a 94.4% final average. Great mark! Not good enough for the biggest scholarship prizes. She still received decent scholarships, enough that she had very little to no debt throughout her undergrad years. An interesting point about this is; the teacher’s pet who won the huge scholarships, dropped out of sciences in university. My daughter pressed on with nothing but her end goal in mind.
While she was an undergrad she did a biophysical chemistry internship at an Ivy league school. This is where she found herself in a position of having to endure discrimination yet again in order to get ahead. All the men at this world class research facility were allowed to wear shorts; not women. Men could wear sandals; not women. Women couldn’t show any leg or ankle in the lab but for men it was tolerated. The last issue for my daughter was dealing with her own feelings about how women feel they need to portray themselves to get ahead or to be taken seriously. When she applied for grad school she had a series of Skype interviews that determined, in part, whether or not she would be accepted into this very prestigious, very competitive program. When I saw her right before her interview, I noticed how dressed down she was, and how she wore no make up. I questioned her about this. Her reply was, “I don’t want to look too pretty.” A little part of me died inside hearing this. Not just because she felt that way, but because society still puts such huge pressure on women to look one way or another for certain roles. One thing is for certain; forging ahead facing unique challenges in life is certain to test the will and strength of any woman. I’m happy to say that my daughter, who sacrificed so much to be where she is today, is settled and knows where she is going. The rigid demands of applying for funding, doing research, getting published, and going to classes are offset by intermittent visits home and letting loose with friends; sporting the confidence of an educated, worldly, young woman.
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I can not accept.” ~ Angela Davis
Allow Yourself To Have Fun
My daughter has subscribed to the high performance pressure that has been put on the women in our family for a long time. Her accomplishments are great and I’m obviously fiercely proud. What makes me happier lately is knowing that she has learned to let her hair down and have fun. This is very important for somebody who has tunnel vision with an unyielding dedication to her education. Shes learning that it’s not just about reaching the summit. It’s the climb.
Being a feminist is by times admittedly exhausting. Like any other perspective or point of view it’s open to interpretation. Just like every other situation in life, I can’t please everybody. I can only focus on how I perceive things, and how I break down and analyze all sources of information. I draw on my own personal experiences and the barriers I’ve faced, the roadblocks I’ve barrelled through and setbacks I’ve endured. I’ve experienced the seemingly benign but insidious means an organization can use to discourage females from not only applying for, but feeling welcome and supported in a traditionally male dominated profession. I’ve worked for a major organization and later found out my male counterparts got paid more than I did for doing the exact same job. This organization has had to be taken to court and was forced to pay women that were affected retroactively. I sill hear to this day, “women don’t want to work on road construction. It’s dirty and hot.” My immediate thoughts go to our service women that dig holes in ditches and give up their life, or the life they know, engaging in combat roles for our country. Comments like this keep me pressing forward. Just the other day I was looking up the definitions of strength for a blog I was writing. Just for kicks I looked up the definition of woman. The very first definition I came across on my phone defined women as being the “weaker/fairer sex.” When I still see accepted practices of discrimination against women I am going to push back. I’m going to push back hard. Whomever is on the other end of this metaphorical push is going to feel it. They are going to feel the intensity and insistence of my passion. I am undeterred, despite the criticism I’ve received from feminists that hold a more extreme view than I do. I’m not feminist “enough” according to some. The basis for this claim is because I am open to discussing women’s issues with men. I’m in search of equality. I don’t believe that alienating the gender that holds most of the power, wealth, and political representation the world over is a good idea. I think non-confrontational dialogue is essential to understanding the issues that women are trying to bring to light. Men are not our enemy. They are certainly not mine. I feel fortunate to have the women I do in my life, but I’m equally grateful for my male allies as well. Than there’s the flip-side of the coin. To others, I’m too feminist. I bring up women’s issues too often. I hear the laughs and notice the barely restrained eye rolls when I bring an issue to the table. I’ve felt the frustration directed towards me for bringing women’s unacknowledged contributions to attention. I look at it like this: if we all embraced apathy, willful ignorance, or leaving the job to someone else, women would never have gotten anywhere. It’s not like the rights that we’ve fought hard to win, were going to be relinquished to us without serious and sustained effort on our part. I acknowledge that we have come a long way, and I’m encouraged by that, but it certainly seems as if some people are tired of hearing about women’s issues, or are feeling threatened by the #metoo movement. The way I see that is, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. If you are raising boys, they have nothing to fear. Teach them respect and boundaries. Educate them about personal space, and the fact that no means no. Teach them that without a doubt a girl that is passed out drunk, or unable to walk without assistance, is not able to give consent. She is off limits. I’ve raised a son and I’ve taught him these very things. I shared with him the pain of my experiences. I have no worries that anything will ever come back to him because he was taught to be respectful. He’s raising a toddler on his own. A single father of a little girl. Not only a girl, but a Maliseet girl of the Wolastoqiyik First Nation. A girl of colour. If anything, women’s issue are at heart of him raising my granddaughter. He’s surrounded by feminists in our family, of both the male and female persuasion.
