I am not going to work today. Instead I am going to a women’s leadership conference hosted by the University of Regina.
I don’t know much about any of the speakers. Kim Campbell is the first; to be honest I don’t know much about her either. I remember Peter C. Newman writing that when Brian Mulroney passed her the reins he said, “Keep your pecker up, Kim.” That always irked me – the insensitivity of the remark as she was about to inherit his mess.
But Kim Campbell is less bitter than I am, it would seem. She begins her speech addressing the societally held notion that leadership is gender masculine, but she’s not angry about this. She’s informed. Aggression in speech is seen as a negative for women, she says, and as if she’s was trying to drive home the point, there wasn’t a note of aggression in her speech.
Instead, she’s understanding of implicit attitudes even women have, double standards – she reflects on a columnist who once remarked that during her brief stint as Prime Minister, she always wore the same earrings – and she gave some suggestions to better the federal political system.
What if we had reform to make two member constituencies: the electorate would vote for a woman and a man. Instant parity.
What if we used technology, such as video conferencing to cut down on the amount of time spent in Ottawa, making political life more conducive to family life?
And what if women stopped caring about being liked?
“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” she quoted Harry Truman. Women need to understand that it’s par for the course to be disliked – don’t rely on the public to be your friend. This also means that we live in a free country – we should be thankful that people can voice criticism – it’s not an excuse to not participate.
In fact, “Abstention is not an option,” she concludes.
June Draude is one of the founding members of the Saskatchewan Party – as she says it, “me and seven token men.” She’s part of a panel discussion following Campbell’s speech.
How does she and the two other panellists (Weyburn mayor Deb Button and lawyer Louise Simard) find balance and relaxation time? one participant asks.
“Well, I drink,” Draude says honestly.
The crowd laughs.
It’s an opportunity to be real, here. It’s like sitting in these women’s living rooms where they’ve let down their bravado. A friend of mine always says, “Vulnerability is strength, not weakness.”
Do women find it easier to be vulnerable? Does that make us look weak in the public eye?
Dr. Mary Simon explains that being comfortable with yourself as a multifaceted person (and not infallible) is a process, “I don’t think finding your voice is a deliberate act, I think it’s something that emerges from the threads of life experiences.”
The threads of life experiences…what does she mean?
When Simon was a child, her family traveled by dog team, hunted and fished – home was on the land, in the Tundra. When she entered federal day school, she and classmates were punished for speaking Inuktut.
When she made the decision to get involved in politics at the local level, women were expected to get coffee, clean up the meeting rooms, and remain quiet during meetings.
Simon explains she was a very shy person when she was young, and that it took a lot of determination to speak out, but you just have to speak out sometimes.
She talks about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Reconciliation requires leadership and leadership needs women, she says. It’s a strong statement I wonder about. What does leadership look like? Does it look like being the boss, the Premier, the Prime Minister? Or does it look like a woman who’s willing to admit she gets burnt out and relies on a glass of wine to recharge? Can it be somewhere in the middle?
Is a leader a quiet Inuit girl or is she only a leader after she became the woman standing in front of me? Is being a leader what we do on a day-to-day basis or is it something we’re aspiring to be?
Mary Robinson has some reflections on those questions. The former president of Ireland entered the political arena as a young revolutionary thinker. At the time, she explains there were two options for women – become a nun or get married.
She was working against a very Catholic Ireland when she pushed to transform the country’s Family Planning laws (it was illegal to buy condoms and the birth control pill was not accessible).
She became the target of hate mail, called a witch and a she-devil. She was 26 and was very affected by the attacks. She waffled from the sense of being hated.
Years later, she decided to let her name stand for president to prove that a president could be more active and in her victory speech she thanked the women of Ireland, “who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”
“Women need to be confident that the world needs them. Because we do,” she adds.
She has advice for young women facing cyber-bullying and it’s hopeful. You can strengthen your own resolve, she says. You hit bottom, then you ask, “Why did I want to do this in the first place? Then, you realize you have to move forward.”
You sometimes need to be unpopular for awhile – and you need to get over the idea you’re going to be well-liked, she says not aggressively, but firmly, assuredly.
Vianne Timmons closes the leadership forum by addressing what we can’t ignore: violence and sexual assault. Her daughter was the victim of date rape on a Canadian campus. After weeks of emotional torment, the young student bravely confronted the man she’d been with, telling him how he made her feel and stressing that he couldn’t do that to another person, ever again.
Maybe that’s what Dr. Simon meant by “threads of life experience” – when life tears you in threads, you can use all those loose ends to string together your resolve and rope in your voice…and speak out. Just taking some form of action on the things that impact you is leadership.
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