The road to here is paved with the sweat of yesterday…

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day.

And, regardless of our ages, and of our genders, there is cause for celebration. Truly.

For my daughters, there is the solid knowledge that they can choose to do anything they want and they can be successful for it. Their gender won’t stop them from holding down a full time job if they get married (their grandmother had to resign upon marriage). Their gender won’t stop them from expecting to earn as much for the job they do as their male counterpart (their mother started work at one-third the salaries of men doing the same work).

Gender no longer keeps women from med school; in fact, I attended the graduation recently of a young Barrie woman who received her medical degree. More than half the names on the graduation roll were those of women. A generation ago, it took determination and consistent fervour for a few women to open those doors. It was 1973 when Donna Hamilton arrived and became Barrie’s first female lawyer… 31 years ago.

Gender is no longer the big hurdle when it comes to getting your own credit card, in your own name. My daughters can do that. And I can do that. But when I was my daughters’ age, I couldn’t do that.

Gender is no longer the barrier to employment that it once was. No longer are young women asked how many children they have, whether they’re planning to have more, whether or not they use birth control, potential drawbacks of their gender to the job at hand. All of those were common questions when I was my daughters’ age (early 20’s).

There is so much to celebrate as we look at the progress made for and by women in the past 40 years.

Look at what we have…

* paid maternity or parental leave (both genders, here) for up to ONE YEAR after a new baby.
* equal opportunity to reach for the highest rung.
* the opportunity to start our own ventures if we decide we donĀ¹t want to climb any more rungs.
* the chance to borrow money and have our own equity as we start our businesses
* the right to benefit in earned resources if a marriage ends (thank you, Iris Murdoch!)
* the right to vote (thank you, Emmeline Pankhurst!)
* the right to choose when we are going to conceive our babies (thank you, Pierre Trudeau)
* the right to stay home and raise kids if that’s our family decision
* the right to maintain professional work and income, if that’s our family decision

There is so much. Relationships between men and women have changed enormously in the workplace. Relationships between men and women have not changed in lots of instances, too.

While I think it’s important to thank the generation that went before us, to recognize the baby steps taken that bring us to today, it’s equally important to recognize that this progress is not entirely the domain of woman. Nor is it finished!

Men have participated actively in our reach for choice. By turning away from their role models of a generation before, men have set themselves out in no-man’s-land (in a way) as they tread new territory. It’s now not shameful for the female partner to make more money than the male. (ah, but it used to be).

It’s now not shameful for the male to be more comfortable in the kitchen or at the ironing board. These things are not part of gender DNA and I feel strongly that where women are today is certainly because both genders stood up and were counted when opinion mattered.

I think it’s critical that we tell our daughters AND our sons about our experiences, our challenges, and the realities that we may have rejected in our quest for something more. By doing this we empower them to stay aware and to speak out and to move forward when something doesn’t make sense to them.

And none of this is to deny our grandmothers and their consistent abilities to balance kids, homes, budgets, and spiritual life in a society that gave them very little power. I look at my own grandmother who would be 103 if she were alive today. She drove cars for her husband’s car dealership in the 20’s; drove speedboats in hydroplane races, picked up a shotgun and used it with her moose licence, camped and hiked and lived off the land when she was in fall hunting season. She worked alongside my grandfather in their cheese factory, she raised four kids through the Depression and into World War Two. She put meals on the table and humour in our hearts.

My great-grandmother raised six children in an era when she had ‘no’ rights. Mrs. W.A. Stoddart. That means The Wife Of (the mistress of) W.A. Stoddart. Her role, described in any legal document? ‘Married woman.’ And yet, in the late 1800’s, she somehow mustered up the courage, the energy, the ambition, and the cash to open and run her own newspaper.

It is crucial that our daughters–and our sons–celebrate these relatives because it is from them that our energies emerged. It is crucial, too, that we protect and value the goodness that we all share with the opportunity that lies before us at the beginning of each day. Whether we’re running a major corporation, anchoring a political cabinet position, or holding the hand of a four-year-old as we walk them to school… we are valid, and valued.

Thanks, Louise. Thanks, Cora. Thanks, Gena. Great DNA you gave me!