Saturday, March 08, 2014

Thoughts on Liking Women: International Women's Day

Years ago I had a very odd conversation with a fellow I met in university. We were both young men. He impressed me because he was one of the first people I ever told about my sexuality, this would have been in the late seventies, and he simply didn't care. He came from a very religious family and I sort of expected him to at least be a bit upset, but he wasn't. He just made it clear, in the way straight men feel they need to do when a male friend tells them that they are gay, that he was one hundred percent Canadian STRAIGHT male. Once that was out of the way, we were good.

I had begun to work with people with intellectual disabilities and, once, when talking about my work, he noticed that most of my co-workers had women's names. I smiled and said that I worked in a profession that was peopled primarily with women. Most of my coworkers were women, my supervisor was a woman and my supervisor's supervisor was a woman. I expected him to say that my working closely with women was an experience wasted on me, as a gay man, but instead he said something strange.

"I don't know how you can stand to be surrounded by women all day."

I said, "I thought that as a guy into women, this would be your dream job."

Then he said, jokingly, "I wouldn't mind being in a roomful of naked women, but to have to work with women all day, to report to a woman, that would drive me crazy."

So women were to be objects of lust and longing, of touch and access, of submission and nakedness but not people to be respected, to be colleagues, to be leaders, to be decision makers. He saw the strange look on my face and asked, "What?"

I said, "I thought you liked women? When I told you I liked men, you made it clear that you liked women."

He said, and I remember this clearly, "I LIKE women but I don't like women. There's a difference."

I explained to him that I enjoyed working with women, that I'd always been comfortable with women in my life. I didn't think that came from being gay, that just came from having met and been influenced by some astonishing women in my life. A teacher at school, Miss Bunting, had changed my life. Dr. Pam Duncan, a professor at university had inspired me with her passion for psychology. Miss Jean MacQueen my landlady who had carved away a life for herself as a single working woman. These were just a few women who I had known to be people of deep talent and integrity.

He was having none of that. "I couldn't cope with all that emotion and all that silliness."

I remember thinking at the time, "Liking women should mean liking women."

It wasn't long after that when I pulled up stakes to move out east to meet up with Joe who had taken a job in Quebec right out of school. I continued to work in the field, continued to work with and for remarkable women. And over the years I have had a few similar conversations with men who don't understand how I can work with women and not 'pull my hair out' in frustration, or bristle at corrective supervision as given by a woman.

What's even odder is that there are women who have remarked to me about how difficult it is to work with women, saying 'women are petty' or 'women are mean' or 'women can't handle power.' These are women talking about women. I said to one woman that I was surprised because I have found that working for and with women has been one of the things that I most like about my job. The women I have had the privilege to meet! The women I have had the honour to work for! The women whose leadership and courage have made a difference. Winifred Kemption cut a path for us to follow, I was lucky enough to have met her, to have spoken with her, and to tell her how much I admired the work she had undertaken. Manuela Dalla Nora, Susan Tough and Marsha Forest were women of vision and passion, all gone now, who are remembered, not as people who lived in the past, but as people whose lives continue to affect the future. These are the names of only a very few of the women who's work has informed me, inspired me and motivated me.

I continue to work closely with remarkable women now. I work on a leadership team headed by a woman and primarily composed of women, these are people who give me guidance and support and directioni. These are women who make my work possible. The five women who work with me in the clinical department are amazing people. Not just gifted clinicians, which they are, but to a one, they are also passionate, caring, powerful, women. They are compassionate and wise and all have independent minds, and while the structure says they report to me, we really just work together with leadership flowing back and forth between people's strengths and interests.

Every day at work I meet with women who work throughout Vita Community Living Services. Women who work within all parts of the agency. They bring into my office such an array of talent but to a one they also bring in passion and caring and deep commitment to the work that they do. These women make the world different and better every day. That's EVERY DAY. Throughout the world, women, like these women, make EVERY DAY DIFFERENT. Every day.

So, on International Women's Day I want to acknowledge that my heterosexual friend was quite wrong, so too were the women who sang soprano in the sexist chorus.

