Tag Archives: women

at hycroft

i am here at hycroft, the lovely, lovely 100-year-old home of the university women’s club of vancouver. my friend MJ ankenmann had invited some vancouver bloggers to join her in the unveiling of a painting in honour of the many 100-year events that will happen here in 2011.

just now i interviewed donalda falconer, who leads the club’s choir, the hycroft singer. they present a wide repertoire, from early music to broadway to jazz. they sing in many different venues and configurations. “we always have a good time and are good friends,” says donalda. recently at the last “christmas at hycroft” (a venerable vancouver christmas event), the choir did a flashmob. the public was milling about, with the choir mixed in and suddenly they erupted into in dulce jubilo. it was a lot of fun!

on friday march 18 there will be a festival of choirs, a women’s choir festival in the ballroom. so far three choirs are scheduled to sing, the hycroft singers, the lyric singers, and higher ground from north vancouver. doors open at 7, refreshments are available, the music starts at 7:30. tickets are $15 for members, $20 for the public – phone the office! there is limited space. the number is 604 731 4661.

i asked donalda to tell me why i should join the club. “there is such a variety of people and things going on. the interest groups are amazing. you can get really serious or not, you can do a little bit or a lot of it, the camaraderie is wonderful. when i first joined, i loved the variety of the members. a variety of age and interest. and that’s one of the big points of this club.”

another person i interviewed was kathy barford, a fountain of knowledge about hycroft. “there is something very enduring about this house,” she says. there is an effort to continuously make it closer to what it might have been when it was first built and lived in (and partied in! the ballroom and bar downstairs are huge!). during WWII, the house was converted to a veteran’s hospital. the beautiful, very large formal living room in which we are sitting right now was hospital green during the war and the floor battleship linoleum. afterwards, when the place was restored to its old splendour, the members couldn’t get any men to strip the linoleum, so they did it themselves. just imagine all these well-educated women way back in the 60s and 70s on their knees, stripping the floor!

cathy took art history in university, and loves hycroft because “it is just overall beautifully designed, the proportions, the scale of it, it’s all so well done, all the way through. sadly, this is a rare thing.” thomas hooper was the architect. his older brother became provincial architect in manitoba (hm, i wonder what a provincial architect is?) thomas hooper came here in 1886, just as vancouver was founded. he built many schools and churches in vancouver and victoria, e.g. the vancouver public library, the addition to the vancouver art gallery, and the winch building. he also did the provincial court houses in vernon and revelstoke. mccarter, who built the marine building, trained with him.

cathy looks after the volunteers at hycroft. right now she is putting together a lecture series about the history, heritage and antiques at hycroft. she is also part of the house committee, which replaces all the work a butler or major-domo would have usually done. “really,” she says, “we have a cooperative between members and staff.”

so, why should i join this club? “it’s interesting and there is fellowship and a beautiful house, advocacy on behalf of women’s issues and a great place to hang out.”

finally, i asked MJ a few questions. when MJ lived in toronto, there was a university women’s club but she never got around to joining it. when she got here, she saw the building and thought this would be an interesting place to belong to. when she first visited, she was immediately drawn to it. there are women of all ages. “one of my best friends is 87.” she doesn’t have that sort of multigenerational family connection here. it’s a real sisterhood, an older version of the sorority but without the politics. “we do some good work with advocacy. right now we’re working on a paper about prostitution. we are against legalisation and are involved with the canadian federation of university women; this way we are able to put forth a position. we do take a stand on things.”

why should i join? it’s a great place to meet and be surrounded by women who have ideas, who are creative who want to enjoy life. there is a wide variety of things to do, educational and fun, “we play poker and drink wine, and play bridge and drink tea.” there is also a connection to history, one because of the house and vancouver’s history, and we’re preserving some of this. there is also the history of the club in the house. when we bought it in 1962, women were not allowed to legally hold a mortgage on their own. they had to raise the money and buy the house outright. and they did that. rather than having a man co-sign it, they said, we’re going to do this. there are members from all over the world. it’s a great place to come to meet people.

family life – a fantasy

she opens the door.