If anyone ever felt the searing flames of the fire, it’s the late, great Carrie Fisher. She sizzled in her iconic bikini for her role on the 1983 Stars Wars film, “Return of the Jedi”. For me, Fisher brings different things to mind; such as her views on feminism and her openness about mental health struggles. One of my favourite quotes from Carrie Fisher is a excerpt from an interview she gave to Elizabeth Johnson from the Herald Tribune in 1993. “Stay afraid, but do it anyways. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” I believe this to my very core. I have to do this all the time.
The following is a vlog I posted to my Facebook page, Jen Smith The WordSmith, where I discuss a range of issues about feminism, #metoo, and mental health awareness.
#metoo #mentalhealthawareness #survivor #womensupportingwomen
What constitutes a strong woman? According to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of strength varies according to the context in which it’s used. One can be physically strong, have mental fortitude, or even an unwavering conviction in a belief system. It can’t be narrowed down to just one singular definition, applicable only in a specific situation. Context is crucial. The same can be said for strong women.
Some mothers work 40 hours a week, only to return home and provide the care-taking responsibilities that have been assigned to them because of gender since birth; making supper, washing dishes, folding laundry, driving kids around to extracurricular activities, grocery shopping, recycling, and play dates. The list goes on and on. Plenty of women work 60 hours a week, serve on committees, play competitive sports, go to the gym and maybe volunteer at a youth camp. Then there are the women who suffer through emotional and/or physical abuse because they are not financially independent, and have likely driven people they love away in order to conceal the abuse. They walk on eggshells, trying to do the right thing so that they won’t get beat down, only to inevitably fail. They don’t fail themselves, they fail to meet the impossible expectations of the individual who wields complete physical and emotional control over them. These women often use themselves as a shield between the abuser and any children involved. There are so many women, in all walks of life, that are silently accepting their perceived fate in life. All of the women mentioned above possess a super human strength that only another woman would understand. On top of work and family responsibilities, women are most often the ones compelled to look after aging parents. I see this strength in every woman I know. We all have different circumstances in life, from income to belief systems, but we all share one thing in common; keeping it all together. Keeping everything running as smoothly as possible. We have to work harder to prove our worth, yet we are very often overlooked, despite the values we uphold and the skills we contribute. I am one of those strong women. I have been told this by many, but it is not something I need to be told. It’s nice to be acknowledged, but I know it. I feel it whenever something for which I feel very passionate about is raised or brought to my attention. Most frequently I feel my strength when no matter what life throws at me, I bounce back. I fall down every now and then, but I always stand up, brush off my knees, and challenge whatever is ahead of me. Life has been throwing me some curveballs lately. Most of these things I have no control over, which doesn’t help. One of the most difficult situations in life for me is when I can not be of any help to my kids. They are adults, and are accomplished in their own ways. My son’s neurological condition is a constant worry, ever present in the back of my mind. I am always mentally prepared to get a call about him having a seizure. Thankfully, it’s been a few years, and my mind has relaxed a bit, but a small part of me is reserved, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, to find that mental resiliency to be strong for my son. My daughter is away at school, shes very capable and healthy; fortunately, I don’t have to worry about her much. We only see each other a few times a year but we talk on the phone every day. When situations arise with her, I feel the powerlessness of the physical distance between us, and my inability to do anything to help her. The only thing I can do is listen and advise. The rest is up to her. This is a hard thing to do; to let go of your kids and let them live their lives. They make mistakes and learn from them. They celebrate when they’re triumphant. I can only observe and console or congratulate.
