The strength and heart of a woman is the foundation for the rise in women’s leadership among our country and all nations over the past centuries. Women have made an impact politically and historically in Canada. In 1921 Agnes McPhail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons. It took time between 1867 to 1921 to have this kind of progress. “As a result of a legal challenge known as the Persons Case launched in 1927 by the famous five, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby, women were recognized as “persons” under the British North America Act, 1867 and gained the right to sit in the Senate of Canada. In 1930, the Honourable Cairine Reay Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Senate.
Since the 1980s, women’s representation in the Senate of Canada has been higher than in the House of Commons. As of 14 January 2020, women hold 48 of the 100 occupied seats (48%) in the Red Chamber.” (2020, Montpetit)
Women have deep wounds that have spilled out over time, these wounds have not stopped us from carrying our voices. The first woman I wanted to highlight here is, Doris Anderson she was the Chatelain Magazine Chief Editor who throughout her life had her share of great heartbreak and challenges. She ended up a single mother to her three sons. She saw a need in women and with her writing shared those experiences and highlighted women of all walks of life where equality and women’s rights had been silenced. This led her to advocate for women throughout her career. Her voice carried far and vast which led her to create the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, this was huge in the 1960s, which gave women equal rights and were included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What was it about Doris the woman that moved her to want equality? I like to think it was her lived experience growing up and her many interviews with women over the years who needed help, who needed change. These women she spoke too including herself were forgotten due to fewer wages and issues that prevented single and widowed women from accessing healthcare and other resources.
“Like many feminists, I never dreamed – or wished – to be rich, we wanted far more than that: We wanted to change the world.” (1996, Anderson)
Not all women had the courage to push through and pave an open doorway for all women to walk through. The majority of women continue to battle especially today in a gender-changing movement which I call this the third wave in the feminist movement. As a woman, I often wonder if we have lost our grounding to what and who we are in the world today?
Historically the indigenous women have been erased in centuries past thrown out of their homes on reserves, they were stripped of their children and were forced into poverty, and worse having to resort to doing anything to get by. What was it like for these women? I base their womanhood on courage, courage to go on, and heart to keep going.
Let me shine the light on Mary Two-Axe, a Mohawk woman born on the Kahnawake reserve in Quebec who married an Irish-American but lost her Indian status. Losing her status wounded her so much that she was moved to advocate for the rights of indigenous women. In 1968 she established the equal rights for Indian Women Association which is a provincial organization that fought for changes to the Indian Act and succeeded despite opposition from male First Nations leaders. Two-Axe didn’t give up, by 1985 Parliament passed Bill C-31, which amended the Indian Act removing the discriminatory measure that took away women’s Indian status and restored status to thousands of First Nations women. She was the first to regain her status.
What made others listen to this woman? What did she have that so many of us want? Maybe its drive, and not giving in, believing in something takes a lot of heart. Athletes have this type of drive, but women have a deeper ingrained drive to see the ‘whole’ of situations, not just the one issue. To see the whole of oppression, the whole of poverty, the whole of politically unjust Acts passed in parliament, and power imbalanced court rulings. Inequality can shake a nation of women and it’s up to all women to bounce out of powerlessness and bring about changes to old Acts in parliament that are wounding our nation still. Where some of our families and lots of our land are polluted which is calling for an outcry of women speaking their voices in our communities and our country, we call our own.
How we view discrimination, slavery, and dominance which truly those three things don’t come from a place of peace, tolerance or community in unity. Many women have changed the face of our country Canada. They have enforced laws to protect women from freedom of slavery, freedom from rape and abuse. Is it enough? All women contribute a huge balance in the world.
I understand the gravity and enforced powerlessness we still have, but we need two opposite poles to keep the balance ‘even’ in society. Men, women and all genders share one thing in common, wanting to build a better Canada, to live in communities more accepting, and to be treated without the age-old dominance structure that can go either way.