“laura hapley?”

“yes …. ?”

“and wally hapley?”

“yes. and you are … ?”

he is 6’6″, broad shouldered, dressed in thick leather from boots to gloves.

“could i speak to mr. hapley, as well, please?”

“he is busy right now. what is this about?” she glances towards a door in the back.

he produces two envelopes from his jacket, cream coloured, each with a red seal.

“i will need to speak to you and him together. there is a request for you to read these documents in my presence.”

“but … ”

“laura! what is it!”

she looks at the tall man, then to the door, then heads towards back.

“please.” the tall man raises his big, gloved hand. he shows her a business card.

“my name is arch. michael arch.”

she glances at the name printed big and bold. “i will tell my husband. maybe he …”

“please. he will have to come out.”

“he is a very busy man. he cannot be interrupted right now.”

“this is important. it cannot wait, i’m afraid. mr. hapley!” he does not have to raise his voice much, it is deep and resonant.

“laura! i’m busy!” laura’s eyes open wide, then flicker, then she closes them. maybe it is that she heard something in that voice. maybe something she has heard many times before.

a little dog appears behind laura. it curls around her legs like a cat. beside the entrance stands a small table, on it a vase with flowers. lilies and sunflowers, an odd combination, but beautifully arranged.

the tall man does not move much and sends a little smile to laura and the dog. “mr. hapley, we need you here, could you spare a moment, please!” again, he hardly raises his voice.

a thump and out the door rushes a man. he might be in his early seventies, with hair almost white, well groomed, a professorial look about him. and a look of great annoyance, shot at laura, then the tall man.

“who let you in? laura!” laura shoots a glance at him, then the vase. the little dog moves closer.

“i am busy and you’re trespassing. leave or i’ll call – ”

“- the police,” finishes the tall man. “that will be quite alright. mr. hapley, mrs. hapley, i have two documents that i have been asked to witness you read in my presence.”

“who asked you? ” mr hapley approaches the tall man. “move!” he hisses at the little dog. laura flinches, starts to bend down to the dog but with a glance at mr hapley, just gently shoos the dog away with her foot.

“please open and read these documents. this is yours, mrs. hapley,” he extends one to laura. mr hapley snatches it, “i can read both of them. we are a married couple. we have no secrets from each other.”

the tall man takes the envelope from wally hapley and returns it to laura. she looks at wally. “i’ll read it later,” he snarls, “i’ll probably have to explain it to you, anyway.”

a low, quiet, growl emanates from the tall man. “that will be enough, mr. hapley.”

wally hapley tears open his envelope, anger in his eyes.

laura hapley tears open her envelope, hands shaking.

wally, years ago when the doorbell rang, you opened and the man said, ‘if you ever lay hands on laura again, i will kill you.’

it is time to remember this now.

each time you are about to raise your hand against laura, remember it, and act accordingly.

each time you are about to raise your voice against her, remember it, and act accordingly.

each time you are about to threaten her, remember it, and act accordingly.

each time you are about to raise your hand or your voice against someone or something beloved by laura, or threaten them, remember it, and act accordingly.

remember it, and act accordingly, and you will live in peace.

if you need help, contact mr. michael arch.

***

laura, you are a beautiful, strong, creative, wise and compassionate woman.

it is time to remember this now.

each time someone, anyone, raises their hand against you, remember it, and act accordingly.

each time someone, anyone, raises their voice against you, remember it, and act accordingly.

each time someone, anyone, threatens you, remember it, and act accordingly.

each time someone, anyone, raises their hand or voice against someone or something you love, or threatens them, remember it, and act accordingly.

remember it, and act accordingly, and you will live in peace.

if you need help, contact mr. michael arch.

four hands tremble. two hands are folded, relaxed, strong.

the tall man looks at wally until he looks back. “you understand?”

wally nods, hypnotized.

