On Women and Work

I’ve been busy organizing and running a conference the past month (more on that soon), and so have been remiss in my blogging, but that doesn’t mean the world stopped or the ol’ wheels in my head ceased turning.

Lately I’ve had a string of encounters involving women of all ages, that has made those wheels work overtime:

1. There was the women writers evening I felt got a little too man-hatey for my taste, especially when one woman half-kiddingly told me I was complicit with men for writing about aviation history. I “half-kiddingly” told her to back off and get to know me and my work before making such statements. Oh, and that maybe she should remember the incredible women who have been involved in aviation as pilots, engineers, mechanics, etc.

2. Then I was chatting with a young woman around the 3o-year-old mark who did not obviously belong to a religous cult who said, when I asked what she did, “Oh, I’m a wife.”

3. Finally, this morning at the dog park I was chatting with two women approaching 50 who felt they had lost the opportunity to pursue their dreams (police/RCMP officer in one case) to raise children and support their husbands.

These encounters and the books I’ve been reading lately (Doris Anderson and Myrl Coulter’s memoirs; Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence’s bios; and various other titles), are still swirling around in my mind, and I don’t have fully formed thoughts yet. But I know that I’m deeply uncomfortable with anyone defining herself solely in relation to someone. (And I use the feminine pronoun because I have rarely heard a man say “I’m a husband” or “I’m a stay-at-home dad” without some qualifier.) What happens if you get divorced? What happens when your children leave home?

As a third-wave (anti-racist) feminist, I think it’s important to explore inequality between the sexes, but that it’s also critical to show how these roles/definitions affect everyone in society. For example, I think the 1950’s model often leaves retired people in the dust, even though they can be the most active volunteers, mentors, and knowledge-holders. It also ignores the tremendous domestic labour many women perform outside the paid workforce that allows our society to function. And it boxes men into a definition of masculinity based on bread-winner status or a particular profession.

One of the things I like best about our online world and social media is the way people are identifying themselves. On Twitter, for example, I follow two people with the following “taglines”:

Dave: “Retired. Married. 2 grown children, 2 grandsons. Chairman and 2 TAF Medium Bombers Ass’n Cdn Wing. Frequent volunteer at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

Cerina: “Motivational small business advisor, writer, speaker, editor, fitness coach, entrpreneur, mom. My Gemini soul loves books, dogs, learning, teaching.”

Let’s stay complex, keep our identities and relationships multi-faceted, and always strive for self-actualization. It’ll make for some interesting future encounters.

Riker and Me

It should be no surprise to you that I – who constantly writes about my pets and the humane society – went to see the film Marley & Me last night.

This adaptation of the wildly popular book of the same name (which I haven’t read, btw) was great. I went to see it with two other women who love dogs as much as I do. The first half we all laughed at Marley’s antics and, as reviewers promised, the second half we were weeping – along with the rest of the theatre whom I’m sure had various shades and lengths of dog hair stuck to their clothes too.

Dogs are wonderful companions and – except for my university days – I have always had one in the house. Sometimes they can also drive you absolutely nuts. I really related to Jennifer Aniston’s character – Jenny Grogan – when she went ballistic on her large yellow lab after he not only dragged down a set of blinds but knocked over her toddler. Dogs, like other family members, sometimes make you insane. Walking away from the film, though, I did feel much more patient with Riker. After all, he could be so much worse!

Interestingly enough, Marley often faded into the background during the film. I found myself focusing less on the ‘man’s best friend’ theme, and more on other aspects. For example, the interactions between Owen Wilson’s character – John Grogan – and his editor in Florida were wonderful. I also thought Jenny and John Grogan’s struggles with parenthood fascinating (although personally I was a little disappointed with Jenny’s decision to quit journalism and writing to be a full-time mother. But that’s the beauty of feminism – choices! Also, did they not know about birth control? How do you have two surprise babies – or”whoops” as John tells his sons their new sister’s name is?).

Perhaps most of all, the theme of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ kept cropping up. John always wanted to be a reporter and is unsure when he is ‘stuck’ with a column by his editor. Then he gets kind of wishy washy about that job and the family moves to Philadelphia where he gets to be a reporter. Then he decides what he really loves after all is column-writing. C’mon already!

There’s also the envy John feels toward his best friend, Dr. McSteamy from Grey’s Anatomy: the friend is a hard-hitting journalist who writes pieces on drugs and war between seducing beautiful young women. For much of the movie John would rather face torture by Columbian drug lords than come home to a crazy dog, three screaming brats, and a semi-resentful wife. I think many parents and spouses feel that way on one occasion or another…

The film definitely made me pause for a second and think about my own life: even with all the ups and downs, my field is feeling pretty darn green at the moment.

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.