Womanhood to me means the heart and wholeness of family. This has been my experience and my journey. Watching my grandmothers gave me a sense of what kind of woman I am today. There is something mysterious about women, almost like there is a hidden club of unity that only women on a level beyond this earth knows about. My grandmother lived through many hardships lost both her husbands had 3 children and raised them on her own and yet she had a faith in God that moved mountains and the miracles and the stories she could tell of how a mother prays and how prayer has healed and strengthened her family has woven our lives in such a way that grounds me as a woman. My other grandmother had a strength and a freedom that united her family of 6 by her eccentric joy of life, her faith and trust and love for people a true humanitarian are the very angels she met on the streets and throughout her journeys and travels. She brought to our family the very spirit of life and giving that one can see and experience around her. Both my grandmothers’ stories and history shared with me formed a stronger bond that paved the way in my faith, my strength and my endurance as a woman today.
When I first got my period, my mother kissed me, told me she is off to get a few things to celebrate. When she came back, she hugged me and said, “ You are now a woman, we giggled and we talked!” as we ate ice cream together. That is when I realized not only was my mother a ‘mother’ but since I became a woman that day, I entered into a new relationship with her, friendship and an ‘in’ with all the mothers of the world. My mother was still my mother and treated me as such, but there was an added joy in our relationship, a friendship of mother and daughter that we still have today. My experiences of my womanhood hasn’t always been an easy path, I felt left out when my dad and my cousin’s who were male playing sports that we girls weren’t allowed to participate in. Instead, we had to do the dishes and I was always envious of the boys. This soon dissipated when I was twirled around by my father who was pleased to see me help my mother.
I conducted a study on ‘womanhood’ early on in the semester, and I’ve had the most heartwarming experiences while speaking with men, women and other genders who shared with me their responses. I have shed tears with some of them, laughter with others and reminisced with some. I believe my study won’t end after this story is done, but for the sake of this final paper, I have included all the responses that I have gotten. I hope it changes you as it has with me. Also, I have included a timeline chart of our history of our ancestors of ages passed much we have overcome and how much more we need to go for a more balanced unity. Indigenous people have suffered more than we can truly grasp, and yet, they dance to the rhythm of love, a love that holds the life and blood of our history of nations.
Women have survived the loss of land, loss of health and loss of children. Women have learned that despite all of the struggles historically, we have survived, many kinds of abuses that we have a voice. Slowly we rise and give birth to a world that has forgotten what it means to hold creation in the heart of the womb and how through ‘giving’ to the world more life, there is always hope for the future.
Interview Question: What does ‘Womanhood’ mean to you?”
(For the respect and honor of those I interviewed some are kept anonymous and I used only first names)
“Womanhood means to me, ‘the rock’, strong like my wife, without her I wouldn’t make good decisions, she is who I go to for strength mentally. She, my wife, I value her opinions on things, she sees it differently than I do, women see things differently than men do, she’s the foundation of the home, to build a home you need a strong foundation. When we travel to purchase a home, I always ask her opinion on where to live. When tragedy happens, she’s strong in that area on what to do how to console someone. Womanhood is a calmness on how to deal with things… reason with things. Womanhood is not all about stable, but it’s down to earth of the soil to decipher what is real. Women can do with less, she can make do with less, all the other treasures like nature of ‘woman is not that way of richness in material things, I as the father and man, I have to weed material and toys out, I gather and hunt, yet a woman takes the rewards and turns it into a feast. Women can see a hummingbird and sees the bird more fully, she sees on a deeper level she sees the creature of the bird the loving beauty in life, a baby a living creature, the reasoning of life some of that men lack. So, two people need to do that gather, support in man and woman is the foundation of that.” (2020, Brian)
