Sunday, May 11, 2014

No Place For A Girl

On Mother's Day, let's reflect for a moment on the idea that every Mom was once a girl.

This is hardly a revelation, I know, but for those of us who appreciate Mums, both our own and others, I think it is important to remember that every stalwart matriarch started out as as uncertain girl at some point in their lives.

Following the spring Cantilon Choirs Concert this afternoon, we had dinner with my mother as well as my sister and her husband, and it was lovely, and one of the highlights for me is Mum telling tales of youth; mostly ours, but occasionally her own. Picturing someone as steadfast as our mother scared to go home because she'd been at the Park Lounge with her boyfriend (my Dad) and had indulged in a third whiskey sour (over a three hour period) is stupefying and absurd, as well as delightful.

I pay more attention to these things now than I used to, because I am keenly aware of my responsibilities for helping the two young ladies in my care transition from girls to women, and perhaps even mothers one day.  To this end, I closely observe the women in my life I admire most, especially their mother, grandmothers and aunts, and make no secret of my admiration for them, in hopes that Fenya and Glory will perhaps pick up some traits osmotically.

Girls need all the help they can get, frankly.  I don't think girls (or women for that matter) have ever had a particularly easy time of it, but lately, it seems to be getting even harder.  On the Edmonton Journal website this Friday, the top three stories were about girls or women being abducted or killed, including the nearly 300 girls in Nigeria kidnapped by Islamic militants threatening to sell them 'on the market'.

These girls were selected in part because of their temerity in choosing to not just study, but learn science, as they were preparing to take a physics test.  And as if denying them access to education isn't enough of an indignity, they are not only likely to be sold into full-on slavery, but there is a ready market for such repugnant trade!  Suddenly, the expression "I don't want to live on this planet anymore," becomes less funny and more poignant, which is simply heartbreaking.

And while we might dismiss such barbarism as being part and parcel of life in the developing world, here in North America, our young women struggle everyday with bullying, wage gaps, relentless attacks on their self esteem, domestic abuse both as children and adults...the list is endless.  Canada is still one of the best places in the world to be a woman, and yet Edmonton is one of the worst places in Canada to be one.

But here's the good news: despite all the unfairness intrinsic to the poopy end of the stick that their gender so often gets stuck with, an astonishingly large percentage of them do make it, and become the women in our lives that we rely on so much for: our mothers, sisters, lovers, and wives; our daughters, friends, colleagues and advisors.

It's as if within every girl, there is a potential Buffy, waiting for the leash to drop, or an Honor Harrington ready to take command of a rotten situation.  The key seems to be in not letting the world convince them otherwise.

This weekend Glory and a bunch of her friends took part in a sleepover at church, and participated in the Dove Self Esteem project.  The soap company put on a series of workshops so a bunch of tweenagers could learn about friendships, body image, and the role of media.  One exercise called for them to share pictures of themselves when they were babies or toddlers.  Glory told me how, predictably, there was much oohing and aahing over each other's pictures, and comments like, "Aw, you were so cute!", but then Rev. James pointed out that they were still all the same people as the ones in those pictures, so why don't they say things like that now?

"Did that blow your mind a little bit?" I asked her.

"Yeah, a little," she grinned.  And this is how we learn, I thought.

At her spring concert today, Fenya got to solo the opening verse of Pete Seeger's bittersweet "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?":
Where have all the flowers gone,Long time passing,Where have all the flowers gone,Long time ago,Where have all the flowers gone,Picked by young girls every one,When will they ever learn?When will they ever learn?

Listening to the tale of young girls gone to young men, who go to soldiers, who go to wars, which go to graveyards, which at last go back to flowers, I thought about how tough it is, and probably has ever been, for girls.  I thought of the headlines, and the Highway of Tears, and my fears for the futures for my own girls.  But then I looked at my brilliant wife, as good a role model as a girl could ask for, and my Mum, the foundation of our family in so many ways, and my sister, a superb auntie now willfully entering a mothering role for her new husband's son, all beaming down at their daughter, and granddaughter and niece, eyes glimmering in pride and melancholy.

And seeing that, I thought to myself, It may not level the playing field, but the amount and quality of love and support and examples, it has to even the odds quite a bit, doesn't it?  

I am so grateful for the family, teachers, coaches, and friends who show my girls what being a woman can be, whether or not all of them are mothers.  I know that as they continue the long, arduous trek from girlhood to womanhood, that their way is lit by a hundred brilliant torches that might not defeat the night, but can certainly keep it at bay.

The girls in your lives face a lot of challenges, big and small, and can use your support.  A helping hand, or a dry shoulder, or some words of wisdom that you give today might well be the foundation of a wonderful Mother's Day somewhere down the line.

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