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Activist Communique: Happy International Women's Day -- You are beautiful

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Truth be told, International Women's Day used to make me nervous.

In fact, feminism used to make me nervous. I would kick and scream, punch, scratch and bite, if anyone dared called me a feminist.

In my head -- and yes, I admit, I still struggle with this concept -- I believed that to be considered among the ranks of women, there were certain socially ascribed dress codes and gender roles that I had to follow.

I would fight for femme rights at the drop of hat, and yet I didn't feel like I looked or felt like one.

In fact, I used to believe that I had nothing to do with the rank of female since as a vulnerable teenager, I wore combat boots to my prom despite heavy protestations from my high school and my mother.  

Back then, in my mind's eyes, I pictured a "feminist" to look a certain way, all Earth Woman Goddess with flowing hair and skirts, with dainty feet and manners. And lots of children. Lots.

That is what I interpreted from mainstream Canadian culture.

I realized I had nothing to do with that image one day when I fell out of a tree when at school and the teachers and principal had no idea what to do with me. Wasn't I supposed to be "spending my recess sitting around with the other girls talking about boys and not falling out of trees?"

I never really got a handle on Canadian mainstream culture and its gender roles.

I was always too school for cool, loving biology and getting muddy, playing sports and telling people off whenever they uttered the deadly words "you can't do that" as if my outward female gender determined my role in society.

I always saw the world differently. In my adolescence, while other "girls chased boys", I would be chasing clouds, conducting disastrous science experiments at home and dyeing my hair blue. I didn't want anything to do with being a "girl" because I didn't want anything to do with what being girl meant in mainstream modern society.

This all included the negative social/body image, the harassment, the unwanted sexual ass pats from my male track team members, the threats of violence and forced sex.

The more oppression I faced, the more threats, the less I wanted to look like -- and thus, be a girl. I had swallowed the whole self-hating-blame-the-woman's-dress-code-and-actions deal in one self-righteous I-can-outdrink-any-boy-at-this-table, gulp.

Ya, I can admit that. And I was wrong. I see that now.

I just hated the lewd comments; I hated being called fat because of my Northern European stature which makes me all muscle. I hated it when people told me this was a "boys-only game."

So I ended up hating myself instead of hating the system of ingrained misogyny.

I hated gender roles and gender expectations and gendered violence.  All these mainstream Canadian gender social roles during high school drove me to hate myself and the physical form I was incarnated in.

I didn't fit in; in high school I was bullied to the point of insanity. Canadian mainstream culture sucked.

I am Saami. I am from the Arctic.

My people have been described by Procopius as [emphasis mine]:

 "Of the barbarians who inhabit Thule (Ancient name for Scandinavia by the Goths) there is a single tribe called the Skrithiphinoi (my people, the Saami), who live a bestial life. They do not wear clothes of cloth, or shoes, or drink wine or use the products of the earth for sustenance. They do not practice agriculture, nor do their womenfolk work in the home; instead the men and the women together engage solely in hunting...Nor do they (the women) even look after newborn babies in the same way as other people do, for the babies of the Skrithiphinoi are not nourished with their mother's milk, nor do they fasten on to the mother's breast, but they are fed only the marrow of the animals that are trapped.

As soon as the wife has given birth, she swaddles her foetus in a hide and, hanging it on some tree and putting some marrow into its mouth, she usually returns to the hunt. For the men and women do everything else together, and this practice, too, is a common one. Such then is the way of life of these barbarians."

Of course, the paragraph points out the kind of external commentary that my people faced, but I also read this description of my people -- and the role of women -- and ask: Was it my people's choice of gender roles that differed from the external norm that makes me/us barbarians?  Savage is as savage does?

The more I grow, the more "time is the best teacher" (Saami proverb); the more I learn from patient teachers, I understand that honestly, the social construction of womanhood I learned from Canadian mainstream society is wrong.

I have a lot of deprogramming to do and it's hard sometimes to not hate myself and hate my physical form like that is the sole definition of what I am.

I have a lot to de-learn from mainstream Canadian culture, and a lot to learn from my own culture and the role of Shieldmaidens, which is the closest English description to describe what I am if I am forced to hunt down labels.

"A shieldmaiden was a woman who had chosen to fight as a warrior in Scandinavian folklore and mythology. The Valkyries might have been based on the shieldmaidens, and they were J.R.R. Tolkien's inspiration for Éowyn."

The modern myths surrounding Shieldmaidens include the White Tights. These are the stories and role models I grew up with.

The White Tights are a Russian urban myth surrounding the alleged participation of female sniper mercenaries in combat against Russian forces in various armed conflicts from the late 1980s.

I am patiently learning that I have nothing to be ashamed of if I don't fit in. I am learning that if I experience sexism, that hate is not my burden to carry.

I am also learning that I need to return to my own Indigenous culture and my ancestors to find the comfort and strength I seek. This has been the constant knowledge-gift I have received from the allied work I do with the Peoples of Turtle Island.

My people have been around for a long time and if the Arctic did not break our backs, neither will I let labels and manufactured social roles break mine now.

Today, I owe a huge Thank You/Giitu! to everyone who has ever shared with me their experiences and confusion around womanhood and gender roles and has had the patience to sit with me while I work these complex issues out. And an even greater Thank You/Giitu! to every woman who has ever been brave.

So Happy International Women's Day -- however you choose to define and present your gender -- YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.


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