COLUMN: On recognizing female role models

It’s more important now than ever to celebrate female accomplishments.

An event called Stories Inspire Passion last year featured (back row

An event called Stories Inspire Passion last year featured (back row

When I drove out to the coast to visit my family this Christmas, I enlisted some ride-shares to help share the gas costs and to keep me company. As it turned out, I ended up spending 10 hours in my RAV with former Nelson city councillor Paula Kiss, and somehow we ended up talking about female role models.

“I think people tend to heap praise and adoration on men,” she told me.

“But people tend to not recognize women for their accomplishments, because we take them for granted.”

We’d been discussing writing and journalism mentors, and how male writers tend to only fixate on the work of their hyper-masculine forebears Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson etc. But as we were discussing it, I started taking an inventory of the amazing female writers who have directly influenced me, and realized my creative work has been primarily inspired by women.

For instance, Paula had no idea that the “Goon” in my byline is an allusion to Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, which is my favourite book. I told her how I idolize Miriam Toews, how I’m obsessed with Eden Robinson, how I aim to be more like Joan Didion.

My first short story ever published, “Sea to Sky”, was a tribute to Edwidge Danticat, and I’ve been blessed with an army of hard-working female teachers who mentored me through my education: Joan McLeod, Lynne Van Luven, Linda Svendsen, Maureen Medved and Madeline Sonik, to name only a few.

“You should tell people that,” she said. “We need to recognize our female role models.”

Well, today the U.S. is electing a hyper-narcissist with an anti-feminist agenda, and I don’t think there’s ever been a more important time to all stand together and commit to celebrating the women in our lives and the way they influence us. And the more I thought about it, the longer my list got.

Earlier this year when my friend Sam Van Schie had her daughter, Bergen, I wrote an open letter to her in which I envisioned a future with Hillary Clinton as president, and I named some of the powerful women she’ll grow up to be influenced by Mayor Deb Kozak and MLA Michelle Mungall, artists like Slava Doval and Bessie Wapp and Sydney Black.

At that point I was hopeful the world was moving in a positive direction, but now I can see that I was dead wrong. I have two choices for how to process this information: I can engage with the fear and hate, or I can look for positive solutions and celebrate the people who stand in opposition to him not even politically, but on a basic human level. How can we all come together as allies to retain our culture and basic decency?

It begins with honouring women, and there’s plenty of them that I have interviewed for the Star who are doing incredible work in the community. I want to spend the rest of this column telling you who they are, and why they’re important.

Last week I met with Astrid Heyerdahl, the new director of Touchstones, and she said that now more than ever is the time to focus on our artwork and to have difficult conversations about where we’re going as a community. Her curator Arin Fay put together my favourite exhibit I’ve seen so far, which celebrates the work of late artist Wayne King. They’re both amazing, and we’re lucky to have them in our midst.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Allison Girvan and learned about how she’s leading a 43-person esemble of Carmina Burana in February. The woman is a powerhouse, leading the youth choir Corazon, and she has influenced an entire generation of Nelson kids.

Last year Girvan was chosen as one of 13 local women who took part in an event called Stories Inspire Passion, where she was joined by filmmaker Amy Bohigian, author Diana Cole, seniors advocate Joan Reichardt and mother-daughter theatre team Eleanor and Margaret Stacey, as well as others. The fact that all of these women hail from a tiny town of 10,000 absolutely amazes me.

Lately I’ve been getting to know local circus performer and bar manager Jake The Lady, who just took on a role as the second in command for the Kaslo Jazz Etc Festival. Over at the West Kootenay Ecosociety we have people like Montana Burgess and Erin Thomson, who are the forefront of environmental concerns in the Kootenays. Other young women in town making a splash in the arts scene include singers Frazey Ford, Rhoneil, Naomi Cromwell and Julie Johnson-Murray.

Recently, as part of my role with the Cultural Development Committee, I was part of the voting process that named Eileen Delehanty Pearkes as our cultural ambassador. I think she’s going to be a power player in the upcoming renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, and her passion for the topic is contagious.

I love, respect and cherish all of these women and I encourage you to do the same. There’s never been a more important time. This list is by no means exhaustive and I encourage you to send us letters and write comments about other women who you admire that I may have missed.

I also want to give a shout-out to my Mom, Rae, and my five sisters: Barb, Kathryn, Johanna, Ashley and Amanda. You have taught me what it is to be loved and supported unconditionally, and I’m committed to creating a world in which you are safe and respected at all times.

A few days ago my best friend Leesa Dean, who is a creative writing instructor at Selkirk College, wrote on Facebook that she’s been doing everything she can, signing everything she can, to participate in the upcoming 100 days of resistance movement that’s happening worldwide. Kootenay Co-op Radio’s Stephanie Myers is actually traveling to the States to take the fight right to the sexual assaulter who will now sit in the Oval Office. Good for her.

“Apathy is boring,” Leesa wrote.

I agree.


Kootenay Goon

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