“if you understand, say, ‘yes, i understand.'”

“yes, i understand.”

the tall man looks at laura. her eyes are already trained on him. “you understand?”

laura nods. “yes, ” she says, with a voice not quite so quiet anymore. “yes, i understand.”

“please shake hands.”

their hands reach out towards each other. one thin, elegant hand, just slightly olive-coloured, moving one inch, then another, perceiving, as hands do and as the conscious brain hardly ever notices, the small, small, change in the atmosphere as the other hand approaches – a tiny rush of air movement, ever so much more warmth – – and the other hand, bigger, a bit boney now in older age, shaking a little, with a bead of sweat appearing in the life line crease – and they touch. and grasp. and hold.

“apologize.”

“i apologize,” they both say, simultaneously.

“you know who needs to apologize.”

pause. laura looks at the tall man, then at her husband. he looks down.

“i apologize,” he says, almost whispering.

“please look into each other’s eyes.”

the older man raises his head. very, very slowly. it is a heavy head.

“i apologize,” he says, and the words hardly make it out of his mouth but he does hold her eyes.

“good.” the tall man bows.

he walks back out to his motorcycle. the little dog runs out a few steps with him. nobody scolds him as lets out a happy little bark.

i wrote this while not being able to sleep because of jet lag.  yes, i’m back in vancouver.  the story?  there is some truth to it, in real life.  i hope all of it comes true.

digging for a voice

what follows are excerpts from an essay i wrote in 1995 on women in philosophy, and how women’s voices often speak more to the particular (i.e. real life examples and experiences) rather than the general. it is interesting to look back on it, to see what’s still the case, and what has changed. in the next post, i will discuss that a little. here’s the excerpt:

“i” write these words. it is i, sitting here in my body, using my hands to transfer unto a black screen what i think. what i do and think is really all i can know. or is it? when i look into the mirror, i see myself, when i speak, i can hear myself, and there are other beings around me who look and sound quite similar. do they think, feel, move like i do? can i assume that they are more like me than unlike? can i speak for them? and if i do, should i extrapolate from me to them or from them to me?

“… woman was not fit for the governing of society or the workings of the state. in fact, she was seen as a threat because her thoughts and desires were tied to the realm of the particular … any attempt by her to enter into the public realm would only pervert the aims of the state from the universal to the particular.” (tuana 166).

why does the particular pervert the universal? couldn’t it be the other way round – that the universal at least sometimes blurs and inhibits the particular and with it reality? this is exactly what happened for philosopher claudia card. while tenured at a large university, she developed a writing block. at this time she was teaching a course on “crime and punishment” from a purely theoretical point of view: “i had never been inside a prison … never witnessed an execution … [or] attended a criminal trial. i was not aware of people who had done such things.”

gradually, through exposure to students who, in the 60s and 70s were doing “such things” (i.e. they were exposed to the criminal justice system through war resistance or marijuana), card began to wake up to the reality of the particular. she saw that real people were “liable to being accused of crimes or victimized by them”. these people were particularly

“the very young, the homeless, the poor, … people of color, women attempting to protect themselves or children against battery and sexual abuse, women (rebels) who refused the ‘protection’ of men.”

this insight helped her realize that she, too, a closeted lesbian living in an abusive relationship, really did know about crime or at least the possibility of it: “i knew firsthand the fear of murder.” with time, the more she fleshed out philosophy with tangible reality, the more her writing block disappeared and she regained her voice:

“i presented my … ‘feminist ethical theory: a lesbian perspective’ … at the university of minnesota … to my surprise, i began speaking from deep inside, without effort, in a large voice that i had not known was there. people later said they heard me in the hallways … there was anger fuelling that voice. there was also confidence …”

claudia card has turned from the universal to the particular:

