see?

 

‘Second Chances’ is the name of the donation centre at a local women’s shelter where items are arranged ‘shop style’ so residents can help themselves to whatever they need… especially when moving on to new housing, and for a year afterwards. Someone I met there this morning, a former resident, told me how much the ‘free shopping’ meant to her (I got a kettle! a bath mat! shower curtains!), how much the whole shelter experience meant to her… how terrified she was when she arrived, how much the staff did to help her at a time when she felt like she was losing her mind, but even more, how they helped her move on, to find peace and beauty again, to give her kids a safe home, and how she loves to come back occasionally to say hello or sign up for a program.

I watch as she and a staff member hug with genuine affection, you look great!  and I can’t help thinking what I know of her life, the utter awfulness of her past and the extraordinary changes she’s made in the years since.

I can’t help being in awe that she’s standing here so relaxed, wide open, all kind soul and grateful heart.

As we pass the stairs leading to the basement ‘store’ she stops, points to a wooden sign on a bare plaster wall and her face lights up like an epiphany.

See?  she says. That’s what this place is…

 

 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
For further information and assistance, including a list of shelters in Ontario, and across Canada:

OAITH

Public Health Agency of Canada

 

whoa nellie!

 

I’m not a joiner of things, not a clubbish person generally. This has always been the case, although when I was about ten I invented The Boogie Woogie Club and invited friends to join. Amazingly, on opening day, a few showed up in my parents’ basement where we sat around until someone… Kathleen Erickson possibly… said so what’s this club about… I mean what do we do?

Good question, Kathleen, I thought. But I didn’t have an answer. To this day I have no idea what the Boogie Woogie club was supposed to be or why I’d thought of starting it. I do remember seeing the words boogie woogie  in a song title in one of my lesson books for accordion and, knowing me,
I probably just wanted to incorporate it… somewhere. A club with no purpose would have seemed as good as anything.

The club disbanded shortly after Kathleen’s unanswered question and we headed over to the school to do long jumps in the sand pits. Or similar.

Which more or less brings me to 2018.

Where I find myself part of another group, only this time I’m not the inventor (which bodes well for the group’s future).

Also, this group has that essential ingredient: a purpose.

The Wild Nellies is the result of two women having coffee one day and wondering what they could do to benefit the lives of other women, specifically women moving on from abusive relationships. What they landed on was the idea of women celebrating women through various disciplines — visual art, music, literature, sharing their own work or the work of someone that’s inspired or influenced them in some way. The event would be free, they decided, and held in one of the area’s most wonderful spaces, and all of it would be done to bring attention to the needs of a local women’s shelter.

That they take their name from Nellie McClung — writer, legislator, suffragist, activist, public speaker, one of Canada’s original feminists, and a member of The Famous Five, who met over tea to change the political shape of this country by having it declared (after extraordinary campaigning) that women were indeed ‘people’ — is most fitting and wonderful (not the least of which wonderfulness being the coffee/tea origins).

Women have always found ways around being invisible, of having no voice, of being ‘talked over’ and told to be quiet, that their passion and their interest in fairness is too ‘shrill’—

(A woman who knows what she wants and gets it, is often seen as headstrong, difficult, a force of nature, while a man who knows what he wants and gets it, is a man who knows what he wants and gets it.)

—Yet despite not having their voices listened to, and the sometimes even greater obstacles of being isolated, unable to speak the language, being penniless, afraid for their lives, or tied down with childcare, women continue to find ways to meet, to gather, to band together and bring about change for the betterment of not just themselves, but for all women, for community, the benefits of which ultimately reach beyond gender.

Which brings us to 2018 again.

And the announcement today of new legislation that requires employers in Ontario to pay all workers equal wages for equal work. While it has, for some time, been technically illegal to base wages on gender… until now it’s been okay to pay part-time workers less than full-time for the exact same job. And those part-time workers are often women.

It seems there’s no end of bits to take care of and so the tradition of women gathering continues.

Put the kettle on!

One of the the things I love best about Nellie McClung is that she used her fiction, her writing, as a springboard to discuss relevant issues of the day. This was unusual for a woman at the time. Women were meant to write about fluff and leave it at that.

And it’s what I love best about her namesakes, The Wild Nellies, who propose to do the same thing… use their art to bring attention to important issues.

I’m so happy to be a small part of their first ‘performance’ at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery on April 8th, along with eleven other women who will use their artistic voices to honour and celebrate the power of female creators in sculpture, film, theatre, illustration, literature, music and more, and in the process hopefully be part of that women’s domino effect that continues to try and make this pale blue dot a fairer, safer, and better place for us all.

Note: I have no problem at all making an exception to my otherwise anti-clubbishness ways for these chaps. Also, I think long-jumping  might actually kill me at this point.