That Little Black Cloud
Besides unexpectedly losing a job a few weeks ago, I was recently in a motor vehicle accident. I relive the moments after impact often. I remember looking over at my dog, shaking like a leaf, sitting on the seat, realizing he must have made impact with the airbag, now billowing with smoke throughout the car. Thankfully nobody involved was seriously hurt but I think it’s fair to say we are all still feeling some pain from that collision.
I am optimistic by nature, so I tell myself “things can only look up from here.” The tip of the iceberg for me recently, is being told that my oldest brother, going through dialysis three times a week, may at some point need a kidney to survive. His best chances of finding a match is through an immediate family member. Health issues and age will make some unviable options. The weight of having to potentially make this decision at some point down the line is bearing down on me considerably. It’s not on the table yet but it’s up in the air. Somehow I keep finding the resiliency to stay in the fight, to be there for the people that need me, and honour the commitments I have made. I just keep going, relying on the strength and support of those around me. Most importantly, I find the strength within; to speak up, to speak out, and to follow up with action. I am no different than any other woman. Women are the glue that holds society together, of this there is no doubt.
I have no idea how I came about having “resting bitch face”, but I have it in spades. Apparently some of us “appear” to be more unapproachable than others.
It seems that I am one of those people. I have a critical, sceptical mind. My basic approach to life is to question everything: who, what, when, where, and why. Becoming knowledgeable and having the capacity to analyze and question things are second nature to me. I can be soft but I can be hard if I have to be.
I’ve had to make decisions that might seem ruthless to some people. Given the unfortunate circumstances that were thrust upon me at different times in my life, the fact that I am able to trust anyone and expose vulnerabilities is as surprising to me as it is to those that know me personally. Ever since that moment when I was first victimized as a child, a barrier of distrust was erected in me and it has embed certain personality traits in my brain that will probably be with me until the day I die. I have been in self-protection mode since I was about 8 years of age. That moment when innocence, wonder, curiosity, security, and safety were robbed from me, I was changed irrevocably in specific ways. As if being abused by my relative wasn’t enough, I had the added trauma of being further victimized by the crown prosecutor assigned to prosecute my grandfather. Even though he didn’t touch me physically, he did and said things that were way beyond wildly inappropriate from a grown man in a position of authority, to a victim of sexual abuse about to face her abuser in court. His actions cemented my feelings of distrust and low self-worth. These two men, both in positions of power, fostered my understandably unhealthy view of that gender for over half of my life. I was approached by law enforcement a few years after I had testified against my grandfather. They wanted to talk about that crown prosecutor. He had violated other girls as well. This is an example of one of those life tests I feel like I failed, as I wrote about in my previous blog post, “Walking through Fire.” I had so many difficulties in the years following the trial. I lost half of my family. I struggled with normal teenage issues, but with the added weight of guilt and shame. It led me down some scary roads. By the time these detectives came to see me about that crown prosecutor, I did not have the strength or fight in me to go through the horror of having to testify again or face further public scrutiny. I feel like I failed my younger self by not having the courage to hold this man accountable. A man who had disturbingly used his position of authority and power to abuse girls that had already been a victim of another. I told the detectives nothing happened and that he was nice to me. I just couldn’t go through it again. I just couldn’t, so I lied. Then I buried it. For years. I told no one for 30 years. I understand so intimately why women like Dr. Ford, who so bravely put herself out there years later to expose the truth about another man in a position of power, don’t report assaults to police. There are a staggering number of women who have experienced these violations that never report it. I get it. I lived it. #metoo
It’s been 30 years since I went through trial. Somehow along way I have ended up in a good place. This is in large part due to the work I have put into healing myself over the years. The tragedies I’ve been though and survived have made me stronger with each experience. I couldn’t have made it without support, from different people at different times. The people I go to first now for support are most often my children. They are both adults and successful in different ways.
My parents are also very much part of my support system. Besides my family, I have been fortunate enough to have female friends, at different periods of my life that have helped me heal my soul.