“I love being a woman, motherhood is a blessing to be able to conceive through our heavenly God, ‘birth’, holding my baby’s fingers and after giving birth counting them, unwrapping my babies seeing their heavenly eyes, creation, birth. Women have some difficulties being a mother, being a wife~ you have to do many kinds f things all at once. Raising a family is the most beautiful but it is filled with many challenges as a mom as a woman. I would prefer to raise my family my children and I am glad I did at home being home to raise them to do that. As a young woman I always wanted to be a nun the calling was there, but my choice was marriage… I was very young when I married my husband, I love being a woman.” (2020, Ginette)
“I think the reason I’ve been having so much trouble with this question is because its very complicated, for me, and kind of depressing to be honest. In my mind, the biggest symbol of womanhood is motherhood, and I’m not a mother. I’m not a girly girl, I’m not a wife, I’m not even in a relationship. So, what does that mean for me if those things are how I define womanhood? There’s basically no purpose for my life? There are a lot of single women with no kids and I think most of us feel pressure from society and a family to have kids, but also pressure from ourselves. Like this is what I’m supposed to do, this is the natural order of things. Then when it doesn’t happen, I am a failure, to myself and to my family. On a basic level I know that’s not true and there is so much more for me to contribute to the world and woman power and all that, but on a deeper level it IS true because it’s how I am biologically engineered to feel, whether from a nurture perspective. Even from a scientific perspective, regardless of gender, the purpose of life is procreation, so if we don’t do that, what is the point? To cope with all that, I think I’ve kind of pushed it away and just focused more on what I can do to be a good person, a good human. I don’t think gender has anything to do with being a good person, but maybe I’ve just latched on to that concept because I failed at what I really consider to be womanhood. I think this concept can be extended to expectations for ourselves and life in general too. Like there was a certain way I thought my life would turn out, I was raised thinking I could do or be anything I wanted. I had all these lofty goals and plans, none of which materialized, so, I’ve kind of failed at life when compared to my expectations anyway.” (2020 Anonymous)
“Womanhood means feminine genius. It means living authentically as a female. Authentic womanhood is appealing.” (2020, Adele)
“Womanhood to me means being strong and weak at the same time…Being a woman to me means connection with other women, that creates a bond like no other. Womanhood means to me trying to be a good example as a woman to my beautiful daughter. Womanhood means complex but beautiful emotions, a great intuition! Womanhood is beautiful!” (2020 Gerda)
“Womanhood is a gift from God. Reflecting back on my life when I began to be a woman was very important to me. I was able to make decisions without other adults telling me what to do. I started applying wisdom I learned from my parents or other adults. I was ready to be married and to be a mom. Womanhood opened the door for me to face the world and challenges in my life. Very special feeling of experience to do and make decisions on my own feeling grown up. Being in control with my feelings and emotions. Feeling that finally people will listen to me as a woman not like a child, freedom to me.” (2020 Mara L)
“Womanhood is being able to keep the man and the child in your family happy while keeping yourself strong at heart through thick and thin. Being able to provide for your family emotionally and lovingly.” (2020 Ben)
“Womanhood to me means being me, TRULY me. Not judging myself by societal or cultural expectations and embracing all the elements that make me a woman. Crucially, it is about acceptance of all these things too, the good AND the bad and appreciating that the middle aged-spread, hormone fluctuations, the impact of children on my identity are what makes me a woman, just as different qualities made me a woman when I was at a previous life-stage, womanhood is also the confusion and constant struggle, from conflicting messages on what I should be – this is more the reality, the constant struggle to not listen to those voices and just be authentically me.” (2020 Julia)
Womanhood, I am not sure I have never thought about it. Maybe passing over from a young adult to a woman who has gained some life experience through being a mum or a wife. Womanhood means being a mother to my boys, I gave up the chance to win a gold metal in figure skating but giving to them… there is nothing else better” (2020 Kelly)
“I think ‘womanhood’ begins with puberty our first ‘period’. We are told we are ‘now a woman’ and that’s probably true, physically but definitely not mentally!!! Soooo the question is when do we become a ‘woman’ both mentally and physically? Some females are ‘girls’ all their lives…and some are ‘ladies’. We are focusing on the term ‘woman’ …I know I’m not a ‘girl’ nor can I be described as a ‘lady’. But I would be honoured to be called a ‘woman’. Jesus called his mother ‘woman’ with respect. I think a woman is a mature-ish person, maybe with a little learned wisdom, maybe a forgiving heart, patient, kind, trusting and hopefully loving to all she meets…. Yes! I’d like to be known as a woman!!!!” (2020 Sandy)
