March is women’s history month (in the US).
I’m making a series of posts about women I think are pretty important.
It may be your mum, or your grandmother, or your great-grandmother, but for about half of our country’s population, they left everything they had behind in a land which offered them little in the way of security, safety, and prosperity. They crossed the ocean to make a new life in a foreign country. They left their families and their friends. They left their histories and everything familiar, and they followed the promise of a better life.
Some women tried it for a few years, then up and left. Some women died trying. Many women pulled the plough because there wasn’t enough money for oxen. They built the soddies with their husbands; they cut timber, they broke the sod, they planted the garden, they scrubbed and mended the clothes, they bore the children and they raised the children who would help to make our country a prosperous, first-world country.
I know it isn’t fashionable to talk about the immigrants to Canada because of the genocide against our Aboriginal peoples perpetrated by the colonial governments. Far be it from me to attempt to be fashionable. Because the truth is that the women who came to Canada were, with a few notable exceptions (I here refer to the unfortunate experience an intern teacher had in my high school history class, when, in discussion about the rumours that the French government sent prostitutes over to keep the fur traders happy, one classmate exclaimed “I THOUGHT YOU SAID ACADIA WAS FULL OF BEAVER!” The rest of the class was just done. Just. Completely done.) not colonialists. They certainly were not the empowered class – at least, not the women who yoked themselves to the ploughs.
These were women whose hands were callused, whose shoulders bore the weight of yokes and children – who wouldn’t name their children until they were toddlers because so many died. These were women who did not know that the land they were breaking was traditional land used since the beginning of time by the Aboriginal peoples. And had they known, they could do little about it, because they weren’t able to participate in politics. They weren’t even “people” in the country’s legislation. Many of them did not speak either of this country’s “official” languages, and they certainly didn’t speak any of the First Nations languages. But they learned.
Very, very few of us could do what they did. Very few of us would want to. Some people have argued that when we leave the fields and stop working with our hands, society begins to break down. I wonder what the Second Women of Canada would say about that.