Without these people, I would not be as healed as I am. The very first female friend that I told about being abused gave me strength; strength to tell her and her mother. They were the first people that I confided in about the abuse I was suffering from at the hands of my grandfather. They encouraged me to report it. Without their initial support for me, I may not have taken the steps necessary to hold my abuser accountable. My friend came with me to court and supported me through what was one of the most difficult days in my life. Another of my close female friends supported me in the after math of that traumatic event. These two friends am I forever indebted to. Numerous women throughout my life have provided me with different measures of support. For these friendships, I am eternally grateful. They helped me find my worth. They supported me in my endeavours. Most importantly, they listened. They weren’t self absorbed. I learned so much from these women. I’ve even learned from the women that I thought were my good friends, but didn’t share the same values in friendship that I did. They couldn’t offer the same level of loyalty and respect. These are areas that I need reciprocated. I sill care about these women but I had to walk away because they were not as concerned about me, as much as they were concerned about themselves, and what men thought of them. It’s very sad for me as a woman, to see such low self-esteem in other women that rely on the attention of men to feel worthy. I am so thankful that I overcame similar feelings towards myself when I was much younger. There are numerous reasons I credit for this:
- My family believed and supported me.
- I have had a lot of professional counselling throughout the years.
- I shared my pain with other women who had experienced abuse.
- I focused on education and learning.
The last reason is crucial. Education provided me with a feeling of accomplishment as well as critical thinking skills. I’ve come to appreciate my abilities and knowledge more than anything else.
I became involved in politics about four years ago. I started out volunteering on a local Federal campaign. I was immediately bitten by the political bug. Women’s rights and equality were a large part of my involvement and remains so today. It was always an interest and a concern for me, but it became my passion. I knew grassroots efforts were needed in order for women to find their power in this world. I’ve worked and volunteered relentlessly. I knew I could help effect change. Giving up my time to volunteer has given me back more than I could ever ask for. It feels good to know that my efforts are helping to make a difference in my community, my province, and my country. It took me years to reclaim my power through many different avenues. Now that I have it, I will never relinquish it. I keep it by sharing my experiences with other women and drawing strength from each other.
Life is tough sometimes. It’s tough for everyone. Nobody has it really easy. I know people like to pretend that they have the best, most perfect and positive life, but we know that usually isn’t the case. We all have struggles and they are as varied and vast as individuals themselves. That isn’t to say that some don’t have it easier than others. Some of our friends and family post these fantastic life stories on social media that would make any one a little jealous. The reality is most people aren’t posting their pain, their shame, and their embarrassments. Who wants to expose those vulnerabilities? Me, that’s who. I have found strength in sharing my weaknesses and troubles with others that have had similar experiences. So many of us are struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues but we’ve been shamed as a society to admit it.
I struggle with anxiety. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with than others. When I was younger I felt more powerless against it. As I’ve aged I’ve learned how to cope and how to recognize the signs that I’m indulging in the insecurities that come with being anxious. A couple of different times in my life I have “gone off the deep end.” My mental resiliency has been tested on numerous occasions. I feel like I failed some of these life tests, mainly because I’m so hard on myself and have such high expectations of not only me, but everyone around me. My first serious test came after reporting my maternal grandfather for sexually abusing me when I was a child. The subsequent court cases that followed demanded a strength I didn’t know I had; to face the man that wounded me so deeply and irrevocably for the rest of my life. Even though he was found guilty, sent to prison, and lost an appeal, I always felt like there was something wrong with me. Somehow it was my fault. Even though I was just a kid, I couldn’t help but blame myself for not having the courage to stop it sooner. The ripple effect of that trial was losing contact with the maternal half of my family. We were ostracized by that part of the family for years, because my mother and father believed and supported me. My mother chose her daughter over her father, mother, siblings, and extended family. That’s the best mother anyone could ever ask for. It took me years to fully appreciate the loss she must have felt, and the sacrifice she made to support me. She is a remarkably strong woman that has probably never been properly acknowledged for her tenacity and unyielding love and support for her kids.
I staggered around in a shame-filled state for many years. I had a hard time dealing with the incredibly overpowering mental anguish I was suffering from. Despite being young and inexperienced at life, I could not allow myself any forgiveness for the serious character flaws that I thought I saw in myself during my youth. Now that I understand just how traumatic this event was, I am kinder to the memory my younger self. All the choices I made in the years after the abuse were normal, and typical of those that have been so seriously victimized. I’ve forgiven myself for the mistakes that I’ve made, but more importantly, I have learned not to give any thought to those that refuse to see how I’ve grown or acknowledge the changes that I’ve made throughout the course of my life. I wasted far too much time in my life worrying about what people thought of me. In my head I was already rejected before I could give anyone a proper chance to get to know me. I just assumed people weren’t going to like me. I was loud, hyper, outspoken, boisterous, adventurous, and tough. Very tough. I come from a predominantly religious family, I felt like I was most likely viewed as something akin to the devil himself. The long and short of it is; life is way to short to worry about what people think. There will always be people that don’t like you, for whatever reason. That’s ok. We are survivors. We always have each other.