“Womanhood to me is when her breasts start to develop and hair starts to grow down there. Some girls hit puberty faster than others.” (anonymous)
“It means to be what you are. A creation of God that has been uniquely designed by God for a special purpose, of which we can not yet know. It means to exercise every gift, talent, to the maximum, regardless of what that is. It means equality with a man, but not sameness. Men are uniquely given a way of being, that is not the same as a woman’s unique way of being. Both are meant to compliment each other. It is not related to interests. A woman may be interested in car repair, and a man in knitting. It is about how this interest is exercised and expressed in the fulfilling of that activity. A woman and man both offer a unique, but different perspective and approach to that activity. There are some activities that are better suited to a woman, but, some men may do that activity well. There are some activities that can not be done by a man, such as childbirth, and some women can not do, such as impregnating an ovum, some activities are unique to our genders. Women have been fooled into thinking that they need to be men to succeed…men have been duped into thinking that it is wrong to be a man. Genders have become confused and distorted. Society needs to take some time to undo these distortions, which are creating havock in a mixed up world that is searching for truth.” (2020, Lindael)
“I have never understood either that term or the masculine version. It implies that there are inherent differences between the two. Uniqueness’s I guess might be the term but in todays world, we are being encouraged not to distinguish between the two and that I think is a result of feminism. However, since you asked what it means ‘to me’, I will answer this way because to me, there are major differences between the two most widely recognized genders. Manhood implies an inner toughness that can be brought to question by one’s actions or inactions. I also align the term with the male reproductive organs as they are apparently tied closely to the above noted toughness. Womanhood though has nothing to do with the reproductive bits other than to say that women are inherently strong, much stronger than men in more important ways than physical strength. It engenders their ability to carry human life, a feat that if it were left up to men would result in the end of humanity. The motherly piece is encased in the term to me as well. After the birth the nurturing and the love that mothers possess is nothing short of awe inspiring. Men do not share the ability to love as deeply or strongly as women do. They simply don’t have the connection to their kids that mothers do because of the gestational requirements so closely attached to the ability to give birth. I am more traditional than say my kids are and I still see the distinction between men and women and I do believe that each gender is, in general, capable of things that the other is not as capable of and it is important to recognize ones strengths rather than try to convince the rest of the world that there is no such thing as differences based on gender. In a round about way, manhood is a dominant term and womanhood sparks memories of my mom whom I miss terribly” (2020 Mexi cali)
“Womanhood, it’s just at the opposite pole to ‘Manhood’. Division words we need to lose” (2020 Randall T)
“To me, there are so many different aspects to determine when a girl becomes a woman. Age is the least reliable of the benchmarks the ability to become pregnant, is also not reliable, just like from the age of first menstrual period. Becoming a woman is a very complex issue where many changes to the physical, mental, psychological, and medical changes have been completed and the ‘girl’ recognizes and accepts these changes for herself. Womanhood begins at different times for different girls. Boys, on the other hand never fully grow up, and they never become mature. Womanhood is a very complex, multifaceted progression that takes years to complete. And even at that, it doesn’t ever end until death. Every girl and woman change from one stage to the next, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly example: – Body can make significant changes over a summer season, but the mind doesn’t. or ~ the mind/brain will mature before the body. This is why men have such difficulty understanding women. The old adage is, men marry women, hoping they will never change. Women marry men, hoping they will change. Both get disappointed 50% of the time (Divorce rate).” (2020 Alan Jh)
