I was incredibly fortunate to have had lunch this past Saturday with five of the most important people in my life. Five people who represent most of my family; my wife, sister, mother, father, and nine month old nephew, Arthur.
Why this lunch is so special is that my sister and nephew normally reside in Nepal, and are here only for a few months visiting before they move to Sri Lanka for three years. This was her first mother’s day as a new mom.
Since Arthur has arrived, my wife Kate and I have talked a lot about what we think he will be like when he gets older.
Will his personality be more like his father, or his mother, or perhaps an interesting hybrid of both?
Who will be the most important people in his life?
Who will he celebrate Mother’s Day with in thirty years?
What will he do with his life?
We were very blessed to be in the hospital with my sister when Arthur arrived to this world, and were even able to hold him soon after he made his delayed entrance. From that day forward I was, and am, “Uncle Cubby,” and the person that I am will have an impact on how this new little life is formed.
A few weeks ago, I read an article by Jeff Perara on gender (http://higherunlearning.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/understanding-boys-understanding-girls/) and it struck a chord with me, especially when considering what kind of world my new nephew will grow up in. As I read the article a new question about how Arthur would grow formed. How will he treat others in his life?
Perara works with the White Ribbon campaign and does presentations with boys and girls from Grades 4-8 talking about how society creates the ideas around gender and how that impacts both girls and boys and the adults they become. He has also participated in TEDxRyerson with a presentation on the power of words and was the founder of the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign. His presentation can be found at the following link; http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-VBlQJFe_Ik
We are constantly bombarded by images and adverts that tell us what is attractive, and encourage us to fit into the narrowly defined boxes of gender that are reinforced. If we do not see something that represents us, we feel excluded.
But do we have a choice in this?
Over the last two years I have had the opportunity to connect more with my Aboriginal ancestry and begin to learn about the culture. The discovery that has touched me most deeply is the traditional view of women in many Aboriginal societies. As I have been taught by my Elders, in Aboriginal society women have a place of great respect and are equal to men, sacred for their capacity to create life, and their connection to the water and the moon. The teaching of respect also begins before we are born, learning how to walk in a good way from the rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat. In this way, we are all gifted with respect.
Women traditionally chose the chiefs of tribes, or ogimaa, and selected roles for the people to fulfil as adults, as the women were the ones who had watched the children around them grow and knew what their gifts were. However, this reality was challenged, as the European view of women is historically very different, and those that came refused to deal with women as leaders, hence why we have the male idea of the “Indian chief” in our cultural subconscious.
Still, it means that there is another way to be. That we begin with respect imbedded in us before we are born. As I think of the world in which Arthur and his generation will inherit, and the seven generations beyond him, this kind of discrimination is not something I want them to experience.
From this, there are three lessons that I take with me that I hope I will be able to impart to Arthur:
1. All that is learned can be unlearned.
Despite the messages that dominant society throws at us, we have a choice to believe in what we choose to, and a responsibility to question all of the views that are thrown at us. To me, this is the key idea of “unlearn” as a movement and a way of living. “Unlearn,” as per their website, is defined by Steve D’Amico as, “A process of removing barriers that blind us to our authentic selves, questioning our classical conditioning, deconstructing and re-ordering our identities, identifying and discarding negative values, repeatedly focusing awareness towards one’s state of being.” (http://www.unlearn.com/learn_aboutus.htm )This is something I will encourage in my nephew.
2. It starts with awareness.
The only way that we can change is to be aware of the way we are, and choose to be different. Understanding how our own actions affect other people and how our words speak to them will help us to understand the dramatic consequences that we have on others and to begin to choose them more gently and carefully. These interactions with others also make us face where our own attitudes come from, as differing viewpoints and perspectives show us other ways of being. It is my hope to expose Arthur to many different viewpoints and ways of thinking from a variety of people.
3. The role of women in our society is everyone’s concern.
Being concerned by how all people in society are treated is the responsibility of everyone. It can be easy to say that because I am not a woman, I should not be concerned about their status in our society, but this is not true. Everyone has a stake in the way we treat others. The way that I treat my wife, my mother, my sister and all the people around me reinforce what behaviours are acceptable to our little ones and what we will allow others to do to us and society at large. If it is with respect, and in a good way, then that will become the norm.
I know I will, to the best of my ability, respect and love everything around me, and in doing so, teach my nephew to do so as well. That is what I promise as his Uncle, and what I can do as an ally to women everywhere.
My final question is for you dearest reader.
Who are you teaching in your life how to be?
Sean C. Kinsella
Community Development Coordinator, University of Toronto Mississauga
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