Hello, and a belated Happy New Year to you, your families and your friends. I wish you peace, love and above all, good health.
As the old year ended and the new one began, the well of 2016 think pieces seemed bottomless, each one lamenting the catastrophic year – some going so far as to call it the worst in history – referencing terrorism, Pulse nightclub, Zika virus, Brexit, racism, Syria, refugee crisis, opioid epidemic, Grab ‘em by the pussy, etc., etc., etc… It was depressing enough to make this self-professed news junkie turn off the CBC/CTV news channels, CNN and MSNBC with their constant stream of in-your-face, emotionalistic and stressful chyrons.
Time for a pause and for some reflection. What occurred to me is that this abundance of harm and hurt was especially bad for women and yet, amid the catastrophic and wretched events, it was women who rose and shone. They are the ones I admire and the ones I’m choosing to remember. To praise.
Convicted rapists (especially those of the caucasian variety) continue to be treated with extreme leniency both in the court room and in the press. The Stanford sexual assault case is a perfect example. Jury-convicted sexual assaulter (and soon-to-be registered sex offender) Brock Turner was found guilty on three charges:
- Assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person; and
- Sexual penetration of an intoxicated person; and
- Sexual penetration of an unconscious person.
The presiding judge ruled he should be jailed for six months. He served three.
Lest you think sympathetic leniency is the sole purview of the US, please don’t forget the Dalhousie Dentistry School’s “Gentlemen’s Club” – misogyny at its finest. Dalhousie wanted expulsion of the thirteen guilty dentistry students. Instead, they were offered (and accepted) a chance to participate in a “restorative process” which afforded them the privilege of graduating alongside their fellow DDS students.
The Stanford case introduced us to the woman I consider to be the hero of the year: Emily Doe. Her victim impact statement was powerful, feministic, demanding, brutally honest, and both a call to arms and inspirational to other rape victims. It went viral on You Tube. It was read in Congress. Emily’s life will forever be influenced by this despicable assault, but her spirit was not cowed. Just in case you have not read the statement yet, here is the link:
Emily was named a Woman Of The Year by Glamour Magazine in November 2016. At that celebration, her impact statement was read aloud by Gabourey Sidibe, Freida Pinto, and Amber Heard. Her award was accepted by Stanford Law Professor Michelle Dauber who has been working tirelessly during the past year to have the judge recalled. Michelle read Emily’s acceptance speech:
Emily Doe will always have my deepest respect and admiration. She is one of my heroes and is absolutely my woman of the year!
Ever since 2002 when her first book, a collection of short stories, was published Vancouver-born, Chinese-Canadian Madeleine Thien has been gaining popularity and esteem for her writing prowess. I love that Ms. Thien originally studied dance at uni before beginning her literature programme. Her books have won numerous awards but during 2016 she gave us Do Not Say We Have Nothing which won both the Governor General’s Award and The Giller Prize. In a year of news items fraught with refugee crisis issues and human rights’ violations, Ms. Thien wrote this sensory tale. Set against a tapestry of classical music, Li-ling’s story is a beautiful, sorrowful work that encompasses the refugee experience on a small scale and, to a greater extent, the Chinese government’s oppression of the arts (musicians). Ms. Thien illustrates for us the suffocating atmosphere of 20th-century China, complete with passages detailing the savagery of the Red Guard (which I struggled to read and assimilate). Inevitably, Do Not Say’s crescendo is the Tiananmen Square Protest. This novel, destined to become a literary classic, is a poignant scrutiny of and commentary on the Chairman Mao era. If you have not already done so, you ought to read Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
Madeleine Thien is one of my new favourite authors and a Canadian storyteller extraordinaire.
GOLDEN FLAG BEARERS
The story of the Rio Olympic Games is, sadly, blemished by scandals (Zika prior and Lochte afterwards) but for Canadians, and Canadian women specifically, the Rio games were golden. Two heroes emerged, head and shoulders above all others, gold medal repeating Rosannagh (Rosie) MacLennan and pool superstar Penelope “Penny” Oleksiak. They gave Canadians two irreplaceable and beloved images as our flag-bearers. If you have daughters, granddaughters, nieces or Goddaughters, encourage them to follow these two amazing athletes on social media – finer role models would certainly be harder to find.
Canadian golden girls – Rosie and Penny – champions, fine young women and Olympic darlings.
Do you know Chantelle Brown-Young? No? Perhaps you know her by her professional name, Winnie Harlow? She is beautiful. She is strong. She is intelligent. She is #BlackGirlMagic. She is a supermodel. And she has Vitiligo.
Winnie Harlow was born in Toronto on July 27, 1994. As a very young girl she was diagnosed with the depigmentation skin condition known as vitiligo. Most of us were introduced to this condition by Michael Jackson. There are white patches all over Chantelle’s skin, noticeably on her face – around her mouth and eyes – and because of her irregular skin colour, she was bullied by the other kiddos at her school. The taunts included “Cow” and “Zebra”. Sadly, the endless and merciless teasing caused her to contemplate suicide. But she didn’t make that attempt. Guts over fear!
This gorgeous Canadian was first discovered on Instagram by Tyra Banks who signed her to appear on America’s Next Top Model. From there she has gone from strength to strength, appearing in/covering all the top glossy fashion mags, strutting runways around the world, being named brand ambassador for casual clothing brand Desigual and earning a very public platform for her activism – speaking out against bullying and discussing life with Vitiligo.
Speaking on her show Tyra said: “Her skin breaks down barriers of what is considered beautiful.”
Appropriately, Winnie appears in Eminem’s “Guts Over Fear” music video and made a cameo appearance in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Another Canadian woman shining brightly on the world stage, doing good works in a year full of horrible events. Winnie is, indeed, #BlackGirlMagic!
I (almost) feel that the last woman on my list ought to be Justin Trudeau, and somehow I feel he wouldn’t object to that distinction. In August of 2015, in a move that sent shock-waves vibrating through government offices all around the world, The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had the audacity to appoint fifteen women to his new Cabinet, with those women making up fully half of that governing body.
Throughout 2016 these women worked diligently at their new posts to effect change and implement their government’s policies both in Canada and, as appropriate, around the world. Have there been growing pains? Of course, yes. As with any new group. But have they been successful, absolutely so! These women, some of them novices, have risen to the challenge and have made Canadians proud of their efforts, their conduct and their dedication.
Here then, are the leaders, without whom this list would be incomplete:
CAROLYN BENNETT, Indigenous and Northern Affairs
MARIE-CLAUDE BIBEAU, International Development and La Francophonie
BARDISH CHAGGER, Small Business and Tourism
KIRSTY DUNCAN, Science
JUDY FOOTE, Public Services and Procurement
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, International Trade
PATTY HAJDU, Status of Women
MÉLANIE JOLY, Canadian Heritage
DIANE LEBOUTHILLIER, Revenue
CATHERINE MCKENNA, Environment and Climate Change
MARYANNE MIHYCHUK, Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
MARYAM MONSEF, Democratic Institutions
JANE PHILPOTT, Health
CARLA QUALTROUGH, Sport and Persons with Disabilities
JODY WILSON-RAYBOULD, Justice and Attorney-General
Was 2016 a horrible year? Yes, there is no doubt about that. Was there reason and opportunity to choose hope? Indeed there was. Will 2017 be a better year? No one can be certain of that, but with women like the ones listed above, we have hope that cannot be denied.
Praise for the women!
’Til next time y’all…