Working with women, taking leadership from women, being in active partnerships with women has enriched me.

To my friend from all those years ago ... a twitter update from Dave:

I may love men but I tell you I really like women.


Jayne Wales said...

I cannot understand women who say they don't like women. I love working with women and having fabulous women in my life. I spent years under a false illusion that women and men were just the same and now I know we are not. I love men and women for what makes them tick. Ok there are some people that don't rock my boat. But that's life. I like having people to admire and that's equally distributed to men and women.
Yes to women!

Anonymous said...

Thats a lovely post but as a first world woman I cant wait for the day when we dont need men to stand up in defence of us, or international days to remind us of womens contribution to society (coz birthing the entire planet apparently doesnt count as worthy contribution..). I long for the day that I can express emotion without being labelled hysterical, when I can challenge male authority without being labelled difficult and unstable,when I can live as a strong, independant, thinking woman without that being seen as threateningly unfeminine, and when I can assert and support my gender without it being taken to mean I hate men. I also long for the day when male friends who deviate from weird macho fears arent derogatorily dismissed as "women". Women are awesome. Men are awesome. And people who think they know what individuals are like based solely on the genitalia they were born with should be relegated to the dark ages.

But today shouldnt be about first world womens issues, it should be about the horror that women are still subjected to throughout the world by countries and communities who havent yet realised that women are human people too. Today should be about shouting our collective female and male anger about issues like female genital mutilation (an issue in the UK where I live as well as in countrys we pretend arent any of our business), about women who are lashed or stoned to death for being raped because their victimisation is seen as bringing shame on their male family members, about prepubescent girl children sold into slave marriages or prostituted to westerners because they are property not people, about preventable deaths of women who cant afford adequate sanitary protection in societys where menstruating women are seen as so unclean that they cant touch the familys water.. etc etc

There are so many of these serious issues still happening in the world while we in privileged positions argue about female work environments and what itd be like to work under a female boss. Solidarity on International Womens day should include all women everywhere and especially with those to whom womens rights are a totally alien concept. Its not ok for us to look away, even if theres nothing we feel we can do personally, and today is a good day to get educated and raise awareness so the world will change its abhorrent attitudes.

Louna said...

Thank you! I am so upset when sexism comes not only from men, but from women too. Still, in the list of amazing women who influenced you, I kinda missed your grandma...

Dave Hingsburger said...

Emma, I agree with you about the serious issues around the world and I would include in that the issues that woman with disabilities experience everywhere, INCLUDING, in North America with access to justice, to safety, to any single kind of equity.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Louna, I considered putting Grandma Hingsburger in the post but I found that, in the context of what I was writing, I felt it would feel as if she was 'shoved in.' I've written often about Grandma Hingsburger and will write of her again. If I had written a more personal blog about my relationships with women, Grandma would have been at the top of the list.

MichiganMom said...

This post has deeply affected me. To quote old Holly Near song lyrics, "There's something about the women in my life...." and it was never more powerfully sung than when male voices joined hers. Thank you for getting it so well. A tribute such as this fills me with hope for our futures.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Holly Near! We used to go see her perform all the time. Chris Williamson too. Oh, they made great music!

MichiganMom said...

Dave, they are still making music! I am going to see Holly with Emma's Revolution (Pat Humphries and Sandy O) in a couple weeks.

Tamara G. Suttle said...

Hi, Dave. Thanks so much for sharing your thinking about this incident. I always appreciate your courage and willingness to confront injustices and to nudge us all toward change.

I was actually just dropping in to say that I've nominated Rolling Around in My Head for The Leibster Award ( as a token of my appreciation for the work that you do and also as a way to introduce my readers to your blog. Keep up the hard work, Dave! It is making a difference!

CT said...

Dave, we have never met, and we likely never will. But I wanted to say thanks as one woman who uses your words and life as a touchstone on my journey. I think about things I never would have thought about otherwise; they are present for me, when I could have made the mistake of ignoring them. And I think of you as a friend. So, thank you. :)