“i no longer linger over ‘eternal’ or universal truths. i seek wisdom … in relation to lives fleshed out as gendered as well as members of species, as having ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds, even sexual orientations – things not universal … i still teach from books … but i also teach from my life, and my writing flows from that life …”

in the second part of the essay, i added my own voice, my own lived experience:
what i am digging for is my voice. to some degree, i mean this quite literally, which is why i felt such affinity with claudia card. i often feel weak, powerless and confused when i speak, especially in small groups. my voice is not my accomplice but my betrayer; so often it has let me down by scrambling my words and stammering, by being sarcastic when it should have yelled, by taking on a childlike whisper when it should be loud and articulate, and by being mute when it should spit out the truth. and it is as if my speaking voice, when not articulated, just like unexpressed anger “backs up” and constipates my thinking. i believe this voice is not only undeveloped for private reasons but also because i feel my reality, like that of so many other women, has been negated in the context of a society that does not wish to give weight to women’s experiences.

so this is my motivation for writing these words: i am trying to unconstipate, to untangle my thinking, and to reconnect it with my both my speaking and my metaphorical voice. as well, i would like to connect further out, with other people who are also trying to find their voice. while i earnestly do not want to minimize the voicelessness of many men, i do identify better with women who want to speak up and be heard. this is why i was so intrigued when i saw the announcement of petra von morstein’s lecture, especially because she was described as a poet, philosophical counsellor and researcher into feminist philosophy. what would her voice be like, i wondered, how does she sing the song of philosophy?

after many attempts, i finally managed to speak to her on the telephone. von morstein threw an interesting and much-needed light on my quest for understanding women’s experience and women’s connection with philosophy. she criticized my (and others’) dichotomous approach to this question, saying that when reading the works of such male philosophers as augustine, descartes, hume, kant, hegel, heidegger or husserl, one does find a coming-together of the universal and the particular.

granted, these men did not inform their thinking with the particulars of female reality (it is unlikely kant came up with his categorial imperative while doing the dishes); nevertheless, they also did not insist on separating the personal from the universal. augustine’s confessions, an autobiography and arguably one of the most important philosophical writings, are a case in point, as are descartes meditations. it is debatable whether, as solanas says, these men are really “unable to relate to anybody or anything”.

von morstein also pointed out that, by making such harsh judgments as solanas, many women cut themselves off from the history of thought, thereby impoverishing themselves. “i want to have it all!” ms. von morstein exclaimed a few times, meaning that she thinks that women can and should draw on all perspectives, the feminist one and that of the “dead white males”.

searching for my voice, investigating other women’s voices, has been, in part, a very private enterprise. in other ways, however, i also hope that my words can be companions to those of other women, such as claudia card’s. taking yet another angle, i want to come back to what i said at the beginning of this essay: “what i do and think is really all i can know.” even though it seems that there are similarities between me and other people – other women -, i cannot presume to speak for them. i can only speak for myself, speak to them and sometimes maybe even with them. i can only say: this is my experience; and if yours is similar, let’s have them stand side by side and reinforce each other.

mothers day blessings

woman drinking ginblessed is the mother who gave up her daughter for adoption.

blessed is the mother who chooses daily between cocaine and breastfeeding.

blessed is the mother who drags herself to an abortion clinic.

blessed is the mother who is mortified with guilt over having beaten her sons.

blessed is the mother who can’t give up smoking.

blessed is the mother who makes more kraft dinner than broccoli.

blessed is the mother who works two jobs.

blessed is the mother who works in the sex trade.

blessed is the mother who can’t pay the rent.

blessed is the mother who died while driving drunk.

blessed is the mother who is afraid to leave her abusive husband.

blessed is the mother who has disowned her parents.

blessed is the mother who soothes her pain with valium.

blessed is the mother whose only babysitter is the TV.

blessed is the mother who hears voices.

blessed is the mother who is fighting anorexia.

blessed is the mother who is afraid she’ll abuse her daughters the way she was abused.

blessed is the mother who yells too much.

blessed is the imperfect, suffering, bewildered, overwhelmed, underpaid, lonely mother.

may she be happy, may she be peaceful, may she be healthy, may she be free.