“To me, Womanhood is taking ownership of the XX chromosomal pair. The natural ability to carry and birth life (whether one does or not). Living with and embracing all that is, including the challenges that come with the physiology (menstruation, cramps, hormonal storm, infertility). Men and women can have masculine and feminine traits and behaviors to varying degrees. These don’t have anything to do with womanhood, aside from shading the experience to make it unique to the person. A person can wish they were born a woman, and may even alter their body to assume female traits. That does not make them a woman. I am lucky in that my emotional/sexual identity matches up with my physiological identity. Mentally and emotionally, I am a female born into a female body – that to me is what womanhood is.” (2020 Lady tehMa)
“Womanhood to me means, when my mom kicked my dad out of the home, when me and my other brothers and sisters were still small kids, my mommy did everything, worked two jobs 6 days a week for years, – father never paid a penny of child support-we always had a warm safe bed to sleep in food in our bellies and clean clothes to wear – lots of hugs and kisses too. Sounds simple but when you’re a kid isn’t that not all we really need, on her only day off if the weather was nice, she always seemed to find the extra energy to take all the kids to the park. I can go on all day about my mom, but here is a small sample of womanhood. I have zero pity for deadbeat mom’s or dad’s, knowing what my mother had to do for us kids, love you mommy—(2020, the truth)
“Interesting question. To me, it was a definition of the differences, mostly expected of us, that society imposed on each. It seemed to work for thousands of years. That is the differences ‘allowed’ based on one’s sex. That seems now to be no longer an item that is even up for discussion. Yes, feminism is the big push to rid society of allowing any room for difference and preference. Is it a good thing to lose our acceptable differences? Men really have not been part of the push, they are just still men and were expected to change and accommodate new roles. Which, for the most part seems to be the case. Women some and some not, do not want to acknowledge any differences. Maybe good but also showing not good, as the accustomed rules that women lead in are being forcibly removed from society, and not all recognize this as a good thing. They were always just labels but carried a vast amount of privilege and power in each class. Now, its just the ‘Hood’ one group, no longer differences acceptable within society. Wrong/right, time will tell.” (2020 liisgo)
“I am very glad to be a woman in today’s world!! My grandmothers had hard lives. they raised huge families with little income and had none of the life conveniences that we have today. like washers/dryers/vacuums etc. (crazy that they both lived until their late 90’s). My mom raised 4 of us but she had those life conveniences and she could eventually enter the work force when we all left home…. But she still had that 1950 mentality of doing everything for my father. I’m so lucky that I could get married when I wanted to, have children when I wanted too, dress the way I want too, and get a better education…all MY decisions. Glad I married a man who respects the way I think about myself and has never tried to change it. This next generation of younger ladies have so many choices out there to be whomever you want to be and they are all your decisions to make there is no doubt in my mind that there’s a powerful wave of women coming in the near future as Helen Reddy said ‘I am Woman hear me roar’ lol). (2020 W105)
“Womanhood may mean different things to different people, in different cultures. Womanhood, manhood, are similar to adulthood. It distinguishes when one leaves adolescence to become a mature adult, or more specifically, a mature woman, or mature man. Legally this happens at 18 or 19 in our culture, but some may subjectively consider other traits than just age.” (2020, Jlabute)
“I never use the word. to me it is archaic, think it is still used in bodice ripper novels though.” (2020, normaM)
“To me, ‘womanhood’ means to identify as a woman, and live your life as such. Might that be a stay at home mom who wears dresses and make up, or a woman who hunts and fishes, and is in the trades, or someone who is a combination.” (2020 whatwhat)
“To me womanhood means many things. It’s accepting yourself and your body, allowing it to adapt and change as you do. Being able to build the people in your life up, and not take them for granted. It means being grateful for the things you have but still striving for growth! Womanhood isn’t just one thing. It’s a million little things all bundled together that makes us who we are!” (2020 Britney)
“To me, womanhood means love, who I am, being best nurturer, I can be to whomever crosses my path, whether in person or not. It is to care about one’s self at every level and to care for others. It is an honour that God chose me to be a woman. It is love, it is unconditional love, forever eternal love. I am a woman. I am love.” (2020 Shannon)
