By Janice Kennedy, The Ottawa Citizen
March 8, 2009
Some people -- those, perhaps, whose souls are comfortable with
clutter -- are constitutionally incapable of throwing things out.
So it was that I found myself recently leafing through a yellowed and
only slightly dusty copy of (and I'm blushing here, though it's
considered a "classic") Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of
Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement. The 1970 collection
(with its $2.70 sticker still intact) was edited by 1970 feminist
extraordinaire Robin Morgan.
Containing such biting social critiques as "The Politics of Orgasm,"
"The Politics of Housework," "Excerpts from the SCUM (Society for
Cutting Up Men) Manifesto," it brimmed with implicit calls to
All very quaint, really. I suppose you could see the book as
historically interesting -- given what the essays reveal about the
explosive energy and targets of that era's breakthrough feminism --
but it felt undeniably antiquated.
Feminism today has evolved. Its language is less inflammatory (and
usually less silly), its goals more realistic and diverse. Even the
label has evolved, with some clearly feminist women today choosing
not to identify themselves with the tag at all, because it has such a bad rap.
That's not the women's movement you find in Morgan's call to arms.
Pull out an old copy of Sisterhood Is Powerful, and what you feel is
the weight of time's passage in your hand. It no longer feels relevant.
Except in one small and luminous way.
It may sound hokey, but sisterhood -- by which I mean those ties that
bind women -- really is powerful, and I don't mean on a massive
gender-wide scale. (The older I get, the less I believe in the
transformative potential of movements, or at least of any movement
that I've joined.) I mean personally.
For women, sisterhood is both blood ties and all those other bonds of
inclination and interest and mutual inspiration that create the
mysterious connections we call friendship. The connection seems to
spring out of our instinctive need for completion, our friends being
the answer to that impulse.
For women, that unconscious search for completion, for missing pieces
in the psychic puzzle, results (to borrow another ringing 1970
phrase) in a kind of empowerment. Which is just another way of saying growth.
The thought has no doubt occurred, this being March 8, that such
sisterhood reflections are related to International Women's Day.
They are indeed. But I mean them to be related in the most positive
of ways. Certainly there are countless gender-related problems that
still need realistically to be addressed, both globally and here at
home -- from the blatant subjugation of women in countries halfway
around the world, to the more insidious variation in nice civilized
places like Canada, where gender-specific violence still exists and
employment and political inequity still flourish. What better day to
raise such issues (again) than International Women's Day, right?
But sometimes you just want to celebrate the occasion, and you want
to do it without angry fanfare. Sometimes you just want to spend a
few contemplative moments in gratitude for the sisters in your own
life. If all politics is local, all sisterhood is ultimately personal.
My own contemplation would start with Heather, my childhood "best
friend" during that time when Best Friends really were exactly that.
Because Heather's father died while she was still very young, and her
mother worked to support four kids, Heather as the oldest assumed all
kinds of responsibilities. She grew up far earlier than the rest of
us in the gang, but the thing was, nobody had a better sense of fun
than she did. Nobody.
From Heather, I absorbed something of what it means to be
responsible -- and to still love life with gusto. (She hasn't
changed, either. Dealt some deadly serious health challenges a few
years ago, she has been beating them back not only with grace, but
with the same indomitable spirit she's always had. And she still cracks me up.)
My friend Fran, who is all consideration and generosity, has a
deliciously wicked sense of humour tucked away under her kind
exterior. She's a walking life-lesson in how to do for others without
ever being wimpy about it -- and how to see the absurdities, and
therefore the humour, of life.
An old friend, Jill, demonstrated with verve the liberating virtues
of pushing boundaries. Susan, one of the funniest people I know, is a
relentless optimist with a thoroughly unjaded zest for life. (Still!
At our age!) Laura regularly brings unstinting doses of grace and
thoughtfulness to my life. Angie, with her enviable vibrancy, makes
caring for the rest of the world look almost easy.
And then there's my real sibling sister. I could say a million things
about Sheila, who, roughly 40 years ago, seemed miraculously to
change overnight from pain-in-the-neck little sister to great friend.
She has a huge, soft, capacious heart. She has unerring people
instincts. And she has just always been there -- simply, dependably
there -- her loyalty and love as solid as rock, as deep as oceans.
How could I call myself anything but blessed?
Spirited models of responsibility, grace, daring, strength,
consideration? Gifts of kindness, fun and loving dependability?
Forget about the quaint titles. Sisterhood is powerful indeed, on
International Women's Day or any other day of the year. Especially
when you think about the sisters in your life.