 

image by zoe

a mystery about weight and shame: two weeks under

here’s another book i read recently – two weeks under, by rivka tadjer.

doing these book reviews reminds me a bit of my aunt. she loved buying clothes but she’d often get sick of them real quick, and then she’d ask me if i wanted them. she was 40 years older than i so – well, as you can imagine, as a 22-year-old, i didn’t quite share her taste. but she’d always urge me to try them on anyway (we did wear the same size) and i was often amazed how good her pink polyester set or her brown tweed skirt would look on me.

two weeks under was a little like that. i’m not quite sure what you’d call the genre because i rarely read this sort of book; it did remind me a bit of confessions of a shopaholic (which i managed to read 2/3 through). what would you call that genre? let’s ask amazon. oh yeah, chick lit. two weeks under is also a mystery but not the mystery that i tend to read (i like tough-wounded-but-compassionate-guy stuff, and irresponsible-funny-guy stuff, that kind of thing; robert b. parker is my guy!) perhaps it’s chick lit mystery?

here’s the description from amazon:

elana diamond’s 35th birthday isn’t much to celebrate. she’s still alone and depressed, so this year the make-a-wish-candles can do you-know-what with themselves. and her archrival at work, who thanks to her flawless judgment also happens to be her ex-fiancé, is being groomed to fire her. fighting to keep her job, she can’t afford to pay attention to her non-existent personal life, much less the sudden rash of suicides going on in manhattan. all professional women, all just like her. then someone closely connected to elana becomes the next suicide. she can no longer ignore the dying women, or anything else. an intense, secretive reporter surfaces, claims to be a friend, but he’s a little too knowledgeable, a little too curious. reluctantly, elana tries to figure out why the suicide happened, and if this reporter is involved. she finds herself lured into a consuming world of shame and dieting, where going under a medically induced vanity coma to lose weight makes sense. a kind neurologist tries to help, but when elana finds out what really happened with the suicide, she’s in so deep she might not survive it. anyone who tries to help her won’t either. and no one seems interested in facing the truth. racing against time, and fighting her own demons, elana must try to find enough evidence for the truth to be heard, whether or not she makes it.

what i found interesting was the way tadjer treated the subject of being overweight.

145 pounds, 5-foot-6. disgusted, she studies her lumpy, clearly 35-year-old self in the shower.

honey, that’s not overweight. it’s a woman who, depending on her frame, may have some soft spots on her but overweight is something else. i couldn’t quite decide whether tadjer really believed that numbers like that were overweight, whether she wanted the reader to think that the protagonist thought that was too much when it really wasn’t, or whether she hadn’t done her research (the last option is unlikely – she teaches journalism at SUNY).

now i may be splitting hairs here – but if the target readership is women who are battling with weight, then they will probably ask themselves questions like that, too.

fortunately, rivka tadjer has a blog, so hopefully she’ll read this and help us clear this up. consider yourself tagged, rivka! (does the answer lie, perhaps, in your definition of the term “weightism”?)

tadjer does a good job at bringing out the deep yet only superficially articulated feelings of shame that plague women who are struggling with their weight, as well as the uneasy, disjointed and a lot of other un- and dis- relationships such women have with their mothers:

i spent a lot of time alone when i was a kid, so as horrible as it sounds, being alienated came kind of naturally. i guess you can inherit loneliness. and when you’re alone, you start guessing at what’s right, and you start judging yourself, harshly.

well, my mother was the first to do that. she always wanted me to be more – smarter, neater, better dressed, more doting, better looking. she told me i did things wrong all the time, didn’t show me how to do them properly, and then she’d pepper in that i shouldn’t push myself too hard, success isn’t everything.

on that same page, there’s also an intriguing sentence, “i’ve been the ayn rand of my own body.” i wonder what exactly is meant by that.

how cool, to be able to ask the author these questions. i’m looking forward to your answers, rivka!

if you’re looking for an easy read over the holidays but want something a little different than a mindless romance novel, two weeks under will hit the spot.