 

 

why she stays?

 

So why did she marry him, move in, have kids? Why, when the feel of his fist is still fresh on her face??

Or maybe the abuse is not physical, but only emotional. Or financial. Maybe she’s only allowed to do what he says, go where he says, see who he says.

I met a woman once who said she came to this country with her husband in good faith… until, once here, he said she was to go nowhere without him. She didn’t know anyone else here so she became a virtual prisoner inside her home for six years.

Why didn’t she leave sooner? She and she and the other she and her and the hundreds and thousands of ‘she’ everywhere… why doe she stay?

It’s always the first question. Sometimes the only question.

And the answers…  not so simple.

She stays because she’s afraid, isolated, shamed. Because it’s her home. Because she’s given away her power, been told she’s stupid and worthless one too many times. Because she’s been told her whole life she’s stupid and worthless. Because she believes she’s stupid and worthless. Because there are kids and pets and threats to harm them or take them away.

Because there are threats. Always threats.

Because she is deflated, broken, and because he threatens suicide if she leaves. Always threats. Because to leave is failure; because she came from a broken home and doesn’t want her kids to come from the same place. Because she will be seen as pathetic for having stayed so long so it’s better to stay even longer and not let anyone know. Because people blame the victim. Because people blame the victim… Because people blame.

She stays because she’s fought this fight ten thousand times and hasn’t got the strength it takes to fight back anymore much less start a new life, no matter how right and good and sensible she knows that would be.

She stays because she doesn’t even know she’s being abused. It started small. It was only emotional. He has a temper but he loves me, the kids, he always says he’s sorry. Because this time is the last time. Because this black eye is the last black eye, he said so. He promised. He cried, he begged. He’s really just a teddy bear underneath… he needs her, he said. And she needs to be needed. What else does she have?

She stays because he is her family. Because of For Better or Worse. Because even though she looks fine and manages to function, she is so messed up emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically, she can’t even see straight. She stays because it’s easier at this stage to hope… so she hopes he will be in a good mood today and when he isn’t… it’s too late again.

She stays because she doesn’t want to be seen as weak, or overly dramatic. No bones broken, just a little scuffle. He’s got a temper. I mentioned that, right, the temper?

She stays because the most dangerous thing she can do is leave. It’s bad enough under normal circumstances but if the guy has money, that danger is multiplied. He can have her watched, followed, hurt or worse. And he almost always does.

And where is she supposed to go? Family? Friends? He’ll find her. A hotel isn’t safe. So you tell me… where does she go?? In this weakened state. Where?

That she leaves at all is extraordinary. It takes monumental courage.

And the women that manage it should be applauded and protected. They aren’t just ‘leaving’, they’re fighting for their lives. I see them at the women’s shelter where I volunteer. They land on the doorstep not because it’s an easy fix but because, for a short time at least, they’ll be safe. The windows are bullet proof; there are cameras at the door, you have to be buzzed in. The police are on speed dial.

Sadly there are never enough beds, never enough shelters. The problem of abuse is only getting worse. Sometimes women are sent out of town, wherever a place can be found. Imagine leaving your home with nothing, your abuser’s voice still ringing in your head, screaming that if you leave he’ll kill you or someone or something you love, and it will be your fault he says. If you leave, he won’t be accountable for what he does. It will be your fault.

What now?

The shelters are a place to breathe and think and get some help with what to do next. They’re a place that reminds women they aren’t alone, that their problem isn’t unique to them.

Why does she stay?

Because until she finds the strength to do anything else, it’s all she can do.

And even if she finally musters the courage to leave, she may very well go back at some point. For all the same reasons.

She wants things to be better. She really does. That’s part of the problem.

Factor in a situation where names and faces, celebrity and corporations and big money are involved and you can be sure there are those that will do their best to convince her staying is to her advantage, in order that those others save face. And money.

Her face for theirs.

Now factor in having nothing.

Or being somewhere in-between.

Because it doesn’t matter, rich or poor, abuse is the same.

So…

Why does she stay?

Here’s a better question: why does he  stay?

But you’ll notice no one’s asking that.

Black_eye_2Black_eye_2

Black_eye_2

(Note: The woman who was a prisoner in her home for six years, finally escaped. I met her at the shelter she ran to, where she found safety and community for the first time since coming to Canada and where, in a writing workshop, she wrote about the taste of mangos, the memory of a tree outside her childhood window. As she read aloud it occurred to me that she will heal, she will survive and maybe even thrive, not in small part because she was careful to leave at the right time. When she was ready, when she knew where to go, when she had enough courage. So many factors to consider.)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
For further information and assistance, including a list of shelters in Ontario, and across Canada:

OAITH

Public Health Agency of Canada