My life has not been the easiest of journeys. Some things were thrown at me over which I had no control. My children’s serious health issues tested my resiliency. As is typical of me, I kept things together during the crisis, and then fell apart after the threat was gone. The latest and greatest test of my will and strength as a women, was when my developmentally challenged aunt died of brain cancer. I sat with her in the hospital every day, until the moment she took her last breath. The lessons she taught me about enjoying the simple things in life are still with me.
I have made colossal mistakes throughout my life. I was challenged by low self-esteem, and a lack of pride in the skills and talents that I had. I didn’t see myself as having any talents. Getting an education and having the support of my family and friends have contributed to me having a greater sense of self. I have pride in my accomplishments. Like a lot of parents, I feel my two greatest accomplishments were raising well-adjusted kids, despite my struggles being a young mother. I was a thrill-seeking hothead for most of my life. I had no fear. I lived for daring adventure and brought my kids along with me on that ride. There was never a dull moment. If I were a parent of young children now, my common sense as a middle-aged person would have surely kicked in. Instead, I raised two young kids when I was in my early 20’s. As is typical of the youthful mind, I thought nothing would ever happen to me. It would happen to somebody else. I felt invincible. It was this fearlessness that enabled me to let my kids follow me jumping off a local bridge into the river below. It took us swimming through rapids so strong that it would suck you down, twirl you around, and spit you back out again metres away. It led us to jumping a fence to pet a bear caged behind a steel fence. Crazy things to do, but I, nor my now fully grown children, have any regrets.
I have walked though the fire, but I did not come out the other side unscathed. Some scars never fully heal. Somehow I managed to raise university educated kids. My son has full custody of his young daughter. A girl born into a family of strong, dominant, confidant women. My daughter, a PhD candidate, is a scientist, blazing a trail for girls coming behind her from our small community in rural New Brunswick.
Life is tough sometimes, but like Dolly Parton said so eloquently, “if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”
People that preach constant positivity bug me. I wish I lived in that fairytale land where everything comes up roses. I don’t. I live in reality. Life is great, and then it isn’t. Attitude is important and it will carry us through the tough times if we embrace a positive outlook, but let’s face it; it’s ok to acknowledge sadness or deep disappointment. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to not be on all the time. My late grandmother was our family matriarch. She was a teacher. She was a lady. She was a hard worker at a time when when women didn’t go out to work often, especially in farmland communities in rural New Brunswick, where she ended up settling with my grandfather.
She grew up poor but lived in the city so unlike many women of her generation, she was educated. She was also a very devout Christian. This is where we butted heads. I have so much to thank her for though; primarily for my love of English and the gift of good communication skills that she bestowed upon me. The thing is, she placed crazy high expectations on the women in our family; sometimes unintentionally, but the end result was the same for each of us. We put immense pressure on ourselves to perform at a very high standard. When we fail to meet these impossible standards 100% of the time, anxiety issues arise. Questions and self-doubt creep in. Mental illness found its way into our family psyche and embedded itself into our brains. It proved to be too much for my grandmother’s daughter, and ended with her suicide a number of years ago. My aunt was a beautiful, accomplished nurse and mother. She had every reason to be proud of herself and her life. A classic example of someone that appeared to have it all, only to have it end so tragically. It seems to be a common theme. “She was always laughing,” is the thing I hear most often.
I never wanted to show any vulnerability in my life. My natural instinct is to show no weakness. My age and experience have taught me to see the beauty in being vulnerable and the magic that happens when that vulnerability is shared. The women that have reached out to me to share their own traumatic experiences have helped me grow through mine. I’ve been learning to let go of my own ridiculously high expectations and be easier on myself.