“My view of womanhood has changed over my 47 years. What I believe now is that my womanhood is a quiet strength. It’s a firm and unshakable belief that all people deserve respect, compassion, love and the grace of forgiveness. There is a true wisdom in womanhood. I feel I truly became a woman when I stopped being afraid of what others think. I stopped being afraid of judgement and began to trust my God given instincts. Womanhood is something you don’t achieve until you have walked through the battlefield of life and come out the other side. Slightly beaten down, but with so much strength and understanding.” (2020 Cathy)
“Womanhood is strength and leadership. In some ways, we have let society take our strength away. We have to take it back. We are the leaders of the family. We shape the children and guide the men. We have the power to quietly shape our culture. We just have to believe in ourselves.” (2020 Carmen)
“Womanhood, a God-given blessing to partner with manhood – His mankind. A precious gift from my beloved God. It is to ensure His creation and to maintain His love. Women are powerfully strong human beings. A fusion to the world in partnership with life. Womanhood exemplifies love, kindness, compassion, benevolence. Women are awesome and wonderfully made entities to be fully matured in a Mary-like state. A woman possesses a great gift – a womb – a sacred place where life begins. A co-operative element of God’s creation.” (2020 Anne)
“Womanhood is about wisdom and guidance acquired over time. She is the heart of the home. She is the one who guides her family to explore the life they were meant to have. When she passes from this earth she is missed for her comfort and strength. She is mourned because she is so unique, she can never be replaced.” (2020 Sandy K)
“Nothing! I only look up to Mother Mary as a true and strong woman. No matter what life looked like she just followed God’s instruction. I also loved that she pondered in her heart and remained silent. Now that is true strength!! She never gave up and always trusted in God, I can only try!” (2020 Deborah)
“Womanhood is a gift, a great and beautiful gift. This gift is both physical, inscribed in the structure of a woman’s body and spiritual inscribed in the unique and marvellous attributes of woman. A woman’s body looks and moves differently because of the structure of the hips and the roundness of the body. As well, a woman’s body has the capacity to welcome and make space for another human person, a child in the womb. A woman carries the baby in her womb under her heart and the child becomes attune to the mother’s heartbeat. This capacity to welcome and make space of other human persons is also part of the spiritual make up of a woman. A woman makes space in the home for her family, friends and neighbours. A woman makes space in her day to listen to, to comfort and to encourage family, friends, neighbours, coworkers and even strangers. A woman makes space within her heart for family, for friends, for neighbours, for coworkers and for strangers. A woman carries the cares, concerns, needs fears, joys, sorrows, triumphs, defeats, wounds and more of those she loves within her heart. Just as the womb expands with the growth of the baby, so a woman’s heart expands as love grows within and more space is made for a woman to carry others within her heart. A woman has the gift of being receptive to others, she is able to receive another person, make space for his or her need so the person may forge ahead living joyfully. A woman gives life to a unique and precious person through childbirth, so too a woman is able to give life to every unique and precious person she encounters in her day. A woman touches so many lives, she influences so many people, shapes and moulds her children, her spouse, h er friends, her coworkers her neighbors through her capacity to receive, to give life and to carry others within her heart. Truly, womanhood is a gift, far greater than any wealth, or power or honour, for a woman transforms the lives of every person she encounters by revealing to them how precious and unique they are.” (2020 Maria M)
Canada’s History, ‘Canada’s Great Women’, https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/women/canada-s-great-women (2016)
Bromely, L., V., ‘What’s Feminism Done (for Me) Lately? (2016)
Lawrence, B., ‘Regulating Native Identity by Gender, (2004)
Indigenous Foundations, Excerpted from “The Indian Act” by Hanson, E., University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. (2009)
Interviews with family, friends, co-workers, students and friends of friends
Due to Covid-19, I resorted to asking my interview question onto the Castanet Forum, ‘What does Womanhood Mean to You in the public online community of under Castanet Forums, Board index, General Interest, Social Concerns,’ What does Womanhood Mean to You’ https://forums.castanet.net/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=85037&start=15#wrap (2020)
Bill S-209 An Act to amend the Department for Women and Gender Equality Act, Parliament of Canada, https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-1/bill/S-209/first-reading (2020)
Appendix 2 – Powerpoint Timeline