There have been some key incidents in my life that have defined me. I’m a child sexual abuse survivor. This changed how I saw myself from the moment my innocence was stolen, as well as acutely changing my view of the world around me and the people in it. I keenly understand why women hold onto their pain and don’t confront their abusers. Things don’t work our well either way. It took me years to get to a place where I’m ok with who I am and what has happened to me. I went through the proper channels of accountability and felt the relief when he was found guilty of abusing me. I was believed. I was vindicated. It didn’t make anything better though. I was a young woman struggling with usual issues of teenage angst compounded by the weight of guilt and shame that I felt.
I became the strongest woman I could be. I would never allow myself to be victimized by a man again. I was a hard ass and I owned it. I still do. The school of hard knocks has hardened me in one hand but softened me in another. It gave me the strength to cope through my young daughter’s heart failure and subsequent surgery in the early 90’s. It led me through the trying times spent by my son’s hospital bed when he was a teenager; his brain being ravaged with seizures. Waiting anxiously while he was on life support, not knowing if he would live or die.
This inner strength allowed me to hold the hands of two of my loved ones as they took their last breaths and death welcomed them. I am a woman. I am a survivor. I am resilient. I handle whatever is thrown at me with a ferocity befitting of a mother lion guarding her cub. Sometimes I get down. Not often and never for long. I aim to thrive but some days I just survive. The world today is not for the feint of heart. As women, we need to work a little harder, a little longer, and be a little stronger to take our place in this world, because power only comes to those who seize it.
I could say this has been a long time coming for me. It has and it hasn’t. I was a feminist long before I knew I was one. I have my Dad to thank for that. My father, back in the early 70’s, seemed to be a man ahead of his time. Whether it was because I had two older brothers and he knew I had to be tough, or because he was educated and insightful, he had one consistant message for me when I was growing up; anything boys could do I could do better. So off I went helping him with outdoor choors like cleaning the yard, or getting wood ready for winter. I spent more time driving tractors, picking rocks up off the lawn, and feeding the animals than I ever did doing dishes or folding laundry. I have always expected to be treated equally to males. It’s been an assault to my senses when I haven’t been and it happens all too often. I feel like a dolphin swimming in an ocean of sharks. Dolphins have to be cunning and resourceful. They have to outsmart the predator that’s trying to outmaneuver them. So do women. We have to pull the rabbit out of the hat everyday and make the magic happen. Whether it’s being mindful of how we dress, or keeping track of how many drinks are deemed “appropriate”, to being expected to be responsible for a larger share of the workload than a male counterpart; all of us women are dodging sharks everyday. There’s a lesson to be learned from dolphins here ladies; they live in large groups. That’s the key to their very existence and it’s the key to ours. We support each other and stick together to ensure our survival.
Feminism is a vast, very broadly defined movement. Like any cause or ideology that we embrace, we may have different perspectives on how we conceptualize our approach to its application. From a sociological perspective, patriarchal societies are by design, meant to give men a position of dominance. It keeps women in a constant cycle of systematic oppression. This is evidenced by the fact that men still hold most of the power, wealth, and political representation throughout the world. The objective is to understand the origins of gender inequality, and break the bias of these stereotypical roles that we are thrust into, based on these preconceived notions and societal expectations.
I’m brining this up because my key objective is to normalize discussions of the ultimate goal of feminism; gender equality. Women need to dominate the discussions about the inequality we face. We are critical to the changes that need to be brought forth for us to collectively get ahead. We are each other’s strength and support system.
I believe it’s also important that men be a part of some of these discussions. We need them as allies. We need them to acknowledge their sometimes unwitting role in oppression, and be a supporting voice for the equality of women.
It may run against the grain for many men to even consider supporting the idea of feminism. Why would they want to challenge traditional roles that they believe is of a benefit to them? The very system that gives them all the power is also responsible for the additional pressures men feel to be the provider, to always have to be strong, to never show any weakness or emotion, and to always be in control. Men aren’t typically viewed as nurturers and care givers. Without financial resources, this puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to child custody issues.
The scales are very imbalanced. We need to even them out. That means raising women up.
I am a strong believer in being open minded and giving weight to all viable theories and sources of information. I acknowledge the few areas that men are the victims of their own patriarchal systems, but this doesn’t supersede the grossly disproportionate number of ways in which men are advantageous over women in every other single aspect of our lives. The reality is, Everyone will benefit from women reaching their full potential and experiencing the feeling of true equality.